Saturday, May 26, 2007

Mine, Yours, His

So here's a thought I'm thinking, as I'm reading a newsletter. The sincere and respected pastor tells me that, in order to follow Jesus' model for ministry, I must practice delegation, i.e., "involve other people in your ministry." And while I agree with the idea, it's at this point that something clicks. Three little words:




Is something wrong here?

When I think of delegation, I think of giving qualified people a piece of my action. Those people are in place to work out my plan of action. Their positions exist for my sake. I give some of my own authority to them so that they can do what I want but can't (because I haven't the time or the expertise, perhaps).

And then there's the word "your." Delegation is, at heart, about what's mine. You can have some of it, but remember: It's mine. God gave it to me. My car (I can drive it wherever I want); my house (I can let you in or keep you out as I please); my. . . .


Is something wrong here? Because suddenly the concepts of "mine," and of "delegation" as we use it, don't apply. They just don't seem to go with the idea of creating a body in which Christ is the Head and people take up functions based on giftings. And possession doesn't go with the idea of serving; and that, of course, is what "ministry" means.

I don't mean to say or even imply that there is no such thing as authority in the local fellowship of believers. The Bible's clear about it. At times, Paul stood forcefully on his apostolic authority when he corrected believers. But there are two points to be clear about. First, he never called any ministry his in the sense of owning it. What he had was a trust, not a possession. Second, ministry didn't matter to him anyway; people did. They were his crown, his joy, and his gift to God.

Right, so this is straining at gnats. We know that pastors don't really believe ministry matters more than people. Nor that they really possess "their" ministries. Nor that delegating means letting folks in on "my" action. So why bother pointing these things out?


Form follows function, and words describe concepts. If we use the wrong words, this might show that we have the wrong concepts. Is it possible for us to use more "body" terms and fewer "ownership" terms? Would doing so return the Church to the form Jesus Christ left behind Him, the form the Holy Spirit gave life to?

If this sound angry, I want to make it plain that most pastors I know care very deeply about their people. They try hard to shepherd their flocks in the knowledge that God will hold them to account for their work as overseers. But there are many, many well-meaning pastors who simply lose perspective--in part, I think, because they are taught to think of ministry as "theirs." And those they "delegate" are seen less as God's appointees than as the pastor's appointees. There is a difference between helping gifted people grow into their gifts and picking folks to implement my vision. It's easier for us to confuse the two than we would like to think.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Trusted With A Gift

I'm surprised by the reaction to the May 5 post and a bit disappointed at the reaction to the May 15 post. One-man shows apparently touch a nerve; but many of the comments there could just as well have been left in response to the last post. What should be the shape of the church, both the local body and the church around the world, for it to effectively be God's instrument for the release of His power in the world today?

My friend Mrs. S, who has seen church in a variety of situations (semi-communal, Third World, and megachurch), has lots of experience to draw on. My friend Mr. B and I have a shared church history up to about 12 years ago. We've all seen leadership done wrong. Sometimes we've felt that leadership is a necessary evil. I think Julie's reluctance to use the word "office" likely stems from that, at least in part (correct me if I'm wrong). We see pretenders (TBN's full of 'em) and we see people claim incontestable authority and we rightly want nothing to do with that. And since so many of those folks have assumed for themselves these NT titles, we're reluctant to use the titles, though we acknowledge the gifts.

A question, though: Don't gifts show function? If you have a spiritual gift, doesn't that indicate your function in the Body? If you were a body part with the gift of sight, then don't you have the function of seeing? And if you have the function of seeing, should I refrain from calling you an eye? Does it hurt or help me to refrain from admitting that you are, indeed, an eye?

I think Julie's getting at the point when she writes: "Servants don't seek leadership roles, nor do prophets, spiritual teachers, or evangelists. . . ." We have a biblical right to "sincerely desire the greater gifts" but also a reprimand to serve one another, for the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve. We have seen many who have insincerely desired the greater gifts and have not served. We ourselves (and many of our friends) have been taken in by some of them; we've been wounded. But what if we could learn to sincerely, humbly desire those greater gifts? If God withholds them, then He is always right; but could we perhaps become the kind of people who could be trusted with these gifts?

What if, tonight, Jesus appeared to you and said: "I will give you the gift of prophecy," or of teaching, or the calling of an apostle--could you handle it? If we can't, then shouldn't we get on our faces and ask God to make us into people who could respond to that call, who could take up that gift and be faithful with it?

I want to see a real Book of Acts outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and I have been seeking a specific gift. Even looking at that last sentence, I think: These folks are gonna think I'm arrogant! But I want to be the kind of person who can be trusted with the gift. I see the need in my assembly. I want to step up and fill the need. But being the kind of person who can fill that need, who handles that gift trustworthily. . . that's the kicker. That puts me on the hook.

