Foreword: I just retitled this post, and I’m rewriting it. It isn’t about what I first thought it was about. I read the three posts I’ve linked below, copied the links into a paragraph basically just linking them all together, and before putting down my further thoughts in the post composition window, I sat and thought about them some more… sifting carefully through the things that Mike McNichols wrote as I ate my lunch in front of the computer. Leftover macaroni noodles and chicken mixed with broccholi, red and yellow peppers, and snow peas. A salad I threw together with poppyseed dressing, strawberries, and cashews. The last of the raspberries for dessert. A glass of water.

I stop to highlight something in Darryl Dash’s post. I re-read Fred Peatross’ brief post that somehow ties in. I glance at David Fitch’s entry, and highlight several things in Mike McNichol’s. Suddenly it hits me. I don’t know what hits me, but it hits me. A flash of insight, maybe… I’m onto something, and I begin to type, my eyes closed, my fingers tripping over themselves in their failure to keep up. Just a few notes so I don’t lose this train of thought. When you labour over a train of thought until a glimpse of insight floods your mind with ideas and literally brings a tear to your eye, you desperately want to hold onto it, and hope you’ll be able to explain yourself later. So now I begin to rewrite my paragraph and the flurry of typo-laden words and half-referenced ideas that follow. I’m still not sure I have it sorted out right, but it’s a start. I’ve spilled a lot of ink on this, spent the entire afternoon with it… and I can just make out the scuff-mark I’ve put in the surface of this subject.

David Fitch asked last week, Is the Clock Ticking for the Mega Churches? He refers to an excellent post by Darryl Dash on The Drew Marshall “We’ll pay you to go to church” experiment where he takes a couple of heathens to surruptitiously visit five churches and write a report. Elsewhere, Fred Peatross was talking about the megachurch as well, saying it’s basically a big shopping mall filled with specialty shops tailored to fit preference-driven consumer choices.

Rather than talking about the big-structured building and its programs, Mike McNichols was zeroing in on the big cheese, asking about Abandoning the “Pastoral Church”. Huh? Has he got that right? He quotes Jurgen Moltmann from The Source of Life: The Holy Spirit and the Theology of Life:

The Source of Life: The Holy Spirit and the Theology of Life If Christianity is to become aware of what it is, we must abandon the pastoral church which takes care of people, which is the usual form of the Western church. Instead, we have to call to life a Christian community church. Either we set about this church reform by ourselves, or it will be forced on us by the loss of church members.

Wish List, Ahoy. Let’s see, what did I highlight?

One of the reviewers’ ideas on a megachurch they visited: “[R]eally: why the son et lumiere? I found the medium more than a bit out of whack with the message.” (Dash)

On the reports so far on four of the five churches: “[T]he church that has best embodied and communicated the gospel so far is not slick and would not get noticed for its attendance records. It’s not going multisite and pastors don’t drool over what they’re doing. …Reminds me a little of the letters to the churches in Revelation.” (Dash)

McNichols got a lot of highlighting — it’s the best thing I’ve read this week.

The church in the west has somehow tended toward the care and feeding of the congregants and so organized around a kind of therpeutic model that makes “getting my needs met” the ultimate end of the church. But the church is a universal and local expression of the covenant people of God. As such, the church is bound to God’s initial covenant with Abraham to be God’s people for the sake of the world. The church exists to be a covenant community that will be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. The church calls the world into the grand narrative of God–the ultimately true story of the universe–and to abandon all other competing stories. In effect, we proclaim and demonstrate–by the power of the Holy Spirit–the present reality of the kingdom of God.

Jesus proclaimed the kingdom. We proclaim Jesus and live in the presence and power of his Spirit.

Care and healing and belonging come out of that. But those things are still not the point. When those things become the center focus of the church, then we move into a contractual relationship that demands certain needs and preferences be met. If they are, then attendance and giving is the reward. If not, then people simply move on. Contract broken.

The church, however, is not a contractual community. It is a covenant community. In covenant we live willingly together at the summons of God, to be his people for the sake of the world. In that covenant life care and healing will come.

What happens next on that page, farther down, is that Winn Griffin weighs in with a comment:

God acted on behalf of Israel. He rescued them from Egypt. Their response to this great act of God on their behalf was to follow the stipulations of the community which were later summarized by Jesus as “loving God and loving neighbor….” While God’s covenant with Abraham was to set apart a people for the sake of the world, as you pointed out, God’s covenant with Moses was to provide the means for carrying out this “redemptive plan.”

Within this “community plan” we don’t find a “pastoral figure” whose job it is to “care” for the members of the flock in the way we have arrived at thinking about care in our Western worldview.

Certainly care was not abandoned by God, but maybe we abandoned it by redefining in the West who could do it and what the perks would be when it was done.

Oh, my heavens. Then he goes on to talk about the 23rd Psalm. Wait, weren’t we just talking about — yes, On Power Imbalances in Pastor-Parishioner Relationships — our Western culture has lost the meaning of the “shepherd.” Winn describes what the shepherd does in Psalm 23, concluding,

His goodness and mercy follow us. I am always captured by that metaphor. We don’t follow them, they follow us, which suggests that we are out and about doing the businesss of the creator of the universe. Finally, we get to live in his sheepfold (think community) all the days of my life.

Holy— —     what? I mean, WTF??! Where in the name of all that’s holy did we get the idea that the shepherd drives the sheep like cattle? I once told a pastor, “You can’t herd sheep with a cattle prod!” But really… it wasn’t him, it’s systemic! Purely, unabashedly, unmistakably, we’ve come to think of the church as some great sheep ranch!

Okay, let me calm down a minute. I’ll back up.

