Thursday, January 06, 2005

Absolutism and Ministry Models

a few comments. although I commented on the conversation going after Jonny's post, I would like to endorse his identifying not only our desire but perhaps our small steps towards talking about things in a way that will transform the way we are involved in the church. Part of this will be to analyze and discern the different ministry models that are out there.
It is at this point that I choose to part company with an overwhelming ethos that is developing on this page that I will call Ministry Model Relativism. I can agree with "there is no one right ministry model" if this means that "there is no right ministry model" in that there is nothing about ministry models that is even remotely related to following Jesus. by this, I mean that ministry models are derived from business culture in NA and cannot be expected to apply to a timeless mysterious community formed by almighty God. For us to think that Billy Hybles, the Pope, or anyone else would have more to say about the way we are to be followers of Christ than Jesus himself is ridiculous. To andy's valid point, these people are all needed to articulate and guide the church. There is a "ministry model" that is the absolutely best, and by this I mean only, model for how to be disciples and that is the life of Jesus Christ.
The task for the church is to be disciples and the literature comes in when we try to make sense of what that means. Thus, we can take someone like McLaren, Warren, myself, whoever, and ask if s/he is being a disciple of Jesus Christ, knowing that because he is a different person than us it may be not be identical to how we are disciples but knowing that ultimately his discipleship will have to bear fruit and can be "judged" accordingly based on the fruit Jesus calls us to exhibit in our lives (read: doing things).
We are to evaluate the church not based on income, numbers, lifes changed, etc. but only on the faithfulness to the call of Jesus Christ which requires ecclesial bodies both locally and globally that talk openly about what this means and how they are doing it. We must be willing to surrender our "right" to self-determined discipleship, minsitry models, etc. and allow the Holy Spirit to determine where this leads us. All this stuff to say that relativism regarding ministry models is as dangerous for the church as relativism regarding truth. We have a ministry model; it it is the Way of Jesus Christ (also, conveniently enough, a book by Moltmann that you all should read, if you are at all still interested in what anyone has to say about this.)


At 1/06/2005 1:23 PM, Blogger jonny said...

I'm not sure if I would call it relativism, but you do bring up a good point, Jake. In my last post, I used the phrase ministry model in conjunction with religious tradition. The model of Christ through discipleship I called our "template," which I'll capitalize from now on.

Let's call the Template the Ultimate Model. But let's also admit that the Template can be applied in different ways. First, it can be applied according to our tradition, Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, denominationally, etc. I might be echoing Adam here, but I tend to view the varied traditions as a positive aspect of the Church. As long as we stick to the Template, we're aces. Can't say we always do though....

Second, even within a particular denomination, we can have a lot of variation. Evangelicalism, due to its very name, was originally a ministry model, seeking to preach the Gospel before all us. But now, within this model, we have arguments over how best to preach the Gospel. Should we be sensitive to seekers? Should we create an emotional spiritually-charged experience? Should we appeal to Far Eastern sensibilities? And that's just in America, ignoring models used by evangelicals in other cultures worldwide.

So perhaps it's our use of the word model for these different evangelical ideas that's misinformed. I'm not sure. But I do know that the Ultimate Model found in the life and teachings of Jesus can be communicated in very different ways across the globe. Maybe I'm missing the point, but I don't think that's relativism. In fact, I think it's awesome.

At 1/06/2005 8:51 PM, Blogger Dusty said...

So what is the point? What is the bottom line? What has to occur for this change to take place? Be as big picture, high ideal as you want, but what are the non-negotiables.

I think I lose on the models discussion, because I simply don't care. I don't care enough to figure out models or try to apply them. That is why I don't want to work in a church. Too much work for too little purpose. I want to love people and be loved. However, I am not sure about the church since Constantine, but since the Industrial revolution society has changed and the church is still trying to make us make sense in the Industrial and Post-Industrial society. I can go all Sociological here, because I think more is going on than the church has considered...Even Dave Rahn when he is writing chapters in books about Sociology in Youth Ministry...

Ok, Sorry if this is incoherent, but I have been trying to hold a conversation while I type!

At 1/07/2005 10:02 AM, Blogger Eric Snider said...

Jake, et al:
This post is longer than the original article, so smart people will mostly ignore what I have to say and skip to something else.

