Wednesday, 11 June 2008

the old chesnut returns

Are pastor-teachers redundant? I realise that when I said we have enough pastor-teachers (May blog), some people felt I was saying exactly this. Clearly (I naively thought) this is not the case. 

However, the situation I believe we find ourselves in demands a great deal more soul searching. The question I’m asking is whether, or not, the role of pastor-teacher (as it is customarily regarded), the elephant in the New Testament room? By that I mean: the role which we almost assume equates to the role of a typical Baptist Minister does not appear to be the role of a person taking a key leadership responsibility in the New Testament.

What typically happens when this question is raised is very interesting to me. We seem to respond to such a question by trying to re-define what a pastor-teacher really is meant to be – for example (I’ve used it myself many times), shepherds in the first century led their sheep rather than, what became the norm in places like the UK, drove their sheep. Personally, I now find this kind of response is missing the point.

The Ephesians 4 passage talks about five dimensions of ministry, which are rooted in individuals to such an extent that they become identified by their role and function. How come we have elevated two of those roles, merged them into one person, and made them normative? Now let me make one thing absolutely clear – in my mind there is nothing wrong with being a pastor-teacher. (I might even still be one myself). My problem is more with how it’s eclipsing the other ministries and focusing us upon one or two functional facets of Ministry, which can enable us to avoid the bigger purposes of Ministry. I resonate with something Ian Stackhouse shared on our Ministers Conference one year. Telling the story of how he was called to Millmead, Guildford – in response to those question/answer/interrogation sessions us Baptists put ourselves through - he was asked what his vision was for that Church and he responded simply ‘to be a Church’. Surely that’s where Ephesians 4 leads us.

The problems, looking from a regional perspective, seem to arise when the gifting(s) of one individual leader push out of the leadership pot the giftings of others, or the expectations of the Church reduce the leadership pot to a purely functional (and individual) role. I have now observed quite of number of Church situations where the leadership group and the Church as a whole, agree they want their next Minister not to do everything they previously expected, define their role differently in some way, etc. – only to return to the default position within a couple of years. It’s almost as if someone somewhere presses that little button ‘restore factory settings’. (I think there’s a Ph D thesis in here somewhere if someone’s looking for a piece of work, which could serve us all well.) Another aspect of missing the point is to argue about things, which take us away from the purpose of each of the five-fold ministries (leaving aside for this moment the ‘is it four or is it five’ debate). One of the most straight-forward readings of this passage tells me we’re talking about people (as part of a team together) equipping other people for ‘works of service’ and ‘maturity’. That is, the NT focus is far more upon the ministry and mission of the whole Church than upon the roles individual people fulfil within it, whereas the institutional Church appears to have a different focus. So, where do we learn how to develop others? How do we grow to be secure enough in our own role within the grand scheme of a local Church to actively encourage those with other gifts like apostleship, or evangelism, among us? One of things I welcome in the current questions about emerging Church and things missional, is it is forcing us to take a long hard look at whether we are equipping people to be like Jesus a bit more in their places. This in turn is pushing us to raise issues about the role of the Minister.

There are many questions re this I still want to find some part of an answer to, but I’m supposed to be blogging rather than writing an essay, so I guess I’ll have to leave it there for now.

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