In what I call the apostolic-pastoral CEO model, the pasor runs around to the committeess and ministries to make sure they’re runing smoothly to provide what they perceive the people need, typically assuming it to be guidance, instruction, even correction (sheep are silly animals) – they fill the stable of various consumer needs and desires, in 31 flavours. from there, the pastor believes his role is as an equipper — Ephesians 4, esp. v.13 — and that the saints do the works of service, not them. Their job is to keep the saints doing theirs. They’re the “overseers,” with Greek words studies to back it up. Perhaps it makes sense in their worldview, where the pastor is no longer caring for the sheep, he’s administrating them.

The apostolic-pastoral CEOs are aware that their role is not merely a “gift”, but an “office gift”, one of the special “fivefold” gifts which rule over the others by virtue of their position, providing from their accumulated wisdom and gifting the teaching and instruction which the body so desperately requires in order to become mature, like them, so that they can be presented to Christ, mature and faultless, unified around their vision.

The fools! Of these things they are far more aware (and wrongly so, for they are under a delusion) than of the fact that if they are truly called in this role, they don’t have the gift to wield, they are the gift, to be sacrificed for the sake of the body. Rather than be served as the leader above the flock, they are to be served as food to nourish the flock. The good shepherd, it must be observed, is the sacrificial lamb, and those who would follow must sacrifice themselves for the other lambs.

A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?�
Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.�
Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.” (John 21:17)

How did we think it worked? We’ve only practiced as the Gentiles do.

Then they began to argue among themselves about who would be the greatest among them. Jesus told them, “In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves.

The model we’ve constructed leads to what I describe as a self-serve model of pastoral care. In this model, which it must be said develops by default and not by design, the parishioner knows that the pastor’s door is always open, he’s there as the “Ephesians 4 Minister,” a resource to the church whenever he’s needed. All they have to do is ask. Assuming he’s got the goods to begin with, this seems to me to be more of a come-and-get-it approach than a basin-and-towel approach. In truth, I think it’s informed and fueled by the religion of self-help parapsychology far more than it is by the Gospel of Christ.

I think what Jesus meant was that we’re supposed to look after each other… and the gift of the pastor to the church is that unique personality that goes around loving on people and innately looking after them, simply because it is what he does, and he can’t not do it. The pastor goes out in search of sheep that are wounded or in need, meeting them where they are. Absent that, they’re not a pastor. They’re no better than the latest best-selling self-help book… only more expensive.

A good pastor is a connector. When he finds a wounded sheep, he says, “Did you know that so-and-so has been through this? They’ve recovered, you should talk to him. In fact, can I ask him to call you? I think he knows more about this than I do, and can understand what you’re going through. I’m going to call him right now, okay? The three of us will sit down together…” In contrast, the apostolic-pastoral CEO says, “You know, we have a department for that, a ministry to people-with-your-malady.” All you have to do is get yourself out to the group, they meet on the second Tuesday of the month.

No. That’s not it.

What was the lesson of the lost sheep in Luke 15? It was to tell what the good shepherd is like, it’s about the one who leaves behind all the committees and the preaching schedule and the television ministry and the women’s auxiliary and the prayer breakfast and the property committee and he forgets all about keeping the rest of the sheep arranged and says, “I don’t have time for any of that right now, I’m missing one of the sheep that I care for.” It’s about the heart the goes out and searches for what is lost. Next in that same passage is parable of the woman who loses a coin and instead of organizing the other nine and keeping a close eye on those, she goes searching for the one that is lost. Not that the nine or the ninety-nine are not also precious, but their common needs do not exceed the single extraordinary one. The good shepherd is not an economist with a ready PDA to help calculate the return on his investment of time.

Those are just the lead-in to the grandaddy parable, where the father of the prodigal son goes out to the end of the road to watch, and wait… not because he’s there when the reprobate is ready to come to his senses and make the first move, but because the father moved first. He used to take his lawn chair out to the end of the lane every day and sit there, peering at the horizion… a speck appears: is that him? He rises, takes a few steps… no, it’s just the UPS delivery man. He sits back down, ever watching. Yes, I know this isn’t in the text… but how else would he see his son approach from afar unless he was watching? And one day when he sees the speck on the horizon and asks the same old question, he sees that yes indeed, it is him, the old man breaks out into a gallop that ends with a flurry of embracing and dancing and feasting. Because that’s precisely what that wounded son needed in the moment.

I looked at Psalm 23, and although Winn quotes it above in the familiar way that most of us know it, the NLT doesn’t use the word “follow.” It says “pursue.”

Now that is the heart of a shepherd.

Where did we get these shepherds today who love to flit from conference to conference and be pursued by those who come to them like a guru or a self-help book? It seems perhaps we’ve completely redefined what the church is supposed to be, turned it all on its head, made it all about us. This isn’t a new message… lots of us have been saying if for years. And Jesus showed up to John and told him to write to seven churches specifically about this kind of crap. Yet we’ve gone and done it all after their pattern anyway. We’ve got to be willing to take a good hard look at the way we lead, follow, and build… and I know where we got those shepherds… we created them, just like the nation of Israel demanded a king.

Maybe Paul was speaking to us also when he wrote,

You think you already have everything you need. You think you are already rich. You have begun to reign in God’s kingdom without us! I wish you really were reigning already, for then we would be reigning with you. Instead, I sometimes think God has put us apostles on display, like prisoners of war at the end of a victor’s parade, condemned to die. We have become a spectacle to the entire world—to people and angels alike. Our dedication to Christ makes us look like fools, but you claim to be so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are so powerful! You are honored, but we are ridiculed.

As I write, CBC Radio One plays in the background. A feature story has now begun called “Treasure on Earth” about how charismatic churches in Ghana are being led by wealthy pastors, preaching a gospel of prosperity that tells adherents that God wants to make them wealthy also, and will if they give faithfully. The people are asking why.

Oh. My. God.

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