Who Runs the Church?

Constructions_1I am concerned for my own ecclesial safety!  I don’t want to end up in a church where structural beams will end up falling on my head!  Why am I afraid?  Well, many of the church structures that I grew up believing were eternally biblical models through the 1980’s in Indiana, I now understand were largely shaped significantly out of culture. To me, they were presented as “the way” of doing church.  But now, in 2006, living in Canada on the West Coast, I have experienced many versions of the architecture of church government.  And now, in my post-whatever mindframe, many of those governance models seem actually quite foreign. Some of the elements of leadership and ministry were certainly based on eternal biblical principles. But I’ve come to wrestle now about a myriad of aspects of governance that I once assumed were just a part of “church.” For instance, I now ask whether a pastor is a CEO, a manager, or merely a functional pillar?  Is a church elder an administrator, a shepherd, or both?  Are job descriptions biblical?  Are all pastors supposed to be teachers?  Are all elders supposed to be pastors?  Should elders operate in plurality or in hierarchy?  Do elders oversee pastors or do pastors shepherd elders?    Should pastors be paid to produce pragmatic goals?  Have churches by and large exchanged the simplicity of biblical governance principles for a pressured, competitive professionalism?  I resonate with David Bartlett’s words:

“What one senses in the shift to the professional model for ministry is an insufficient attention to our sources, to the foundational texts and experiences out of which the church emerged.  What is missing is sufficient attention to Scripture.”( Bartlett, David L., Ministry in the New Testament (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1993, p.15.)

I anticipate and fully expect that within Scripture is a beautiful framework by which Jesus wants to build his church. I also fully expect to be humbled by a realization of how much culture has influenced my own assumptions about the architecture of church leadership and hierarchy.  How extensively, I wonder, have we assumed the building codes of our cultural tendencies?   Like a building inspector then, I suppose, I seek a reconstruction of the church based upon God’s design and regulations.  This reflection is unable to answer all of my questions.  But through exegesis and reflections upon Scripture, these words do reveal my conviction that there exists a deeper, more blessed biblical concept of leadership, pastoring, and structures than I have up until now embraced for the church. 

What’s needed, Bartlett contends, is a “radical rethinking and perhaps even… conversion” of our approach to the structure and assumptions of ministry roles within the church. (Ibid., p.18.)  I suspect, in fact, that generally our contemporary North American churches need to rediscover proper definitions of church governance principles regarding authority and service, identified in characteristics of unity, shepherding, and humility.  Ultimately, in other words, spiritual formation and not administration nor organization, is the aim and biblical intention of church governance.  As Eugene Peterson has suggested, we must “strip away the cultural plaque and get on with biblical ministry.” (Dawn, Marva and Eugene Peterson.  The Unnecessary Pastor.  Rediscovering the Call (Grand Rapids, MI; Eerdmans, 2000), p. 11.)

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