Church for the “Next Christians”? … A request for advice

Last week I put up a post, based on my own experiences and the suggestions of Gabe Lyons in his new book The Next Christians, with the premise that the focus of church and the understanding of the role of leadership within the church needs to change. The local church is and will remain at the center of Christian community. It is essential for worship, for sacrament, for fellowship. But the work of the local church, the work of the pastor of the church, is not to lead or cast vision or draw people in, but to equip, disciple, and send Christians out. Clearly this requires an educated and dedicated clergy with training, leadership skills and vision, but the focus of the effort changes in a subtle yet profound way. When the purpose is not to accumulate followers and bring them into the pastor’s vision as replaceable units in a larger plan for mission in the local church but to equip and disciple them to spread the gospel in their own spheres of influence, value judgments about certain kinds of programs and approaches change dramatically.

How to move forward, however, is a big question. This brings me to a letter I received posing exactly this question. The letter is reproduced below with permission, only slightly edited. As you read it consider the questions raised.

How can the vision of church change?  How can a pastor establish a culture within the church that equips and enables Christians?

The letter:

I read your most recent entry at Jesus Creed and it really struck a nerve with some things I have been thinking about.

I am about to enter seminary. I hope to be one of those well-trained and talented pastors and teachers you said we still need. But I am still very much trying to discern what that role will actually look like. I belong to ___, a conservative ____ denomination doing a lot of church planting these days. My father-in-law has been a minister in this denomination for longer than I have been alive so I asked him about the role of the pastor. His answer was like a quotation of what you called the “old” model of pastoring. He said you need to be a leader, cast a vision, be able to draw people to yourself and form them with good preaching. Hmmmm.

I liked what you said about how pastors are not the only ones doing “real” work for the kingdom. I agree with your big-picture, that pastors should be more focused on their congregation and preparing to send them into the world rather than attracting more people from the outside in. However, isn’t this also a vision that needs to be cast for the people and preached with power? I don’t know many people, let alone whole congregations who see themselves as doing front-line restoration when they walk out the doors. And, especially as I think about a small denomination that is doing lots of church-planting, does that change when you are trying to start things from scratch versus an existing congregation?

I guess my question is What does this look like? I am not a charismatic leader who draws people around his vision. Does that mean I can not plant a church? What is the concrete difference between the pastor of an old culture centered on church and a new one centered on mission? Is it just content or is the praxis and skills needed fundamentally different?

thank you for your time.

I have some ideas on the questions raised in this letter. But my perspective is limited. I am not a pastor, and have never been involved in church leadership. Planting a church is hard, many if not most, fail. So first,

If you are a pastor …

What advice do you have for the letter writer?

What skill set is necessary and what does a church that equips and empowers look like?

From my perspective as a scientist and a professor in a secular university, life-long Christian, the emphasis on a charismatic preacher who draws people in often leaves a chasm between life in the church and the life of the Christians outside the church.  Good preaching is important – but it is not enough. It does not, and perhaps cannot, provide the resources for everyday life in a predominantly unChristian world.  Good preaching is “one size fits all” and inherently impersonal.  And this has consequences. One of the comments on the earlier post put it very well  “I’m limping along on the metaphorical battlefield, not being half as vibrant or effective as I could be …

It seems to me that the two most important characteristics of a good pastor, one able to equip and empower, are (1) a deep love for and appreciation of the whole Gospel, and (2) a deep love and concern for the people in his or her congregation.

One of the most profound stories I have heard was of a pastor of a fairly large church who would, every Saturday evening, go into the sanctuary of the church, stand in various places and pray for the people he knew would (usually) be sitting in that place. The focus was on the people and the power of the gospel for these people as important individuals. Such a focus cannot help but transform the emphasis of the church in subtle and important ways. This, perhaps, is the beginning of the way to cast a vision that equips, disciples, and sends Christians out.

For those of us who are not pastors ..

What do you think is needed to equip, disciple, and send Christians out with the power of the Gospel in your sphere of interaction? What would a church that equips and empowers look like?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail@att.net

If you have comments please visit Church for the “Next Christians”?… A request for advice at Jesus Creed

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