Thursday, November 05, 2009

Form versus function

There seems to be a great deal of confusion over where I come down on the issue of human leaders, authority, ministry. I think some of the confusion stems from the point of emphasis. Is the emphasis of the Scriptures on the form of pastoral ministry or on the function of pastoral ministry? I would argue that the Biblical focus is firmly on the function of the pastoral ministry and as such the form is far less important. Historically, it strikes me that we have repeated the same error as Rome in emphasizing the form over the function of ministry. This has been one of the greatest impediments to a more complete Reformation.

Looking primarily at the form, we focus on things like offices, authority, titles. Pastors become men to respect and submit to; based in large part on the office they hold. Someone with the title of pastor is to be respected and deferred to unless proven otherwise precisely because of the office they hold. A great deal of emphasis is spent on defining the role, the qualifications, the credentials. Ministry becomes whatever the minister does because ministry flows from the office of minister rather than as an “every Christian” focus of the church. In most churches I have been involved in the ministry of the church and in many respects the very character of that local church revolves around the pastoral office holder. In turn, the pastors themselves are rarely ministered to and by virtue of the isolated position their office creates, there is little opportunity or urgency felt to minister to the minister. We are left with the form focused church that is filled with mostly apathetic “members” and frustrated and overburdened pastors. In Galatians 6:2 Paul admonishes us to “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” If only that were the case.

If we shift our focus to the function of ministry, we emphasize attributes like servant-hood, humility, sacrifice. Ministry is something we all do and being a “minister” is less an official status than it is an absolute reality of the life of Christians. The “why” supersedes the “who” in ministry. We should be less concerned with who the minister is and more concerned with who we can minister to. Our focus ought to turn from the minister to the ministered. That may sound groovy and pie in the sky but I think it compliments the Biblical example far more closely than the form focused view of human leadership we so often assume in the church.

That is not to suggest that men who hold the office of pastor and hold to a high view of the form of pastoral ministry don’t believe in humility and self-sacrifice. Many of them do (and many unfortunately do not, in spite of lip-service to the contrary). It is to suggest that we have spent a lot of time and effort thinking about church government, about ministry, about pastoral duties, about preaching and teaching and have given little thought to the function and purpose that drives these. Ultimately we end up with the form being an end unto itself.

We always need to come back to the question of purpose. Why does God have and use human ministers? While it is clear that there are men who are recognized as elders, men who are leaders in the church it is equally true that these men are intended to lead the church through service, not to exercise authority as a select few over the rest of the Body of Christ. This goes way beyond ancillary issues like paying pastors or requiring a seminary education. That is where I have been focused and while I of course believe I am mostly correct in those areas, I also think I have been missing the bigger question of form versus function. When we rightly emphasize the function of ministry over the form of ministry, many of these other question settle themselves.

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