Friday, December 30, 2005

ecclesiological musing...

after the funky little christmas morning service at [p]ilgrim church i talked with [b]ill spencer, [p]ilgrim's pastor of encouragement and resident provocateur, about this and that. he mentioned that e. kerr, a student of his and a friend of mine, had recently left his position at a local church because he finally grew weary of the autocratic, patriarchal style of the congregation's lead pastor. the revelation that one of our most innovative christian minds left the area for pennsylvania, really pissed me off. thus, i continued the conversation by mentioning the inverse relationship i have observed between shared leadership and growth.*

bill quickly agreed with my (admittedly) ad hoc assessment. he said that on a number of occasions people have left their congregation because he refused to be the sole, spectacular leader who provided most of the teaching, imposed his vision and designed/adapted/employed the institution to fulfill his vision. there is little question that bill has the ability to be the type of leader these people want, for he speaks incredibly well, his enthusiasm is infectious and he's even written a number of books. however, he thinks that exchanging [p]ilgrim's shared leadership structure for a sole, autocratic leader would be foolish.

as i reflect on our conversation, i am left with a couple of questions:

1. why do the masses long to be led by a single individual?

2. why are those who are called and equipped to be pastors attracted to this model?

a. what psychological needs does such a position fulfill?

b. should their attraction be attributed to tradition or a particular understanding of mission?

3. is it possible for shared leadership structures to overcome the inversion i have observed?

a. if the answer is yes, what are the steps to such success?

b. if the answer is no, are leaders of shared leadership congregations being to some degree unfaithful to Christ's commission?

if you have any responses or thoughts you would like to share, please do so. moreover, please note that these ecclesiological musings are not a harangue against or an accusation of the congregational model or other traditional forms of church. i'm just trying to understand the ever-evolving ecclesiology of the non-institutional church.

*a shared leadership structure seems to lead to less numerical growth. i haven't done any rigorous study in this area, but i suspect that shared ecclesiastical leadership leads to a diverse understanding of mission, a theology that is shaded with a bit more ambiguity and a composite, as opposed to a unitary, vision. since numerical growth is not my sole focus, i think this is a good thing. however, if i were more narrowly focused on saving souls or evangelizing in the traditional sense, i'd probably rethink our shared leadership structure.


Agent B said...

good questions. I don't have the patience to try and answer. Sorry.

I do think that somewhere since king david, god followers have always wanted a "person" to look up to. And I do think christ set us free from that. And I do thinkwe followers still have a tendency to let someone be our daddy.

Just a bunch of thoughts...nothing deep. I'm in vacation mode.

Billy Bible Guy said...

but that is what we pay the pastor for...

if we as a body engage in Kingdom work what do we need pastors for?

Landis said...

I love posing questions like these to fellow seminarians. They get all crotchety and defensive. This is, after all, why they are attending seminary.

miah said...


good questions. you prolly know a bit more about this then i do, but if i recall that the greek word for "elder" is almost always used in the plural form...see 1 peter 5

some interesting implications.

g13 said...


you're quite right. episkopoi is almost always used in the plural. this grammatical fact is a large reason that churches in our tradition (christian churches, churches of christ) have embraced a multiple eldership structure.

however, while we have adopted the correct structure - in this case and in my opinion - we have failed to allow the structure to function in the manner that God/Jesus/Paul intended for the church to function. A plurality of elders, leaders, ministers or whatever you choose to call them, means practically nothing if you do not allow these members to use the gifts that God has given them to forward the missio dei.

this kind-of segways with fletch's, oops, i meant billy bible guy's question about our need for a pastor. my response would be that we every congregation needs a pastor, just like we need evangelists, teachers, missionaries/apostles, etc. the practical and economic elevation of one function in the church, i.e. preachin' and leadin', above all of the other functions is rather unwise. by paying one person to perform their gifts we have relativized the importance of the other essential gifts and, to some degree, transformed the "pastor" into a sort of priest who performs our sacrifices and serves as our righteous mascot.

in the end, i think we need to take the priesthood of all believers more seriously. this will require not only empowering every member of our body but also removing the person(s) with the pastoral gifts from the pedestal we have put them upon (which, from my perspective, is often a piss-poor place to be anyway) and restoring them to proper place alongside their sisters and brothers in Christ.

i do not mean to propose a meaningless form of egalitarianism that ignores the teaching/preaching/leading of some, however, i think it would be wise for the church to expend a little less focus/time/resources on super-equipping of the already equipped (hello DMIN and "practical" doctoral programs for pastors) so that we can provide basic equipping for the other members of our incarnational communities.

anyway, those are a few of my ad hoc thoughts. thanks for readin' the more serious stuff folks.

