When I was a pastor, there was a tendency among pastors to gauge a church’s success by the size of their attendance, building, and the number of staff members. I know, it sounds rather worldly, but it is true. It was thought the more staff you can hire, the more will get done, and the more the church will grow. That presupposes the idea of building an organization, rather than serving the people in the community and figuring out how to give away the gifts your church possess.
Is a professionally trained, paid clergy really producing what we hoped for in the church? I have a lot of questions about the training the professional clergy person receives because it focuses on becoming an expert in biblical languages and theology, rather than real life stuff. I also have a lot of questions about the ridiculously wide array of expectations that congregants place on pastors. He can’t possibly be an inspirational preacher, a gifted musician, a warm people person, a hospital and hospice chaplain, a corporate quality CEO, a dynamo, a gentle soul, a man of God, and have a perfect family. No wonder so many pastors turn to porn or somehow crash and burn! Congregants are looking to a hired professional, rather doing what they should be doing.
Mega-churches have responded by hiring a pastor for every area of ministry… worship, youth, children, small groups, administration, etc.
What if we got away from the idea of building an organization and instead tried to give everything we can? We can begin by giving away the ministry to volunteers. Then their gifts will be expressed, more ministry will happen, and the church will have more money to use for other outwardly-focused ministries.
The role of pastors would shift to being more of a facilitator and coordinator of ministry. Pastoral education could focus more on working cooperatively in the community and building coalitions. He could learn how to map community needs and assets and how to help his constituents through community-based development.
The church’s function is to equip people to live like Jesus in the real world, preparing and encouraging them to fulfill their unique role in Christ’s kingdom.
The emphasis, then, would move from knowledge to action, from proclamation to living out the gospel, from inviting people to come to going to them, from building an organization to serving the community, from leading to facilitating, from hording to giving away.
(This is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Irreligious: Faith for the Real World.)