I do not know how I got connected to your Blog. I wonder if it was through Over the Rhine's website?

In any case, I hadn't looked at it much until this week, because I saw a link somewhere else to yours about the Emergent church stuff, about McClaren and Warren. I have some personal interest in that because I attend a church in Toledo that just had the senior pastor resign, and will be in the process of looking for a new pastor. And I have considerable interest in who they get. I am not an official leader in that church, but on occasion some leader will actually ask my thoughts about some issue. And the head of the search committee gave me a list of questions about the upcoming search and asked me to respond. I will paste in here some of my responses, deleting the specific references to names or the church.

As a preamble, a bit about me. When I was in college, I thought the evangelical church should model itself on the NT church, and I thought that we had a pretty clear picture of what the NT church was like. Doubly naive. Naive in thinking that we had some clarity about what that church was like, and naive in thinking that the church now in a very different historical, cultural, social, and political setting should still be like the early church (I now think that as irrelevant as the evangelical church might be now, it would be even less relevant if it tried to be like the NT church). My current view---well it is not very well worked out. I think my view is that the central role of the church, of any particular local church, is to connect people with God (and I will leave it vague). Specific local churches will exhibit a variety of ways of attempting to do this. And given where in one's spiritual life one is at any moment, some church might do a better job of connecting that person than another church. I guess, then, that my view is that there is no one model of what a particular church should be like. Some are going to emphasize "traditional" organ or orchestra style music, some 1920s style gospel tent meeting music, some 50s-60s Lawrence Welk style music, etc. Some will emphasize evangelism, some biblical exposition, some culturally relevant prophetic preaching. Christians might begin in one type of church, move to another, then another. That is not like the "good old days" of pre-automobile when you went to whatever church was in your neighborhood. But maybe those days were just old but not very good. That can lead to the notion of church as therapy (the notion of floating about to different churches to have my felt needs met), but it does not have to. It could be that a Christian first connects to God at a church that emphasizes evangelism, after a few years moves to another where they are further matured and grown, and so on. At each church I would hope that they would make an impact in that particular community, not just sit back and soak in the good vibes.

Okay, enough. Now, here are some of my thoughts related to my church's search, that seem to have relevance to some of the discussion that has been going on in the MM blog.

In contemporary American life, I see church attendance and membership as very fluid. I think that while some churches still have an extremely stable membership of several hundred folks who have been going there since infancy, that is both untypical of American evangelicalism and I expect it to be untypical of those churches over the next decade or two. Given that reality, I think the pastoral leadership should aim not at increasing stable membership (although that would be nice for I suspect it makes for better financial planning, more consistent source of income). It should aim at connecting folks with God. It should encourage them in making their God-relationship something that impacts every area of their life-how they cook, how they interact with neighbors and co-workers, how they do their paying jobs, how they interact with their kids/parents/spouses/siblings. In church lingo, the pastoral leadership should aim at equipping the body of Christ for service in His kingdom. Should those well-equipped saints stay at one church, they can employ their God-developed gifts and talents to enhance the life of the body at that church. Should they move on to churches elsewhere, they can take what God has given them here and use it to impact others and other bodies of believers at connecting with God. As folks become more and more devoted to Christ, letting Christ be king in more and more areas of their lives, surrendering more and more of their lives to Christ's reign, the churches where such folks attend will be God-honoring, a light to the community.

What might be the greatest needs for a pastor in evangelical churches? I think it is to remind and instruct congregations that Christ's call is to submit our entire lives to him. The call isn't to learn more theological or biblical facts. The call is to a relationship with God, a relationship where those called are called to be God's representatives in the world, doing the work God would be doing if he were living among us and acted that way. God has chosen to do his work through people. The entire universe became infected and broken through people. As a result God had to intervene directly himself, becoming a human, living among us, showing us the way to live a whole life, and to be engaged in some restoration work for the Kingdom of Heaven is near, even among us. Church life should be a model community, showing what a community can be like when impacted by Christ's reign. To be a community is not necessarily to be a unity, as some might conceive of a unity. It is, as some conceive the United States to be, e pluribus unum, as it says on the back of a nickel. Out of many, one. It is a community in which diversity is valued-diversity of gifts, talents, ministries, means of ministering, means of worshiping. For a more central city church, that diversity might also mean diversity of race and culture. If a pastor can bring together the congregation into a common vision, the vision that Christ had for his kingdom, there might be less majoring on the minor points of means of ministry and worship. Folks have to remember that when Ephesians 4 talks about "unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace," it says that Christ gave all sorts of PEOPLE "to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ" (4.3, 12-13). It does not say that Christ gave the Bible, or our doctrinal statement, or our hymnal, or our order of worship, or our way of doing things. He gave people. Folks need to recognize the diversity of gifts, talents, and abilities of Christ's body. Value diversity, rather than thinking everyone ought to be of one type.

