As I was driving back from Sacramento yesterday, and was thinking about MPVCC, the troubles with Sovereign Grace Ministries, and other organizations, I had this strong feeling that God was telling me that people are making the Senior Pastor into an idol. Not necessarily that they’re literally worshiping the person/role, but that they’re using the lack of one or infallibility of one to inhibit their walk with God, experiencing intimacy with Him and communion with His family.
In that vein, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and have interwoven some of the highlights I’ve found into this … rant?
Often, I think that we can look at the role of a pastor as the means to enter into communion with God. But this has NEVER been the case, biblically. With the death of Christ, He tore the veil, which removed the barrier to enter into his presence by priest alone. Entry into the presence of God by each individual was made possible by Jesus Christ, and that personal one-on-one relationship with the Father/Jesus Christ is what most Christians seem to not comprehend. He gave us His Spirit, to speak to us, empower us and move us as a family, not directed by one person.
Moreover, as we look at the model of the early church, while the disciples followed the call to “Go, Make, Disciple, and Teach,” none were “priests.”
Jesus said, “MY SHEEP HEAR MY VOICE.” Christians think they hear the voice of Jesus Christ through pastors and through going to church, even though Jesus Christ lives in each individual through the Holy Spirit, if the Holy Spirit is indeed dwelling in the individual. Many Christians think their relationship with Almighty God is through the pastors and through the church buildings, by following pastors and sitting in pews.
Salvation and eternal life do not come by pastors, nor by going to church. Salvation and eternal life is the exclusive domain of Jesus Christ. Any Christian knows very well John 3:16. It does not say that, “whosoever believes in pastors, or goes to church shall not perish, but have everlasting life,” and yet the world of churchianity is equated to as being the way to salvation.
Millions of Christians have placed pastors in front of their lives, when the real Shepherd should be Jesus Christ. Too often, the pastor-centric model results in a feckless flock characterized by, as Zens says, a flaccid community of believers waiting for a person to “feed” them and goad them into religious activities.
What you see in scripture (if you’re willing to forget everything you’ve ever been taught about the church) is that the office of pastor, as it’s known today, doesn’t exist. Instead, pastors in the five-fold ministry described in Ephesians 4 are actually nothing more than functioning elders – especially in the context of the actual Greek translations. Elders are appointed by the Holy Spirit and accept the responsibility of being a role model to those less mature and less experienced in the church; someone who is willing to watch over others and guide them towards maturity. Someone who has the courage and conviction to be able to tell others in the church, “you can trust me, you can follow my example, I’m not afraid of your scrutiny, imitate my life”.
This is what Paul told his converts (I Corinthians 11:1; Philippians 3:17; I Thessalonians 1:6). In addition to being an apostle, he was a functioning elder.
Sometimes they were mentors in a local assembly, and sometimes they were sent to temporarily assist other churches. Elders were not building their own little empires, nor carving their niche in society; they were only serving their fellow believers in the capacity of a publicly recognizable spiritual guide or mentor, installed by the Spirit – not man’s qualifications.
When Jesus said he would build his “church” he used the secular word ekklesia to refer to the body of believers, which is similar to our concept of a town meeting. Ekklesia was used about 100 times in the Greek translation of the New Testament to translate the Hebrew word qualal, which referred to the Israelite “assembly.” The body of Christ is to be a Spirit-led setting where kingdom business can be acted upon. In light of what ekklesia really entails, popular conceptions of ‘church’ are dangerously limited to coming to a building, singing, putting some money in a plate, hearing a sermon, and going home.
This does nothing for building His church, allowing the Kingdom to shine in our lives, or allowing the Spirit to move within and through us to our community and beyond. We are each called to serve his church – and yes, some in leadership positions. But that doesn’t mean that the church doesn’t function in the absence of a central leader. It means that the elders, mentors and those who are in-tune with the workings of the Holy Spirit are equally as empowered to move His people forward. As I keep this in mind, and think about our situation at MPVCC, I tried to relate our situation to that of a replant – in the vein of the earliest churches. The best description I have found of the early church is that it was more like a basic training camp where people were all functional and/or training towards it.
I’m also reminded by Tri Robinson’s (who was staff with John Wimber) notes regarding leadership when continuing the Vineyard movement as it hits a period of decline. He states,
“The real questions are not, in my opinion, about what an authentic Vineyard is by exegeting John Wimber; but by returning to the gospels, as John did, and try to emulate all that we see there. It’s about who was Jesus, what did he do, and what did he tell us to do?… We must die to ourselves even to the point of surrendering leadership roles and unnecessary polity, giving our movement back to God once again. We must not define ourselves in such narrow ways that we make leaders who have been among us for years feel marginalized and pushed out. “
I would add, that it doesn’t mean that we make leaders more than what they are, or elevating them as the gateway by which we experience Him.
We don’t follow Wimber, or C.J or Joel Osteen. We don’t follow Jack or Jill or Sally or Sam. We follow Christ, allowing our lives and walk with Him to be shepherded (literally translated to “tending to others in spiritual matters”) by elders.