Before Girl said...

1. Masses maybe long to be led by an individual because a mass of people can't agree completely on any one thing and the hope is there that the one will at least be able to agree with the majority. The paradox is that this rarely happens.

2. Those who are called to to believe in this model and attracted to it are in search of power.

3. The psychological needs are power and the need to rule.

Agent B-you wrote: "I do think that somewhere since king david, god followers have always wanted a "person" to look up to. And I do think christ set us free from that." My question is (and anyone can answer this, I guess, as well): How does christ set you free from that? Now christ is the leader, you are the follower so nothing has changed.

Agent B said...

BG - I am the least bible-scholarly person on this blog. So I can't answer this without sounding dumb.

I follow Jesus because he came to people 1) serving and 2) speaking truth. Not expecting to be served and not lying or tricking. I believe Jesus is God, and thus not just some guy who has desires that change on a whim or trend.

I feel "set free" because I'm following (what I believe to be) God and not a man. Now, Christ is the leader and he leads by serving.

And I can go with that. Hope that answers some of your inquiry.

Kellie said...

I think that Dosteovsky's "Grand Inquisitor" chapter in "Brothers Karamazov" is a good commentary on why the masses, leadership, and power.

Landis said...

Well put, Agent B.

monts said...

jumping in late...bear with me.

i agree with miah that there are profound implications found in the plurality of elders. this type of shared leadership structure is what is called for in the local church according to scripture. but there was an X factor with this in Paul. Paul, as an apostle, was over the elders in this instances and situations.

i think what we have done is made our pastors (sr. pastors to be more specific) to function as apostles over the elders. we can talk up and down all day about whether or not this is a good thing, i think there are good things and bad things about such a thing. but i'm not sure whether it could be argued that it is an unbiblical approach. i would love some thoughts on this though.

i wonder if the reason why pastors set themselves up in this type of position is because of a lack of patience. it's hard to sit and wait for the consensus of a grouping of people for decisions on direction and vision. it's so much easier to impose your own ideals instead of waiting for everyone else to get on board--especially if you're the type that likes to plow ahead.

i think that the masses like this type of leadership because people are inherently followers. we have a tendency to follow strong, charismatic, competent leaders and in the church is no exception.

i think pastors are attracted to this type of position because many are leaders and a fatal flaw of leaders is being hungry for power.

just a few thoughts...good topic gentry!

miah said...

"but there was an X factor with this in Paul. Paul, as an apostle, was over the elders in this instances and situations."

Aaron, I think I hear what you are saying, but I am not sure I agree. What you are talking about is pope-dom (if that's a word) or another version of the American church with it's elders and their real boss, the superpastor. Paul's claims to authority were made based in the gospel, not necesarriy to himself as apostle (ie galatians).

I think what we see in the NT is a variety of leadership "structures." The key ingredient is not just that these are a "plurality" but actually a community of leaders who have deep, meaningful relationships with God and one another. The application for us is not to try to discover some magical leadership formula hidden in the Scriptures, but rather have leadership that is both functional and fluid, easily adapting to new situations.

monts said...

how dare you disagree with me! : )

"Paul's claims to authority were made based in the gospel, not necesarriy to himself as apostle (ie galatians)."

I agree that a lot of Paul's claims to authority were made based in the gospel, but there were countless times that he attributed his authority to his calling which I think was indirectly related to the gospel. I think that Paul was in a sense (along with the other apostles) pope's in their area. They seemed to hold authority over the elders.

I'm not in any way trying to say that this is the biblical model of leadership that we should ascribe to in the USAmerican church today. I think that the "office" of the apostles was good for then, was necessary for then but I'm not so sure that it exists today, and if it does why should we think that each and every pastor holds that particular office?