Archive for the ‘Life in the Body’ Category

Christian Association – Exclusive or Inclusive?

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

A few thoughts on Christian association, be it in the church or para-church.

When is restriction of that association to subgroups of believers just personal preference, when is it required for group effectiveness, and when is it a clique? It is a tricky question that arises frequently within church and para-church groups.

We wish to be honouring and biblical in our actions and associations, yet we want to be comfortable as well. Where is the appropriate line?

Let us consider it from the point of view of ‘small groups’.

We live today in a society that often considers (at least publicly) any stance that is not completely inclusive to be objectionable, if not discriminatory. Discomfort in one’s associations or even a lack of group effectiveness as the cost of appearing inclusive is often espoused as a good and laudable price. We are to be everyone’s friend. This is especially true in many Christian assemblies.

From my experience, people we tend to exchange new ideas and concepts in a framework that is not overly hostile, since being constantly challenged before an idea completely takes shape subverts the conceptualization process. Discussion can be good and productive, but shooting down the germ of concepts before they even completely form is not.

This is even more true when dealing with concept affecting the personal growth involving the inner struggles of Christian sanctification.

When it comes to formulating concepts on faith related topics, most people seem to need a very secure and supportive environment for maximum effectiveness. These issues are often ‘close to the heart’ and ‘tender’ while in the formative stage (if not still that way later). An overly inclusive group structure often produces a group demographic that promotes challenge and inhibits the requisite emotional safety.

If group dynamics are to benefit the individual growing Christian (and by extension, the assembly), rather than satisfying external political appearance, then control of demographics matters. Over emphasis on an open group make-up and the appearance of inclusive behaviour is badly miss-placed.

Groups, once constituted with a particular philosophy of inclusion, are very difficult to change in process. Any narrowing of the basis for membership or closing of membership after the fact is even more likely to be interpreted by those outside of even inside the group as discriminatory or ‘unwelcoming’, without regard for the group’s mission. This is particularly true when the group has been formed without any documentation. Members may not see the potential effect of open demographics until it is too late and the group dynamic has been compromised.

Bottom line -> Church and para-church groups wanting to best facilitate the growth of members in faith and conviction would be well to consider membership demographics carefully up front. The group formation philosophy and intent should be clearly documented before the fact.

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Victory in Jesus

Monday, October 20th, 2008

A Wordle of the wonderful old hymn – a personal favourite.Victory in Jesus Wordle

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The bible study wrap-up

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2008

I am convinced that one of the primary responsibilities of the local assembly is the pro-active, ongoing equipping of all believers for individual bible study, and further that this responsibility is not being addressed throughout the evangelical church. Numerous conversations with other believers, both new and more mature, indicates that I am not alone in these conclusions and that church leadership and programs are seriously off the rails, out of touch and in denial on this issue.

I have briefly examined three approaches: deductive, inductive and supported enhanced reading. Let us summarize the discussion and take a stab at some conclusions.

Virtually all congregational activity is of necessity in the deductive mode. It can be and is used to good result in many cases to edify believers, assuming the presentation is Gospel and Christ centered and delivered with little embellishment (possibly a large assumption admittedly). In terms of equipping the Saints in their developing relationship with the Lord, however, this is insufficient, and this equipping should clearly be an overriding church priority.

Next we have Inductive Bible study. Much Bible study training in church related groups, bible schools and independent organizations such as Precepts, has centered upon various implementations of these methods, which are designed to support independence and to work directly from the text. Though somewhat involved in some formats they are historically quite effective in going directly to the text of Scripture and empowering the individual to divide the Word. If there would be a weakness in this approach it would only be in the volume of technique imposed and the possibility that this might stifle revelation in some learners. Nonetheless, this approach is a proven and widely supported.

The final approach considered was a modified form of simple bible reading. The suggestion here is that close reading of the text be supported through the use of quality background cultural, genre and contextual commentaries, and teamed if possible with subsequent group comparative analysis. This design supports pre-reading of Scriptural background documentation, close reading of the text with the work of the Spirit in mind, and subsequent sharing of thoughts within the group. The goal is too allow room for revelation while still compensating for time and cultural factors in an organized fashion.
So what is best (or worst)?

The worst approach would be to continue in the growing deductive-only, authoritative leadership model format. This does not effectively equip the members of the body for independent growth or challenges in or out of the church. Good intents notwithstanding, it encourages dependency upon the church as a ministerium, which will in the end weaken that same body. The deductive paradigm is perfect within the framework of doctrinal and theological teaching, and plain expository preaching, but not exclusively in the equipping of the individual to divide the word.

On a related note, the ubiquitous small group Bible study framework, as implemented in most churches, does not effectively address this issue. It is quite effective in providing demographic based fellowship, but is does address the present issue. In fact, it can mask the issue in allowing leadership to assume that it is being addressed. The reality is that it is not and denial will not change that.

