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Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Churches need more than pastors and teachers to grow the Kingdom of God

The era of the "sola pastora"
The european reformation of the sixteenth century attempted to restore the church to five New Testament principles: 

·  1 Sola scriptura ("by Scripture alone")
·  2 Sola fide ("by faith alone")
·  3 Sola gratia ("by grace alone")
·  4 Solus Christus or Solo Christo ("Christ alone" or "through Christ alone")
·  5 Soli Deo gloria ("glory to God alone")

Fine principles. But in reality, you could have added a sixth "sola pastora". This is the view that the most important gift in the church - in some cases the only gift in the church - is that of pastor or teacher. Of course this was not articulated, just assumed. And we who have inherited the theology of the Reformation have swallowed a camel and still think it to be a gnat.

But where in the New Testament does it teach that the Kingdom grows by the addition or multiplication of pastors alone? And from experience - with some notable exceptions - when the only gift or the main gift in the church is presented as the preaching/pastoring gift, that church is either filled with sermon-tasters (there is no necessary connection between a sermon-taster and a disciple of Jesus), or perhaps even worse, the pastor attempts to undertake all kinds of roles, of which he is gifted for only one or two: and in this scenario, there is no necessary growth of the Kingdom, either in depth or breadth.  

Five gifts - at least - not one
A far better approach is to be found in Scripture (remember sola scriptura?), in Ephesians 4. Here five (sometimes thought to be four) gifts are seen to be absolutely essential for the growth of the church: apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor & teacher (or pastor/teacher). Together these five gifts and gifted persons are assigned the task of preparing God's people for works of service so that the body of Christ can be built up.

Conservative Christians have traditionally excluded the first two gifts either (a) by association with excess, listing every abuse of the title 'apostle' and 'prophet' - and there have been some Big Time excesses, or (b) by capitalization:  there can be no Apostles as in Paul, John et al, there can be no Prophets as in Moses, David, et al. The result is that the other three roles, evangelist and pastor and teacher are held up to be the only important church-building roles around today: and often evangelists are excluded, leaving just pastors and teachers. 

The tragedy of this approach - not surprisingly because it is a distortion of Scripture - is that the dynamic ministries are denied: and so it should not surprise us that churches who are led by those with pastor/teacher gifts alone do not grow the Kingdom.

Another way
But another approach to Ephesians chapter four is possible. Let's think of apostle with a small "a" and prophet with a small "p". At root an apostle is a sent one - someone who spearheads a new ministry somewhere. A "prophet" is someone who can see what no-one else is seeing, who can see where God's people ought to be, but aren't. Both of these are dynamic ministries (and so too is the role of the evangelist). 

Pastors and teachers care for the static requirements of the sheep, whereas evangelists, apostles and prophets are looking to lands beyond the flock.

What we can say, at very least, is that somewhere within the life of the local church, there ought to be space made for prophets or  prophetic voices who are dissatisfied with the status quo when they compare it to Scripture and are keen for the church to reform. (Perhaps we now ought to call Martin Luther a prophet; certainly in the 20th Century we can recognise AW Tozer as a prophet.) And we ought to make space for apostles (we sometimes call them the lame "missionary") - or at least the apostolic voice -  people who are zealous to expand the kingdom to new places.

What is for sure is that churches who only emphasise the pastor/teacher and totally ignore the prophetic, the apostolic and the evangelistic gifts will one day die.

All this, we predict, is new wine for many; and for old wineskins perhaps the wine will prove too heady and rich.

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