What kind of pastor do I think is ideal for evangelical churches (and this is my own view)? I think evangelical churches tends to put its pastor on a pedestal, creating an expected distance between the pastor and the congregation. That is one aspect of evangelicalism that I am not too keen on. I want a pastor that is one of us, one we can relate to, one who can be open and vulnerable before us. One who can be transparent, not a fake and phony Pastor "I am Wonderful, my life is all Good, My Kids are Great, My Wife and I never have difficulties." That is the kind of Pastor some might want; not me. I'd rather have Job or the author of Ecclesiastes as a pastor; if those sorts of pastors are still pursuing a God relationship in spite of confusions about what in the world God is doing in their life, now that is the sort of pastor I can relate to. I would love a pastor who is keen to the culture--movies, music, art, entertainment, pop culture, professional sports, politics, ideas. That is what the culture is listening to. Those are the cultural idols. To speak to and against the culture, to call people seeking to connect with God out of the culture and against the culture, one needs to know the culture. I also would love a pastor who can be honest, accessible, vulnerable, transparent. One who can talk without resorting to "pastorese" or to preaching/theological/Christian lingo. One who feels grossly uncomfortable in a suit. One who could speak for weeks about sanctification without ever having to use the word "sanctification."

What kind of pastors do churches seem to look for? The demands are very high here. High quality preaching. Entertaining preaching. Looking "pastoral." Detailed biblical exegesis. Able to be personal and friendly. Able to counsel. Able to motivate the entire congregation to sacrificial giving. A skilled CEO and personnel manager. Actually, all those characteristics are what almost every evangelical church wants-a superman pastor. And that produces a list of unrealizable expectations, except the expectation for guaranteed failure. Given that, I do not know why some still want to become pastors. I suspect it is because they love to study theology and biblical literature, they love to learn, they want to teach others what they learned, they want others to believe what they have learned, they want to see others excited about learning about God by means of theology, biblical literature, and seeing Christ in action in people.

Now, I have no idea where these views fit in relation to Hybels, Warren, McClaren. I suspect they may each to some degree resonate with this. They seem to want relevant, relational Christianity. Maybe, and I am very hesitant about saying this because I just know so little about them and their views, they started out with these ideals but somehow got hooked into a focus on means or method over result.

Maybe someday I will become a blogger. But for now there is an awful lot of good stuff out there (and a good bit of awful stuff). I may just be a kibitzer. I think I can recognize reasonably well-crafted writing, and those will be the blogs I gravitate toward.

At 1/07/2005 10:39 AM, Blogger Jake Sikora said...

I agree that there is a distinction between the template of Jesus Christ and necessarily diverse ways it is applied. You are right in saying that it is indeed awesome. The way you have phrased the rest of your response, however, leaves me wondering if there is a lurking unfortunate contradiction that leads to a necessary relativism regarding "applying the template" that ultimate corrupts the validity of the template itself. Here is what I mean:
First there is the difference of application in the template across denominations of Christianity. Although there are not an infinite amount of denominations, there are a lot, meaning there are a lot of good ways to apply the template. Further, you point out the geographical diversity as well, saying that the way the template is applied here will also be necessarily diverse. In the end, then, there are practically an infinite number of ways the template is applied with no clear way of evaluating whether or not they are being faithful to the template of Jesus Christ. Because of this, it is impossible to suggest there is a Template, the Ultimate Model, of which all of these applied models are participating in. Further, we end up having a church of preference that is representative of our culture of preference, where we simply join up with whoever is doing what we like. In either case we are guarenteed only one or two facets of the Way of Jesus Christ and never the whole thing. Maybe this is inevitable but this should not be passively accepted.
I, for one, find the Evangelical move of preaching the gospel before anything else to be the very reason why there are these problems in the first place. Because they sought to "correct" a need in their cultures by over emphasizing one aspect of the the way of Jesus Christ, now everyone sees a need to overcorrect on the other side. To now be asking how to best preach the Gospel before all else is to ask how to best go about not being truely faithful to the way of Jesus Christ. The church, post reformation for sure, has attempted to correct itself by overemphasizing what has been underemphasized and thus eventually being in need of another correction later.
In the end, it seems as though the cultural context within which ministry is occuring is setting the agenda for what the ministry will be. Call me Dr. Fairchild here, but I think the church is best when it is being faithful to Jesus Christ and allowing the relevance bit to come with the territory. I would argue that in almost all cases now, across Christendom, the relevance factor has become the Template that rules every other decision made by the church, not the way of Jesus Christ. Because of this, the evangelicals have said we must preach the Gospel before all else, the mainline protestants have said that we must be accepting of any and all without qualification. Although we can point to moments in the more recent ages of the church this sort of ear to culture offered necessary and valuable reforms (see vatican II for example), we must have faith enough in the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to be made relevant as we live our lives in our contexts allowing the cross to criticize all within our context and attempting to be faithful to the full meaning of the Gospel.

