Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Senior Pastor

Is it just me?

I've sensed some tension lately in the emerging/missional conversation about the role of pastor and about ministry as a profession in particular. Since the conversation seems to consist mainly of church planters and church leavers, perhaps the tension is inevitable.

The clergy/laity mentality is being deconstructed, and rightly so. However, in that process, the role of pastor is being redefined. Many pastors themselves are leading the way in promoting a more participatory model of doing church.

There are legitimate questions still being worked out. Does having a central leader create passivity in the followers? How do we lead without becoming the designated "cleric" for a group of people? Does having professional ministers compromise our functioning as the priesthood of all believers? As a leader, do we single-handedly bear responsibilities that should be taken on by the group as a whole?

The missional conversation in particular challenges the institutionalism of the church, leaning towards more organic church communities. And yet, institutionalism has provided the structure that exists for vocational ministry.

Where do you suppose this is headed?


Bruce said...

Love the picture!

So, where is it heading? This is just me talking, but I see a lot of laity getting upset with clergy because they aren't really sure what the clergy do. How they spend their time, is it worth the money, why do we have sooo many on staff, do we have to build bigger and bigger buildings, etc.

Does it create passivity in the followers? Sure it does - how many times have you heard, "Isn't that what the staff gets paid for?"


Lily said...

Grace - if you haven't already, I suggest you read this post at Ginkworld, where John O'Keefe speaks of being the "narrator" rather than the "lead pastor". I think it's along the lines of what you are talking about.

"i have come to the realization that we have no "lead pastor" in our community of faith, only people who share in the story and seek to find their place in the narrative."

Cindy said...

Grace, this is a good topic for discussion. I do see the role of pastor changing, and necessarily so. However, I don't think that having full time clergy is, in itself, the cause of passivity of the laity.

Rather, I think it's the way in which most pastors lead and are being taught to lead that is the problem. Everybody who's held a secular position of leadership knows that the only way to make the organization function well is for to delegate, train, and teach others to lead. The leader must lead by working side by side with everyone else. That is where our churches has failed.

The pastor as "top dog" has become the norm and expectation. Frankly, I think many of our pastors have become addicted to the high of the power positions they're in. Moreover, many if not most congregations have become willing co-dependent participants in the pastors' addictions, facilitating them by further elevating him/her while they serve less and less in the process.

The question is how to deal with the necessary rehabilitation of the church. Like any other addicts, pastors and congregations have to first accept that they have a problem and then change everything about the way they live and operate within the church.

Whether this can be done "in house" or if it must be accomplished by starting frest somewhere else is yet to be seen. The answer will most likely be some of both.

John Smulo said...


I'm always interested in your thoughts on this topic, though it seems that you always keep a lot of what you feel close to your heart.

I think that passivity is caused by three things:

1. Pastors. Pastors lead a system that gets people to come to be passive. I've recently said no to any potential opportunities to pastor a church that has this traditional "passive" type system.

And let me tell you, it was really tough. It has huge financial implications for my family, and I don't see much (any?) compassion in the wider emerging/missional conversation for pastors going through this.

2. Church. Well the way we've done it for so long begs passivity, particularly Sundays--but the rest of the week for the most part too.

3. Christians in general. Most pastors I think want people to participate. But there's a lot of resistance by people in general. I don't think most Christians want the priesthood of all believers, just the priesthood of pastors.

Anonymous said...

Grace: I think people are beginning to become more passive in the Church because there are consequences to asking questions. If you question why something is done or how it is done you are a 'disruptive force' or out of unity in many Churches. More and more I am seeing people not trust their Pastors and their leaders in the Church. They feel betrayed and wounded.

grace said...

Great insight everyone!

I'm glad you like the picture. Some posts need a picture, and some pictures need a post. ;)

I have a problem with the fact that so much money goes into buildings and staff. Yet, I also believe that if we require someone to work full-time, we should compensate them well.

As to the passivity, I agree with your statement. Perhaps the model we are most familiar with is paying someone to do the work for us, kind of like a family hiring a maid instead of everyone pitching in and doing their part.

I did read that, and I appreciated his thoughts. Especially because it seemed that he was redefining the role of the leader, not necessarily eliminating it. Yet, in redefining, he said that the leader simply shares a place in the story, like everyone else. This would require radically different methods of leading than we have known.

Sorry to read that you had a migraine. It is amazing that you can write such a lucid comment here in the midst of a pounding headache.

So true about the need to delegate, teach, and allow others to take responsibility. I can see how frustrating this would be from the leader's point of view because I know that many people want the passive role. They don't want to be expected to participate or to contribute anything more than their $$$.