I don't think I'm the only one God wants on the hook. If we say we want an outpouring of the Spirit but can't be trusted with His gifts, then we are fooling ourselves and had best come clean about it. We either change or accept that what we have now is all we're gonna get, because by not changing we're saying that what we have now is all we really want.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Shape of the Worshipping Church

Anyone following the CT postings of the debate between Christopher Hitchens and Doug Wilson?
Hitchens is author of God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Wilson is senior fellow of theology at New Saint Andrews College and author of Letter From a Christian Citizen, and is as sharp and amusing as Hitchens. And apparently much more persistent, at least in this debate. The link is to part 3, and the first 2 parts are well worth checking out. The topic: "Is Christianity Good for the World?"

My last post was about allowing the members of a church body to freely exercise their gifts. I mean all the gifts of the Spirit, of course, both structural and charismatic. The interesting thing about this is that this was the pattern of the New Testament church, as the charming and lovely Mrs. Swegle pointed out. You can find it desribed in 1 Corinthians 14:26-40, where Paul tells the Corinthian church to have their psalm, their message in tongues (interpreted), their prophecy, their revelation, their teaching--and to do it decently and in order, with everything done for the good of the assembly rather than for the reputation and standing of the speaker(s). Two, or at the most three, messages in tongues; and two, or at the most three, prophecies. This is a rather vague outline of worship but parts of it are pretty clear:

  1. Gifted people were expected to exercise their gifts in the meeting.
  2. More than one gift was expected to be exercised.
  3. More than one person was permitted to exercise his/her gift (but no more than 3!).
  4. Prophets were expected to subject their utterances to the judgment of other prophets.
  5. There was a known, though not specified, order in which these things were done.
To be honest, as I told a chaplain friend yesterday, I don't know of any denominational churches in which things are done this way. I don't mean there aren't any Pentecostal or charismatic denominational bodies doing it like this, only that I don't know of any. Does anyone else?

So here's a question, based on the idea that "form follows function." If this is the function of the worship service, what should the form of the body be to adhere to this function? How should a congregation structure itself so as to allow this kind of worship? What form would best create this true New Testament worship? Would mega-churches? House churches? Small churches? Mid-sized? Elder-led? Denominational? Independent? Co-pastored?

This is "ecclesiology," and it's more important than we think--and not for the reasons we think. Ecclesiology isn't so much about authority as about creating a structure that releases the work of the Spirit. We focus on "decently and in order" while neglecting "let all things be done." Because we think authority and order are the function of the church, we give the local body a form that keeps it from its full function--the exercise of all the gifts of the Spirit. So, give me your thoughts. What kind of form should the local church take to fulfill its function?

Saturday, May 5, 2007

On With the (One-Man) Show

Okay, so I been bad. No posts for 2 WHOLE MONTHS! My apologies, my very sincere apologies, to all 3 of you who've read the past posts.

I was going to blog about something a while back, but now something completely different came up. This last Wednesday night at our home fellowship, I was teaching about gifts of the Spirit. I read from the 12s--Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12--to show the NT lists of the gifts. 1 Cor., of course, has the "charismatic" gifts while Rom. has the "structural" gifts (my terms). We separate the two lists but Paul puts them all together as one group, the "gifts of the Spirit." And notice that when he writes about the church as the body of Christ, it's in the context of the gifts of the Spirit. He is saying, not that we need each other, but that we need all the gifts operating in the assembly.

Evangelicals, during the Reformation, exalted one gift above all others: the gift of teaching. Pastoral ministry became teaching; the sermon became the main focus of the worship service. When the Pentecostal renewal began, teaching was again just one of many gifts. Now we are once again copying the Evangelicals here. We leave no room for the other gifts to really operate. We stifle prophecy (mostly because we have more pretenders than prophets). We let the pastor do everything, and usually that means teaching. Gifts of mercy and administration are locked away rather than brought to the front. Evangelists are professionals who move from church to church rather than working within one assembly. Other gifts (discerning of spirits, for example) operate only in one-on-one situations rather than for the whole body. But teaching and teachers have become the focus of the church.

The problem is that 60% of leadership is then non-existent. No apostles, prophets, or evangelists; only pastors and teachers. And the vast majority of the gifts of the Spirit go unused and (even worse) unsought. The Average Churchgoer hears a one-person show on Sundays, maybe ties into a small group in the week, and wonders what he/she is there for. To be a clone of the pastor? To provide an audience? Is this the sum of Christianity today? Is it any wonder, when our corporate worship is so uncorporate, that we narrow our day-to-day focus to personal spirituality?

How can we change this? How can we make our leaders know that we hunger for more than their Sunday messages? How can we put teaching in its right place, making room for the rest of the gifts of the Spirit? And how can we put into practice the "charismatic" gifts without falling prey to disorder, false moves of the flesh, and "miracle-ism"? What do you think about this? What answers would you give from Scripture?