A correct approach would appear to be the implementation of inductive or supported enhanced reading approaches. I do not think that either approach need be implemented exclusively, but they need to be put in place universally as a primary church priority. Variations of the two methods will suit different people and the availability of teachers for each method will effect delivery. In the initial stages when more people need to be brought on-board, availability of both approaches would be optimal.

Just as important as the availability of training is a buy-in to this need by church leadership. Simple acknowledge and consideration is not enough. In many cases this requires acknowledgment of a weakness and a challenging change in direction of vision. As such it may be the single largest hurdle faced by those who would benefit from it but have little real input to assembly direction. For the real equipping of the local body to study the
Word, that work must become a very high priority. This supported must be pro-actively on all fronts, particularly from the pulpit and secondarily with the budget.

So, what about any financial cost?

Compared to most program activities, implementation of this should be low in cost. Book and Bible costs are traditionally born by the participants. Instructors are either volunteer or of minimal cost on the organizational level. So cost is not a legitimate excuse. If the concept is accepted as a priority, then minimal program money is always available.

So there we have it. The need is real and pressing for all levels of people – adults, youth and even children. The people of God must be exhorted and supported in their ability to divide the Word for themselves as a first priority. This is the direct responsibility of the local church. Without this, the local church is implicitly denying the significance of having the Word freely in our hands and of the Reformation that allowed that to be the case. Local leadership must acknowledge this need and pro-actively address it.

Action, not just talk.

Contrary to what might be feared organizationally, developing a majority of individuals and groups who are able to divide the Word for themselves can only strengthen and build the local body for what is to undoubtedly come. This is the only type of relevance that matters.

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What about supported, enhanced reading?

Tuesday, January 1st, 2008

A third approach that should be considered is one used formally by some smaller denominational and independent assemblies, as well as by many believers in private study (again let us remember that we are not addressing casual devotional reading here). I have termed this enhanced bible reading, though it does not have a name per se, and those who practice it would definitely shun a label.

What is involved here is bible study encompassing simple group or individual bible reading, with sharing of insights as moved by the Spirit. There is little or no deductive or inductive methodology. The Scripture is read and interpreted directly with no intermediate hermeneutic process. That is, instead of the usual exegesis -> theological formulation -> interpretive/application paradigm, the reading of the text here leads to immediate interpretation in the present. Past to present is a direct jump. This presumes that direct interpretation can be drawn directly from the text, irrespective of the translation (though in most cases the translation used would likely be KJV or NKJV) or any historical-grammatical considerations.

The underlying assumption is that interpretation and application are Spirit driven and revelatory in nature. As such, though the reader does the interpretation, it is assumed that the Spirit is driving it. With a group, the work of the Spirit is the combined revelation of the group through the reading and sharing process. Additionally, in some cases the use of commentaries and such occurs to add additional information after the fact, but this is minimal and not consistent.
With, as previously discussed, a growing church dependence upon a new ministerium of Pastors (which is historically why this reading methodology emerged in the later 19th century) on one side, and with today’s emerging church and its pursuit of experiential faith on the other side, there would seem to be much to recommend this more fundamental and faith driven approach. I would agree, especially since I consider the work of the Spirit to be largely undervalued today.

Having said that, however, there are problems that can not be overlooked.

Though I think that in other methodologies the essential and overarching work of the Spirit is often either overlooked or underplayed, to assume that no other assistance or work on the part of the reader is needed to divide the Word correctly is fraught with danger. In the case of the basic Gospel the perspicuity of Scripture is unquestionable, but much other important material does not easily or automatically make the transition from the Scriptural writer’s pen to our modern linguistic and conceptual understanding unaided. To assume that revelation alone will bridge that divide, without additional effort or assistance, is a recipe for error or even heresy. The Scriptures are both infallible and inerrant in their autographa. However as active readers of translations we are most certainly not. Further, it must be born in mind that nearly all historical heresies were the result of unintentional error based upon Scripture.

It would seem that plain reading has value but only within limits. It is unable to facilitate correctly dividing the Word on a consistent basis. But more significantly, it brings the danger of miss-reading and miss-interpretation without the safeguards of methodical study, even when the accountability of group work is factored in. This can lead to inappropriate doctrine and inaccurate theology over time.

I must stress that this is not a blanket condemnation of this approach. It is more of a caveat. Enhanced reading in a devotional setting is greatly encouraging and opens a necessary venue for the acknowledgment of the Spirit, something that is glaringly missing in many assemblies.

That said, can this method be modified to yield a better probably outcome?

I would suggest that it can. Collaborative enhanced reading combined with some of the tools of inductive study, such as a good background/cultural commentary and a guide to literary genre, might yield the best of both methods. This could honour the plain meaning and revelatory nature of the text while providing support for the differences imposed by centuries of time.

