Friday, May 18, 2007

Bringing in the Church vs Bringing in the Kingdom

The biggest tragedy in churches today is that they are too busy "bringing in the church" rather than "bringing in the kingdom of Christ". (R Paul Stevens)

Stevens, a strong proponent of 'Everyday Spirituality' is right on target. We should never dichotomize Christian work apart from other forms of work. One of the most perplexing things Christians do, is to distinguish one's work in terms of Full-time vs Part-time. The phrase, "I am going into Full-Time work for Christ", seems to be a very strange proposition. You mean, there is such a thing as a part-time Christian? The vocabulary we use in our Christian conversations leaves behind much to be desired. We are too influenced by the world that we fail to take charge of our own usage of Christian truths. The terms Full-time and Part-time are not only misleading but a harmful one as far as faith is concerned. Theologically, we learn from Colossians 3:23 that
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men (NIV)
If we are serious about practicing this verse as honestly as possible, we will know that there is no such thing as a part-time Christian. Likewise, theologically, there is no such thing as a part-time Christian ministry. All of us who profess to be disciples of Christ are already in Full-time ministry. A big difference is whether we are paid or not. Paid ministers are like Old Testament Levites who get their pay from a central fund from the rest of the tribal community. This is essential so that the Levites can focus on the temple and sacramental works for the community, while the rest of the tribes busy themselves with other forms of work. Note that there is no distinction whether there are part-time or full-time. It was simply accepted that that is the role in society they play. The expectation that pastors or Christian workers ought to be doing more, simply because they are paid, is a pagan belief, that is rather harmful. Should one behave differently when paid vs one that is not paid? You mean there is a monetary equivalant of God's gift? With expectations like this, will it not coerce one to behave in manners that is not himself/herself? This is one of the biggest problems of ministry work, where Nouwen describes workers as being Wounded Healers. Expectations must come with grace. Grace motivates. Grace forgives. Grace brings in the kingdom to us, and releases the kingdom within us. Grace is action in love. Like Bonhoeffer's warning against "Cheap Faith", we must be wary of churches that is looking for a "Cheap Deal". Unfortunately, there are churches that say one thing but behaves otherwise.

Not a Job but a Fit
It is common to find Churches that put up advertisements asking for spiritual superpeople. They want people with the best experience, the most relational, the most teachable, one who preaches well, one who is prepared to serve the most, and paid the least and so on. It is sad that on the one hand, they acknowledge that people are imperfect, yet by their very asking, they expect people to be perfect, or close to perfection, otherwise they will be branding the prospective applicant as 'underqualified.' There is a story of a person, who was rejected for a pastoral position because he is deemed to be 'underqualified'. I am appalled that such a statement is ever made. Theologically, we are all underqualified. That is why we need to live by grace. If one person is underqualified, the entire body is underqualified, as the weakest part of the body represents the archilles heel of the body. The kingdom of God accepts every member, even the smallest. The kingdom of the earthy church accepts only the most 'qualified' member to take on the role of the pastor of the church. This earthy (Earthly means church on earth; earthy means church behaving in worldly manner) church reflects the problem not with the person concerned but with the whole church concerned. What is that church trying to communicate? I suggest that part of the problem is that greater emphasis on bringing in the church rather than bringing in the kingdom. Church leaders can sometimes take their responsibililites too far, to see it as THEIR decisions that make-or-break, forgetting that the church belongs to the Lord.

Getting a good pastor is important, no doubt about it. What is more important is the recognition that the pastor is but another member of the body of Christ. No more and no less. People who are searching for pastors should not be looking for a job but a fit. The best pastors may not fit the church's culture. Likewise, the best church structure may not be suitable for all kinds of experienced pastors. In fact the best fit is never in terms of skill-sets or qualifications. The best fit is in terms of where the security of the seeking pastor and the seeking church lies in. A pastor who finds security in a job is not a good fit. Likewise, a church who finds security in a spiritual superpastor is in for further church problems. The best fit happens when the Holy Spirit moves the church committee and applicant to see beyond the resume/job description, but in terms of the vision/mission of the church, and how best to help the whole church be a faithful expression of that vision/mission, at the right time, at the right mood and at the right spirit.

The basic qualification is in verb forms and not nouns. It is not the label but the spiritual qualities of hospitality, the expression of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22). Whenever a church places more focus on the noun-forms rather than verb-expressions, they risk traveling along the wrong path. One can have the best seminary qualifications but fail miserably as a church worker. One can have very minimal training and yet ministers well in church. What then is the difference? The Holy Spirit's unction. The committee must pray. The church must pray. The applicants must pray. They must seek God from the beginning to the end, that the next applicant is not merely another object to put into the departing pastor's 'big shoes'. Neither is he to be a spiritual supermen to solve the many problems of the church. The whole church community must pray to listen to what God is speaking to them first before going on a search spree.

"But the church is in trouble. We need a good pastor to beef it up." some may argue. Well, if God is for the Church, who can be against it? If our focus is on these superspiritual men to lead and 'save' the church, where then is grace? Where is the humble Christ in the church? Perhaps churches looking for pastors should NOT even put out a job description publicly. All priority must be constantly focused on living well, interacting well and most importantly, being faithful and prayerful. I have heard stories of faith, where individuals simply spent their time praying and seeking and asking God for the right description and the right moment for the next worker in Christ. "Prayed into being" is what the church need. Otherwise, the church is practically more interested in "bringing in the church" rather than "bringing in the kingdom". For the kingdom of God is of righteousness, peace and joy in the Spirit. (Rom 14:17b)


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