Every Tuesday I meet with the pastors in my town to pray for one another and for our region. We started praying for revival but many issues are raised when we gather.
For the last few months, possibly for much of the year, I have found myself becoming increasingly frustrated with my brothers and sisters. It is becoming clear that God has drawn me along a very different path.
I love these people very much. But I can see they are "locked in" to a toxic style of ministry and they can see no way out. In fact they can't even see that there is a way out or that they need one. I often feel, as we share, that we use words in a very different way, or that my words just don't make sense to them.
Here are some reasons why pastors need to find a new way of being the Body of Christ.
1. The old model is killing them
We were called out of denominationland 10 years ago. I left all the security of a career in a large denomination to follow, by faith, the call of the Holy Spirit.
My brothers and sisters are being worn out by the demands of traditional pastoring. One pastor spoke of the number of pastors leaving the ministry in their denomination because they were "burnt out" or literally dying. Ironically this is a gung-ho pentecostal denomination that aggressively preaches healing- but nobody seems to recognise the contradiction!
2. Denominations, pastors and congregants live in an unhealthy co-dependency
Some denominations seem to teach their members to depend on the pastor. Some pastors need their congregations to be dependent on them for the pastor's benefit. One pastor in our town speaks of the comfort of having the denomination to back them up in a property purchase.
In this co-dependency relationship, nobody is depending on God, or looking to Him for support. People never grow to maturity because they are taught to rely on the pastor. Pastors burn out because of the high demands being placed on them.
3. Traditions are more important than scripture.
I made a bold claim today that 90% of everything churches do is more based on traditions of men than the teachings of scripture. Nobody contradicted that statement- although someone did ask for clarification.
I'm not excluding my church from this- although I am working hard at the moment to find out the difference between the "Gospel of the Kingdom of God" taught by Jesus and the "gospel of the church" taught by many well-meaning people.
If we only ever do what we know from what we have done in the past, how can we transition into the "new thing" that God is bringing to pass?
We really need christian leaders to discover what of the church's practice is really the command of God and what is just the accumulated "good ideas" of past centuries.
4. We need to establish godly leadership teams.
I believe that the 5-fold ministry gifts of Ephesians 4 are God's perfect blue-print for leadership. Apostles, prophets, teachers, pastors and evangelists need to work together in the local church.
One reason that pastors are burning out is that we expect them to run the whole show by themselves- or worse yet, under the thumb of a board or a denominational hierarchy.
God has shown us that all 5 ministry gifts must be brought together in unity- each complementing the others so that the Body might be brought to maturity.
I believe that each genuine congregation of God's people will have the full compliment of these gifts. Maybe they are not yet fully recognised but they will be there.
The church is meant to be built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, but in most local situations they are not present.
Instead of God's gifting being recognised by the church, most congregations elect or appoint people to positions of leadership.
One comment that was made today is that pastors may need to get away for a month at a time to recharge the batteries. Personally, I don't feel that need because I am convinced that I am at the centre of God's will for me, so I don't get emotionally or physically or spiritually worn out. But if for some reason I had to go away for an extended time, I know that I have sufficient gifted, anointed ministers who share my vision and know my heart that I could leave it all in their hands and expect the church to be healthy and vibrant on my return.
5. We need to be rescued from the tyranny of "success."
Denominations and church boards often measure a pastor by numbers and offerings. The pressure is there to perform, to grow the church to make it more significant.
Pastors also measure their significance by growth in numbers attending.
This is a totally ungodly way of thinking.
The Bible tells us that Jesus will grow His church. That means at least two things:
a. Growth of the church is God's responsibility not any man's responsibility.
b. Although the church will grow, there is no guarantee that an individual congregation should be growing.
Pastors are knocking themselves senseless trying to achieve impossible goals.
If at the end of my life, God says to me "Well done!" it will be because I tried to be obedient to His call, not because I personally saved 5,000 people.
I've been a "failure" for most of the last 10 years. Having told everyone who would listen that God had told us this congregation would grow to be a church of 1000 people, after 10 years of hard, sacrificial work, I still only have a church of 30. God has granted me some successes- but they are the gracelets of favour that encourage me to keep going. I've learned not to look at results in my ministry- just obedience to the calling God has placed on my life.
6. We need to repent of our love of technology.
We live in a highly efficient technological age that has brought many benefits to the world.
The down-side is that our culture teaches us that if you follow a particular recipe you can be guaranteed the result you seek. Type a command into a computer and you can order this product on-line. Push this pedal on the car to make it go.
The assumption is that congregations will respond in the same way. If only we get the right programme our congregation will grow. 40 Days of Purpose worked there, so it I do it in my church I will get the same result. Alpha is an anointed programme that has doubled church attendance in that town, so if I do it in my town I can expect the same result.
We must learn to depend on God and not on programmes, no matter how anointed.
The church is the Bride of Christ. How dare we seek to manipulate it in this mechanistic way!
If there is a programme to follow, it must be the way of pursuing Jesus.
Our goals are all wrong. The church exists to glorify and enjoy her redeemer. It does not exist for growth's sake. Growth may be a product of devotion- but don't count on it.
We have made an idol of church growth and of the measures of "success". Let's pursue Jesus and love Him more deeply- that is true success in the church.
I don't know what the new paradigm looks like. For 15 years I have been hearing personal prophetic words about the "new thing" but I don't know yet what it looks like. Maybe the "new thing" is different for each manifestation of the Body of Christ.
What I do see as I look around is a lot of pastors who just don't see that church as we've known it is killing them and their people.
I've started to set a trail in my own neighbourhood, a way of being the church that is built on good foundations. I'm not pressured to succeed. I'm not locked into unhealthy dependencies and I'm not pressured by the need for "success." I don't pretend to have arrived, but I am looking to God for the right path for my church, for my life.