Body Building

Jordon points to a post from Wayne Jacobson to the effect that too many leaders treat the church as a project with which to tinker, to provide the correct model. If a consultant, or a candidate for a pastoral or staff position, or whomever, doesn’t make clear from the start that “the right structure” grows from the congregation’s character and its circumstances, its flavor and texture, environment and gifts, then by no means should we be encouraging them (much less paying them). Such a person reflects an idolatry of her or his preferred model — not a deliberative awareness of how the Body of Christ flourishes.

I have seen the havoc that “correct model” leadership wreaks. At best, the correct model actually bears a vague resemblance to what befits the congregation, so congregational life doesn’t suffer much. The alternatives only go downhill from there, though.

If we believe that the whole body promotes the growth of each part, when the parts are ordered toward the One who defines our identity and our way (Ephesians :15f, roughly), then we should understand that these mutually-dependent, mutually-supportive parts differ in fundamental ways, and that the love with which we strengthen one another forbids our imposing one-size (or “one-method-” or “one-model-”)-fits all answers onto sisters and brothers whose role in the body diverges from ours.

“On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable. . . .”

4 comments / Add your comment below

  1. So is that something like the notion that I have entertained that when a congregation works together, tries really hard to live out Christianity in whatever context it finds itself, and works towards a common mission, there is a good chance that growth might just happen? Rather than pushing, as you say, the model that will produce growth?

  2. Mark, I’m quite committed to the premise that the biggest influences clergy leaders can have on a church are negative — and that we best serve the congregation by stepping out of the way of the congregation’s expressing itself, growing into itself. That may involve guidance (usually will) of some kind, but most importantly it requires an ascesis of not making over a parish into your favorite model.

    If there’s a bunch of people who love God and want to serve God after the manner Jesus taught, then most of our work involves cooperating and making room for others’ gifts.

  3. Thanks for this. When we first started thinking about Reconciler, we explored various models for growth and leadership. Some of it proved helpful, but only as ways of articulating the thing that was already happening. “Team ministry.” “Ecumenical parish.”

    There was the suggestion that we wait until we had 100 people invested before we went public. As tempting as this was, we did not wait for this before we opened our doors. There have been frustrations and fears, but then there are other “models.”

    I do not imagine that 4,000 people gathered in the same place in the catacombs to celebrate mass. We have a “catacomb model” of church growth. By no means did we invent this.

  4. I am a lifelong Christian and hold an M.A.T.S. in Biblical studies. Oh yes, and I am married to a pastor. And yet, the proliferation of these “models” for churches has always mystified me. *Do* church. Do church, tell people about it, love those people (even in the small encounters, even if there won’t be other encounters), and people will come!

    St. Innocent of Alaska moved to Alaska from Siberia (same latitude! – brrr) and began celebrating the Divine Liturgy in a little hut. And soon the Aleut came peeking in. Now there is an *indigenous* Orthodox Church in Alaska. (Though America disdained it when seeking to annex Alaska in the late 1800s, and instead kidnapped many Aleutian children to send them to the States for “Christian” education….)

    St. Innocent’s model is the one I want to follow! With the addition of a little advertising — since we aren’t in a village where a newcomer’s chimneysmoke is going to attract the attention of everyone in the area. A blog and some flyer-papering should do the trick, though, I think.

    Mind you, all the “weirdness” of the church is right up front — again, like St. Innocent! Pastors are robed; communion is weekly; prayer is aloud. But, as weird as that may feel to a newcomer, there aren’t rituals to go through later (with the exception of baptism – though we talk about it so much it isn’t altogether “later.”) No snake handling or chicken-head-biting!

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