Great comments about the co-dependency of the pastor/people relationship. We have exactly the system that we have chosen. It reminds me of the Israelites demand for a leader or king so that they would not have to be responsible themselves for following God.

As to where and how it changes, the answer is always both/and!

I'm so glad you commented. Your thoughts are exactly what I was wondering - what does this look like to someone in the trenches of transition?

Honestly, I don't think that there will be many people willing or able to make the sacrifice that you and your family have. However, I do think that the role of vocational pastor will be a tension point in the conversation.

On the extreme end, I would love to see us have to learn to be the church without the buildings, staff, and programs that we have become dependent on.

On the realistic end, apart from house church, any type of public gathering requires real estate and considerable organization and effort to accomplish.

I wonder if the emerging people will branch into new styles of the old model and the missional people will eventually abandon the old model.

There are some incredible people in the role of pastor (like john frye, ben sternke, and franklin for example), and there are some very fruitful churches in the traditional model.

Yet, I also believe there are people being called out to model a new way of being the church.

As you can see, my thoughts on this are still very much in process.

That is true at times. I hope that eventually people will learn to quickly recognize the signs of an unhealthy church system and not participate in such dysfunction. Wouldn't it be great if people were aware enough to "just say no" to unhealthy leadership so that it would lose its power.

Robbymac said...


When I was pastoring in the 90's, one of my biggest frustrations (aside from the gold-dust-o-philes) was that the people were deeply committed to passivity. Teaching, training, modelling -- nothing seemed to work. People just wanted to sit, get what they "needed", and be left alone.

The comments above, I would heartily applaud, because I've seen the church dynamic set up to create passivity and (co)dependence on the "professionals". And I've definitely seen pastors/leaders who really like the position of power and all the privileges that some people attach to that.

But sometimes, it's also the expectations of the people who gather in these churches, too, that are the problem. They just want to be "fed"; missional talk and action disturbs their middle-class suburban world, and they don't want to hear it.

Leaving the pastorate had big financial implications on my family as well, so I can relate to what John is saying (and I do have compassion for you, John!). But the more I pursued a more authentic, community-based expression of the Faith, the less "hire-able" I became.

I hope things work out better for you in this regard, John!

John Smulo said...

Great comments all! Very interesting thoughts about codependency that I hadn't thought about, and also Grace your image of the maid rather than a home with everyone pitching in is spot on.

Just to clarify one thing, you said:

"Honestly, I don't think that there will be many people willing or able to make the sacrifice that you and your family have."

We aren't "able". Since the last church we were at God has been providing in amazing ways, and I'm teaching part-time, but we are constantly on the verge of losing everything--and I mean everything.

I'm really fortunate to have a wife who is hanging in there with me through this transition. Lack of finances while mortgage payments, etc. keep coming can get incredibly stressful.

So it's this kind of reality that people need to be aware of.

Btw, we're at the very early stages of starting a new kind of church. Thinking through finances as part or not part of this is tough. Any thoughts?


Thanks for your compassion!

So I Go said...

where is it headed? as Bono would say, toward "maybe maybe too much talk."

the deconstruction of the current model will only take place in small steps, in ever expanding small circles of communities..from local folk who want to turn Church into an action verb.

i know the pastor has a role, a huge role in fact.. but i love this from the Message.. seems like a great church model to me.

13 "Quit your worship charades. I can't stand your trivial religious games: Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings - meetings, meetings, meetings - I can't stand one more! 14 Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them! You've worn me out! I'm sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning. 15 When you put on your next prayer-performance, I'll be looking the other way. No matter how long or loud or often you pray, I'll not be listening. And do you know why? Because you've been tearing people to pieces, and your hands are bloody.

16 Go home and wash up. Clean up your act. Sweep your lives clean of your evildoings so I don't have to look at them any longer. Say no to wrong. 17 Learn to do good. Work for justice. Help the down-and-out. Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenseless. Let's Argue This Out
(Isaiah 1:13-17, The Message)

Steve Sensenig said...

John, you said We aren't "able".

I would like to encourage you to look at the verse immediately preceding the well-known "I can do all things through him who strengthens me". That's Philippians 4:12, but look at verse 11.

I think you may find it encouraging to you at this time. You are able through him who strengthens you, my brother!

KSG said...

Grace, interesting post, and probably inevitable when deconstructing church life (it sures seems that to take a serious look at one part means you have to take a serious look at all the parts).

