Generational Transference in the Bible: Implications for Today’s North American Expression of Church (Part 1)

Generational Transference Passing

David Bartlett concluded that the current struggle to perpetually transfer ministry
leadership in North America necessitates a “radical rethinking and perhaps even… conversion” of paradigms related to structure and assumptions of ministry within the church.[1]  Certainly this statement is true to the degree that churches in North America, or any culture or time for that matter, are failing to live up to the principles that are to shape their communities. 

As Howard Snyder has recommended, “churches that would be faithful to Jesus Christ and effective ministers of the Good News must understand what they are and live consistently with the way God made them.”[2]  Snyder suggests that Scripture serves as the source for the identity and the purpose of churches and the leaders within them.  Utilizing a list of four reasons given by Snyder as to why the Bible must be the “primary source” for our leadership provides a portrait within which transference of leadership is to be framed in the local church:[3]

            The Bible is God’s unique revelation both of Jesus Christ and of his body, the church.  The Bible is God’s revelation as to what the church is and how it is to function.  This has direct correlation with the theological foundations that direct the overarching principles of generational transference of ministry leadership.

            Ecclesiology is a primary focus of Scripture.  Individualism is secondary to the corporate aspect of God’s people.  To individualize the concept of God’s working among his people throughout history is to misread and neglect the interdependence of community-oriented mission of Scripture.  The Church is portrayed as a unit of parts working together, as the body of Christ, as a whole his bride,  for the sake of serving God and others in the world.[4]

            The example of the early church, including all of its imperfections, was the most dynamic embodiment of the gospel that history has yet seen.  Snyder suggests that leaders today “should delve into the experience” of these early Christian communities.[5] 

            Finally, Scripture uniquely combines church and mission.  The identity of God’s people as the “church” is integrally connected to the mission of God.  Darrell L. Guder has accepted the definition of the church “as God’s instrument for God’s mission.”[6]  The fact that the word “missional” is now being used as an adjective to describe a way of being the “church” is evidence, Snyder contends, that a shift back to the biblical identity and purpose of God’s people is necessary.[7]  A church that fragments identity and mission will be a church that struggles to transfer faith and ministry, let alone leadership, on to successive generations.

It is possible to derive from these biblical foundations some theological principles that will enable churches to be organized according to the elements necessary for the perpetual transference of ministry leadership. A local church should keep its mission as its central focus, structure itself adaptively, catalyze missional-minded community, and keep discipleship and equipping as the central task of church leadership.

[1] David L. Bartlett, Ministry in the New Testament (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1993), 18

[2] Snyder, Howard A., Decoding the Church: Mapping the DNA of Christ’s Body (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002), 15

[3] Ibid, 78-80

[4] “”We experience self as a part of others.”  Rashke, Carl.  The Next Reformation: Why Evangelicals Must Embrace Postmodernity (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2004), 172

[5] Snyder, 79

[6] Guder, Darrell L., ed.  Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 8

[7] Snyder, 79-80

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