At 1/07/2005 10:58 AM, Blogger adam said...

not to throw a wrench in the system, but here is something a little bit more humurous on the subject

At 1/07/2005 12:22 PM, Blogger Dusty said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 1/08/2005 12:31 AM, Blogger Andy said...

What if the problem is we're all trying too hard?

What if the reason we're all trying so hard is because we want so desperatly for people to connect with God?

In reading what Eric had to say, I thought about all the people that I know in ministry. I actually believe all of them have a motivation that comes from the great commission (and probably even the great commandment). It's just that as we go out to do what we've been comissioned to do, we end up freaking out.

One of the recent conversations I've had with some of my ministry cohorts in discussion frustrations we have with our current ministry situations. It seems as if at the core the motivation is to make Jesus known to everyone they know... the problem is the how is so different in various places. I think it comes down to what the leaders hold highest. Follow me here...

I think most churches value these things... Program, Community & Mission. So if that's the order of importance it means that a church will do everything for the sake of the program. They probably even believe that if the program is good enough then Joe Attender will "plug-in" to the local community and if all goes well they will eventually be enlisted to be a part of the mission (which is probably just getting all their "outsider" friends to be a part of the ever increasing relevant program, b/c after all we can't reall expect newbies to embrace anything else Jesus laid out can we?).

Now what if you switch around the priority. Say maybe Mission is numero uno followed by community and program. That means that the mission Jesus laid out for us (hopefully a more wholistic mission) is the focus of our energy (which may takes outside the walls of the church, but we're still talking about evangelicals here). That would flow pretty easily into embracing those around us in community, and maybe some sort of regular "program" comes out of these things (but it probably looks way different than our sunday morning worship-marketing services.

I'm not saying that just by flipping the order we'll have fixed everything, nor am I saying that these three priorities are all there is. It's just a conversation that I was having with some cohorts over coffee.

At 1/08/2005 12:33 AM, Blogger Andy said...

This is from Dusty. Somehow I deleted it when I was trying to comment. Sorry man...

Jake and Jonny,

What does "relevance" even mean? It is becoming like "post-modern". In fact some "emergents" may use the terms interchangeably. I am at a point where I want practical application. What does this mean?

Eric, thanks for posting and adding to the discussion. I think I would disagree about the nature of church. I think we would be more like the church universal if we were more localized. However, as I write that I am driving an hour one way to go to church because I would have quit going by now if it was not because of this Mennonite congregation. I have also considered moving closer to there to really join the community.

In our current sociological situation, we have thrown out the baby with the bath water, so to speak. The individualism that seems laced in your post (and ingrained in all of our lives) does not seem to resonate to what Christ called the church to be about. Easiest thing to point to is racial segregation within the church...However, in most churches the same could be said of all types of socioeconomic, educational levels, etc...We are separated in ways that is not pleasing to God and is not reflective of the Kingdom we serve.

The biggest change needs to be the need to understand the place and NECESSITY Christians have to be in community. We NEED each other. I need Christian brothers and sisters to encourage, challenge, edify, inspire, and love. This is not seen often in churches. It is like we are pushing towards becoming Fast-Food Christians. Somewhere I have an article called the "McDonaldization of Protestantism". This is significant to

At 1/10/2005 10:48 AM, Blogger Jake Sikora said...