I like what McRob says, “But the more I pursued a more authentic, community-based expression of the Faith, the less "hire-able" I became.” This is so true... as I’ve reworked my understanding of church, I’ve become less “employ-able” (even though I’ve only ever volunteered) by church. After all, who wants a guy who thinks he’s equal to everyone else, including the senior pastor, in value to the organization, who’s passion it is to do what God’s called him to do but doesn’t believe that the pastor holds the ‘vision’ for the church but instead thinks that the vision is held by the active believers within the congregation and so therefore that vision is ever evolving, someone who actually wants to be a part of a team who wrestles with scripture and how to apply it, someone who thinks evangelism is what happens everyday when Jesus followers go about their intentional Christian lives and not just a program on Thursday night or a staged event every other Friday. I’ve been taught for 27+ years that everything rises and falls on leadership, so I say to old school church types, “If you really believe that, then who should you be holding responsible? Don’t blame the sheep when it’s you as ‘under-shepherds’ who have created this mess.”
My resume doesn’t fit institutional church, and I mean the charismatic, word-of-faith, “in revival”, fits of laughter, roar-like-a-lion, set man, pyramid-shaped, evangelical type of institutional church, not the ones that the afore-mentioned church loves to mock or otherwise hurl insults towards.

New types of leaders require new types of followers. I say that reluctantly since it’s very easy to still think of leader/follower relationships in terms of the old paradigm.

Oh, "So-I-Go"... love that scripture...thanks.

Here's praying for you John.

grace said...

fwiw, it's worth quite a bit. You bring a welcome and needed perspective to this conversation.

While we all agree that congregants are likely more responsible for passivity than the leaders, do you think we will ever overcome that passivity as long as there is a person hired to "do the stuff"?

We have missional people frustrated in nonmissional churches and missional leaders trying to lead passive followers. I guess we just need to get them hooked up with each other.

Could explain more about why you are less "hireable"? Is it because your values no longer fit within a traditional structure? If so, do you feel that missional leaders will need tentmaking occupations to provide for their families?

I have several thoughts about "leading" the family in contributing to taking care of the home, since this is my area of expertise. ;)

1. It would usually be easier to do it yourself. (resist the urge)

2. You could usually do a better job yourself. (resist the urge)

3. You may be tempted to criticize the quality of work done. (resist the urge)

These are lessons about the sometimes frustrating work of getting others to participate.

John, I pray that you and your wife hear from God on how to deal with the financial aspect of this. The reality of financial pressure can suck the life out of our dreams.

I wanted to ask you about saying no to the traditional pastor positions. Do you see any possibility of turning a traditional congregation into a missional community?

Since you asked, my thoughts about finances in a church are kind of bizarre. I have been trying to imagine a church where you could teach service and giving, but the service was to the community instead of the church, and the giving was to the needy instead of to the church.

Wouldn't it be awesome to be able to stand in front of a bunch of people and teach and encourage them to give abundantly, knowing that they would take that excitement and follow the direction of the HS in finding where to give and knowing how blessed they would be in their giving.

Of course, this totally messes with our non-profit, get a tax deduction mentality. Not to mention, aside from house church, I have yet to figure out how to do church in a way that doesn't cost anything.

Sorry to say, I have more questions that answers at this point.

grace said...

so I go,
"Learn to do good. Work for justice. Help the down-and-out. Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenseless."

Now that sounds like church! And yes, there are plenty of opportunities for people to lead out in living this way. I'm just not sure if they are necessarily career opportunities anymore.

Thanks for your encouraging words.

I can certainly relate to your thoughts about not being an "employable volunteer" in a traditional church setting. That is the problem with this emerging/missional conversation. It seems to ruin a person for fitting into the institutional structure. I think as we all become new kinds of leaders and followers, we may learn a more fluid relationship of sometimes leading and sometimes following.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. You always have helpful input.

Robbymac said...

Yo Grace,

"Could explain more about why you are less "hireable"?"

Basically because when you challenge the status quo, you scare/offend/terrify both the congregation (the ones committed to passivity) and other pastors/leaders (the ones committed to power and prestige).

"Is it because your values no longer fit within a traditional structure?"

That's also a big part -- you just suddenly realize (after a long season of sensing that you're moving in a different direction) that YOU don't fit. And the more my values changed (I'll write a post on this later with a real-life story), the less I WANTED to fit in.

"If so, do you feel that missional leaders will need tentmaking occupations to provide for their families?"

That's been my experience, but I wouldn't consider myself "the wave of the future", although there are quite a number of former pastors who are finding that tentmaking is not just their only viable option (if they're "hard to hire"), but actually a desirable option.

People like Brother Maynard are better suited to this shift that people like me, simply because he already had a "real" job and I trained only for the pastorate and have no other marketable skills. Perhaps Brother Maynard is "the wave of the future"! :)

grace said...

