Mission

sola pastora or apostolic?

A.D. 2005 is the year in which my inherited ecclesiology is being blown away. Here is another blow from Alan J. Roxburgh, found in The Church Between Gospel And Culture, edited by George R. Hunsberger and Craig Van Gelder. The volume is over nine years old, with a 1996 copyright (pp 326-328).

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The congregation is foundationally apostolic. But does it actually assume this role, given its captivity to modernity? Equipping and discipling must be more than small-group Bible studies on the gospel and culture. Our church culture believes that if it has been studied, then it has been done. Discipling and equipping require a leadership that demonstrates, in action, the encounter with culture. This is the role of pastor as apostle. In the days ahead, the gown of the scholar must be replaced with the shoes of the apostle.

A pastor was overheard saying at a ministerial meeting, “Pastoral care is the business we’re in; if we’re not preparing worship, we’re doing pastoral care.” In such a view, pastors are supposed to be in the church rather than in the world. In a Christendom model this was the case. But such separations are not acceptable in a missionary situation.

Discussions of pastoral leadership have tended to center on roles within the congregation. Models are offered that shift leadership images from hierarchical to servant, from top down to bottom up. The image often used is that of a triangle. Rather than a triangle with a wide base with the leader at the top and the people at the base of a hierarchy, renewalists call for an inverted triangle with the laity at the top and the pastor at the bottom as servant. Redefining pastoral leadership in terms of servanthood and lay empowerment is laudable, but the model is problematic. It swings the pendulum from one extreme to another, continuing the dichotomy between servant and directive leadership. They are not opposites! Of more critical importance, the servant/equipping model only rearranges the Christendom image of congregational leader as one whose role is entirely within the church for the well-being of the people. Here, “pastor” is a symbol of the ecclesiocentric nature of the church. This is what must change.

The image of apostle is a powerful one for our day precisely because it is related so closely to a kingdom understanding, rather than a church understanding, of God’s activity in Christ. In the contemporary understanding of the pastoral role, pastoring implies someone who needs care. The pastor image is that of someone who works within the structures and order of the culture. By contrast, the image of apostle suggests something that needs to be addressed. Buried in the notion of apostle is the recognition that one is located at the margins. If that were not the case, there would be no need for the apostle in the first place. There is a clarity of location on the margins that is not present in that of pastor. Furthermore, the apostle is commissioned by Christ, and we need such strong images of leadership in order to move away from the current views of pastors as enculturated professionals hired by congregations to provide religious services.

Let us place the triangle on its side as an elongated wedge with a directional point. This diagrams a church called to function as a mission band, directed toward the world and moving toward a destination other than its own self-preservation or inner growth. The place of leadership is neither at the top of the triangle nor at the bottom but at the leading edge, modeling engagement with the culture in the name of the gospel. This is what is intended by the notion of apostolic leadership as primary and foundational for pastors today. Such a model shifts the pastoral role outward to the forefront of missional engagement.

There are structural implications to this change. Such leadership cannot function in a sola pastora model. Rather than the omnicompetent professional, running the congregation’s inner life, there is a team, or multiple leadership, at the heart of the congregation. This does not imply professional staff. Indeed, it shouldn’t. Pastoral care, worship, proclamation, and administration are part of the work of the whole people of God, not the designated territory of someone with a seminary degree and an ordination certificate. The guild of the ordained will have to be removed; this is one social function that will not move us through liminality. The pastor/apostle is one who forms congregations into mission groups shaped by encounters with the gospel in the culture, structuring the congregation’s shape into forms that lead people outward into a missionary encounter. Discipleship emerges out of prayer, study, dialogue, and worship by a community learning to ask the questions of obedience, as they are engaged directly in mission. In such a congregation, however, the pastor will be able to lead only as he or she models the encounter with the culture.

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