I'm afraid to say it but I think your suggested ordering is what caused most of the problem you're dealing with. I think that the answer is not to go back and try again, where we approach missions with even more zeal (ultimately begging the question of methods, etc). Although you may expect me to prioritize community, I actually believe that the only way to move forward is to seek a balance in all of this. Only through community is there authentic missions and only by seeking out others in missions does the church continue to be a community. Disicpleship happens together but without discipleship there is no community and our missions is invalid. You get my point.

To dusty- relevance, as being used by me in a positive sense, is what you mean by practical application. relevance, as used by relevant magazine, is being hip. I think you know which is a good one and which is not. Further, despite everything you want and dream, we are individuals and this is a compounding factor that must be accepted and embraced. Just because we reject individualism does not mean that we can act as though we are not individuals. I guess I'm sympathetic to both you and Eric on this one.

At 1/11/2005 10:59 AM, Blogger Eric Snider said...

To Jake, Andy, Dusty, and others:
I like the way this discussion has gone, the thought and issues it has opened up and addressed, the grace everyone has shown. This is a kind of model for what churches could be like, diverse folks holding some core values in common and debating strongly over important issues. But note, I live hours away from where you live. I am (in some sense of "am") in your community.

A couple of further flash points. 1. It is not the McDonaldization of christianity. But that sounds better than calling it the Burger Kingization (BK is the one who advertises "have it your way", isn't it?). 2. More importantly, I had said (I think) that the fact that different churches have different emphases, and that folks my attend one church for a while, then move to another, all that need not lead to the notion of church as therapy sessions, where one moves about as one has differnt felt needs to be met. My view, I think (and I say "I think" not to be coy, but precisely because these are not views I have well worked out and am strongly committed to yet), is that there can be that fluidity of movement without the McDonaldization. How? By the attenders not sitting on the fringes soaking up the good vibes. Rather, while an attender becoming a full member (not just getting official "membership" status)--get involved. Teach, work in the nursery, help fix the building, provide rides for those who can't walk there and need a ride, participate in some small group. Maybe the lingo is "invest yourself." What I object to is the consummerist model of churches, where the "buyers" have no commitment to the community beyond what one can get for one's investment (and the investment is not $$, but only one's presense), where one is passive, expecting everyone else to meet MY needs. Maybe the ideal would be living in close proximity to the church one attends, committed to that church for the long haul (like marriage, in sickness and in health, for better or for worse). While the ideal awaits the kingdom come (in its fullness), in the mean time we have to (Platonic language here) take the world as we have it and aim to approximate the ideal. This too does not need to assume that I have the right grasp of the ideal (the template was someone's language). Even my conception of the ideal is itself only an approximation (maybe distant, maybe near) of the ideal itself. And that is why the view I put forward may look like relativism of ministry models.

At 1/14/2005 11:30 AM, Blogger Jake Sikora said...

When you put it that way, although at first what your saying may look like relativism of ministry models, i get what you're saying and i like your rephrasing of the situation. I apreciate your attempt to relate the reality of the church situation most of our country has and the ideal that many are searching for. What you suggest is very different than the McDonalized forms of church and for that I am thankful.

At 1/14/2005 8:42 PM, Blogger Dusty said...

McDonaldization does not really refer to slogans. It is the fact that McDonald's was the organization that really popularized franchising and the principles that drove that. The Principles deal with 1) Efficiency- Automization, where possible, make it as impersonable as possible 2) Predictability- Familiarity between stores, virtual facsimiles 3) Calculabilty- focus on numbers, quantity driven and 4) Control- Make the transaction fast and controlled, through standardized speeches and actions.

Obviously, if you have done much church "searching" as many of our generation has, you should be able to draw the parallels between these principles and what you see in many churches...VBS programs, Bible Study guides, Purpose Driven everything. Standard, generic, sometimes performance focused worship, etc.

Eric, this is what I was referring to. If we are just looking for the best "fit" of the near clones, we are doing a disservice. The call is to be different. I like Jake's point that change comes through time and influence, so investing should be more important than expecting to find the church that we are expecting right now. I imagine that our presences in churches should greatly impact it if we are passionately living out our call!



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