Missional Challenges

Urban LandscapeOver the last year I have noticed a trend when in a mixed group of churches (often evangelical) and NGOs.  It is the local evangelical churches inability to organize or work with outside groups.  All of them share the following characteristics.

  • The needs and convenience of the local church are more important than other partner agencies.
  • Other partner agencies or the community are expected to conform to the church’s convenience, even though it is a big inconvenience to other parties.
  • The church has a much bigger need for recognition than other agencies and groups.

The result is the same, the church is excluded in future discussions and is left on the margins while it’s reputation is hurt.  One frustrated NGO leader that I know talked about dealing with adults and children and evangelical churches was put into the children category.

Over the years several people have seen this and suggested that pastors are relationally retarded, they just can’t interact outside of a hierarchical power structure.  Bill Kinnon and I have talked about the narcissistic personality disorder and he also suggests that some pastors are sociopaths.  I have noted that many evangelical churches don’t play well with others but I am sure in some cases that is the issue.

I wonder if in many cases it is a case of never interacting outside of the confines of the church.  Growing up in the church –> Bible College –> Youth Worker –> Seminary –> Associate Pastor –> Sr. Pastor leads to fairly limited worldview as it totally focused on the life of the church.  The church has been and continues to be a persons entire life.  An entire career spent organizing within the community mean when in a situation where they need to be part of something bigger, they behave the same way they do inside the church, the needs of the church become the most important.  The issue isn’t that pastors are jerks, it is that their education and career path hurts them.  The more I think about it, the more it becomes a correctable issue.

What if we slowed down the path to the pulpit, either as denominations or as seminaries.  What if a two year stint in the Peace Corps or something like working for the Canadian Coast Guard or navy was part of the journey?  What about a two year stint in the mission field working grunge jobs and funded by the church that is sending them out to ministry.  My friend Gloria always says that church staff need to work in the real world and the more I think about it, the more I agree with it.

The purpose is to show potential church leaders a bigger world and also put them outside the church for a while.  Let them figure out some more about their personal faith, their calling, but also teach them how to work with other groups, learn what it means to be at the bottom of the totem pole. It would also teach them how hard it can be to make ends meet, be a good spouse, parent and participate on the life of the church.  It would give them an idea how how much they are asking and how much people are giving towards the life of the church and what that means.

I know some people will leave the ministry along the way, they are going to find a better spot and serve.  They may choose a career in the Navy, a career working in microfinance in Africa, or choose a career in business.  Some will even lose their faith but that happens now.  For those who are really called to pastoral ministry, it will give them a bigger worldview, a network a friends outside of the church, some more life experience, and the ability to understand how to work as part of a team, rather than just “lead” a team.

There is a reason why for years, culture valued leaders who served in the military as we felt that being part of something bigger than ourselves was a prerequisite of leadership.  Even President Obama did this during his years as a community organizer in impoverished Chicago neighborhoods.  Maybe a four year Bachelor’s of Theology needs to become a six year degree with a year breaks between year two and three and year three and four.  A Masters of Divinity may require an approved year of learning outside of the seminary applying what has been learned.  The Peace Corps, becoming a reservist, serving coffee in a Starbucks, being an intern in a shelter, or spending a year with YWAM become a required part of the curriculum.   By moving people outside the church for education, we may just make them better church leaders who have learned some important skills connecting with others, building partnerships, and living in the community.

16 thoughts on “Missional Challenges”

  1. Jordon, A while back I was involved in a very EV Church that was interested in a cooperative effort with a local food bank. The straw that broke the camels back was the church wanted their banner very visible, and distribute it’s version of faith. Needless to say it fell apart, the church far less missional and the food bank struggles with volunteers.
    This seems to be a repeated often by various cooperative efforts with the church and local social justice agencies. I say ” just do it ” form partnerships and see what evolves out of forming the relationship…I think both parties but surprise themselves.

  2. What I value about working at The Salvation Army is that although salvation is a big part of the message, the price of a sandwich is not having to listen to a sermon. Any other church I’ve worked for or with makes participation in the church the price of participation

  3. I wonder if we could suggest another response to your question…what if pastoring explicitly demanded community involvement? What if pastor’s were expected to spend time working with other organizations and people in their community with no direct involvement in their churches. I spent one year on the mission field and one year working before starting Bible College and became a youth pastor immediately after that. Those experiences both helped me, however what may have helped the most was the expectation that I would find ways to spend about 8 hours a week out in our community interacting with youth.

  4. I agree with Gloria. When I was in “paid”, “full time” ministry (whatever that means), I was the only one on staff that has worked “real” jobs, including owning my own business. I was always surprised at the competitive attitude with other churches/organizations. Much of that comes from economics. Many small and/or growing churches have great demand on finances and never trust God (for real) and do what is right.

    1. Guy Kawasaki would also suggest that male lead organizations are often too competitive and without several women in senior leadership roles, they tend to win, rather than build partnerships.

  5. Jordan, thanks for your post and thinking down these lines. I am fortunate to be part of a community that values bi-vocationalism as an approach to church leadership thereby connecting the leaders of local communities more with the context they inhabit. This of course leads to the need for new models of formation and training. I did a series on my blog regarding bi-vocational ministry not too long ago (here’s a link to the last post http://bit.ly/qzhpk which has links to those which came before). And I am trying to wrap up a series on a missional vision of theological education (latest post here http://bit.ly/8PQxAB). I hope that some of what I have been writing speaks to the sort of challenges you are taking about here. Thanks for your thoughts.

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