Thanks for expanding your thoughts here. It is really too bad that those, like yourself, most suited for leadership, really don't fit our existing structures.

I am always interested in hearing what you see in the future for the church.

I just wonder if there will be an entire generation of seminary-trained pastors caught in the midst of the shift the church is about to experience.

For yourself, I am guessing that you have many skills acquired in the pastorate and from life experience that you would find applicable to other career options, should you ever find yourself looking for a "real job". ;)

John Smulo said...

Hi Grace,

I'm really sorry to take so long to respond.

To answer your question, the good news is that I do think there's a possibility of turning a traditional congregational into a missional community.

The bad news is that I think the possibility is between slim and none. The last church I was at in Australia moved to some extent from being inward focused to missionally focused.

But it nearly killed me in the process. I think the view that it makes more sense to plant a new church than try to change an existing church culture.

When you refer to giving to the community instead of the church, you mean the community instead of financially supporting pastors--right?

I have a good friend who is going to be a part of our new church plant who is thinking along similar lines, and as I've told him, I'm obviously biased on this. But I think that there should be full-time pastors focused on equipping people, and that this should be a paid role.

But there are lots of other areas--perhaps ones where I'm less biased!--that I think would free up lots of funds for giving to the community.

grace said...

Welcome back. I know it's tough to keep up with several conversations. I have been following your latest posts with interest.

I agree with you that it is probably easier to plant than to change an existing congregation. If you consider that the congregation will grow from the DNA that exists, it's important to start with the DNA that will produce the desired result.

Concerning full-time pastors, my thoughts are more ambivalent than dogmatic.

On the one hand, I would love to see people like yourself planting new kinds of churches and changing the landscape of church as we know it.

On the other hand, I consider the billions we spend in America for a different expression of church on every block, with each group needing a minimum budget of several hundred thousand a year, and then I think there must be a better use for all this money.

Contextually, I think that Americans still want some type of public gathering, although that could be changing. In that case, it would be nice to be able to pay someone to take on a full-time role role of administrating and catalyzing such a gathering.

Where I would make a distinction is about the role of the full-time person. In order to not revert to the clergy mentality, I believe that it should be clear that ministry is the shared responsibility of the congregation.

I don't believe that one person should be responsible for the equipping of the body, but rather that you will find those equipping gifts among the body. The same is true with discipling, teaching, and mentoring. None of these things should be taken on solely by the leader.

Even if this is clear in your heart as the leader, as long as there is a full-time pastor, it will be an uphill battle to prevent passivity among the congregation regarding who is responsible for ministry.

Anyway, as I struggle through my own thoughts on the role of a pastor, I want to be careful to not disrespect in any way the vision that God has put in someone else's heart. My struggles are with particular issues concerning how we have seen this role function, not with the legitimacy of the calling of the men and women who serve well within this role.

Which I guess brings me back to the original point of the post. It worries me that as we deconstruct and reimagine ways of doing church, that in the process we invalidate the legitmate things that others are doing for the good of the kingdom.

So even though I am still wondering if there is a different way of doing church, I totally respect what God is doing through you, and I look forward with excitement to reading about your journey in planting this church.

John Smulo said...


Thanks for your response. You are such a breath of fresh air to me! I need people like you around me talking out loud, because its a catalyst for me to keep rethinking and imagining church, and even what being a pastor could mean for me.

I do need to clarify that I definitely don't think that one person should be responsible for equipping the church. But I think that it is helpful if there are people who have the time, because they're being paid, to equip people to equip others, who equip others, etc. And have people with different gifts/passions equipping people in the areas of their gifts/passions.

So this isn't a hierarchical things, just a way of bringing out the best of the dreams and gifts God has given everyone.

grace said...

Likewise john. I've enjoyed the conversation. I don't have many real-life friends who are interested in rethinking church, so I appreciate the opportunities I have online to dialog about things like this.

Ron H said...

gfhodadHey Grace: I just came across this post and the comments, so I'm probably late in terms of you or others reading it. But wanted to say hi and thank for this and the stuff you posted about your past church experience. I am a seminary trained pastor/person who left the official position in 1986. My wife and I have been searching for some kind of Christ centered, Christ exalting expression of christian community life for many years. Our experience has been very similiar to McRob's postcharismatic story. I love his heart and what he writes. I have been able to be "employed" in chaplaincy ministry and my wife has a very good job so we don't have the financial issues some of the rest of you do, but our hearts still hunger for life with God's people. Thanks Grace, and all of you for this discussion. Ron