I met this great guy Erik a few months ago. We broke BBQ in Kansas City, in fact, which is a beautiful way to begin a friendship. Moreover, we know a whole bunch of the same (cool) people in Des Moines, and I liked him right away. Especially because his blog had the cool moniker ‘godisnowhere’ (ie, ‘God is now here’ or ‘God is nowhere’, depending on how you see it). He’s since moved his blog to a new (blog)spot, where his thoughts are as good as ever, and keep my brain percolating.
The other day he was playing with an interesting false dichotomy between what he calls ‘old school pastors’ and ‘new school pastors’. Which got my attention, because I used to be a pastor (which makes me a ‘post-school pastor’, I guess). And he used the term ‘equipping’ to describe the primary duty of ‘new school pastors’. This is a term I’ve used before, many times, but which I haven’t used in a long time. So it had a certain kind of reactivity for me.
I guess I’m wondering if by using terms like ‘equipping’ and ‘empowering’ we betray our assumption that gifts and abilities and power are centralized, rather than diffuse. I wonder if we– even and in spite of our dissent from systems where the pastor is granted too much influence and control– show that we really think that the pastor is ‘special’ and the repository/dispensary of all the good stuff of the church community, and we therefore ignore all of the wisdom and leadership and insight that is waiting to bubble up in those same groups. I’m afraid that if we assume that the pastor has that much influence, then the people of our churches have already lost their stake in the churches they attend. And not to put too fine of a point on it, but I’m afraid that attendance is what the people of the church will quickly learn (consciously or unconsciously) is the extent of what is expected of them. So that the pastors and the people who attend the churches (known variously as ‘parishoners’, ‘attenders’, ‘laypeople’, etc.) will be condemned to an endless battle of mutual blame and cajoling.
Of course an ‘equipping’ pastor is doing a far better job than one who is doing everything themself. But I think both kinds of pastors are hoarding power that doesn’t even belong to them, and ingratiating themselves to a system that rewards their codependence.
The objection should be made to the above thoughts that ‘equip’ (or whatever its Greek root) appears in our sacred Scriptures, and that is true enough. But I wonder if in a society and culture that was as stratified as the first-century Middle East, such a concept was in fact innovative and empowering and deeply subversive. So rather than following the letter of the first-century practices, we ought to follow them in spirit (or what some call ‘the redemptive arc’ of the Biblical narrative). In a society and culture where emergence is de rigeur, we ought to have a whole different understanding of churches as groups that are built from the bottom up, rather than the top down. Hierarchies are hegemonies, and pastors are too often part of the problem.