I have found that though the formal inductive methods seems to have much to offer, the techniques can be excessive, somewhat unworkable and seemingly stifling to personal revelation. Though many do not find it so, this has proven to be a common comment. The result for many is that it is not used consistently, and an unused method is no method.

Within this in mind, enhanced reading combined with limited inductive support tools, may offer an effective combination. In fact, I have just recently discovered that some seminary classes now even present some form of this combination under the title of inductive study. For our purposes, though, I will call it Supported Enhanced Reading.

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Considering Inductive study

Monday, December 31st, 2007

As we have seen, deductive bible study is in essence passive. Despite the participation of the individual, the primary points are supplied by an outside authority and the conclusion is one way or the other guided, often authoritatively. The Scriptural study is in support of the predetermined points to be addressed, not to facilitate fresh discovery of those points directly from Scripture.

On the opposite side we have Inductive methodologies. In this case, irrespective of the actual inductive method used, the purpose is essentially to come to the Scripture and discover the original meaning, timeless principle and present application, in that order, for oneself. This is accomplished individually and is up close and personal with the Scriptures, so to speak.

For a Biblical perspective let us recall John 1:1 where it states “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”. We are reminded here that the Word is the Lord. It does not just represent the Lord, nor is it just part of the Lord. It is the Lord. That being so, when we are up close and personal with the Word, we are likewise with the Lord.

If that isn’t a reason to rejoice, I don’t know what is. But it should also be a very sobering thought and a clear indication of how important this matter of individual bible study, and by implication the equipping for it, actually is.

Our relationship is not with external sources which exposit the Word for us, but with Him who is the Word. Since our relationship is not arms length, neither should our study be. It is with Him (The Word) directly. So our work with Him and with the Word are at the root synonymous in nature. All other sources, however important, informative and explanatory they may be, are second hand! Therefor we must equip for the direct interaction first and foremost.

With this in mind, it seems to me that a primary responsibility of the local church as an equipping body is to instruct and encourage deductive methodology in all forms. This is not an endorsement of one particular inductive form but the recognition of the absolute need.

Let me again stress that the use of this approach does not remove the need or value of outside exposition, commentary and other helps to understanding. These are vital and we are certainly called as part of the community of Saints to take heed of the work of our Church fathers, mentors, Pastors and others. However, the first level of responsibility in the post Reformation believer is to their relationship with the Lord directly. And since the Word is the Lord, to the appropriation of that Word for ourselves.

Recall 2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” The dividing of the Word is first an individual responsibility in our relationship with the Lord, even if there is collaboration afterwards as there should be. It can not be wholly received from without.

The skills to divide the Word and determine its implications are deductive skills that must be acquired through training, collaboration and practice, and facilitation. In my view this makes a clear case for the pro-active teaching, encouragement and support of this activity as a primary responsibility of the local church.

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Considering deductive study

Sunday, December 30th, 2007

Let us first consider the Deductive approach.Looked at objectively, most church activities and gatherings which examine the Scriptures are based upon deductive approaches. By this I mean that even great expository preaching (again, I must comment, a growing rarity in the face of the emergence of ‘relevant’ preaching), small group ‘bible study guide’ based ministry, Sunday school curricula, and so on, can be observed to be deductive in approach. All have a point to make and use deductive methods to make it. This approach is by far the most efficient at disseminating understanding and doctrine in limited time since a knowledgeable source provides reliable information in a predigested form, at an appropriate level. This is also the basic structure of most formal educational frameworks.

In the church setting, however, this is often the only participatory Bible study that most participants will experience. With that in mind, what is the result? The result is an assembly of believers that, though possibly well versed or even articulate in selected verses and theologies, are almost completely dependent upon some more knowledgeable, authoritative source for the ideas which support their beliefs. Their ability to think through or articulate that underlying support structure is very limited. This renders them not only largely unable to defend their beliefs at any depth, but more significantly, at least somewhat shaky in their own hearts about those beliefs. One must ask if this was what intended in our receiving the Scriptures? Moreover, to be more pointed in the our question, was the Reformation and the placing of the Bible directly into the hands of God’s people accomplished only to yield a future where those people look primarily to a new magisterium for edification rather not to the Bible directly? I think not.
Even more ominous is the question – What is to happen to this flock in the tribulations to come? When false prophets and doctrines abound, preached in the name of the Lord, with a false magisterium in place, how will these discern the truth for themselves? Though the sovereign surety of salvation is not in question, the roughness of the ride definitely is.

With these considerations in mind it must be concluded that only deductive study, even the best of it, is not sufficient to equip God’s people for fully actualized faith and practice. Recalling also that the Confessions of the Protestant church (in all their variations) consider the Scriptures fully sufficient in all matters of faith and practice, the personal equipping of each Saint to receive that instruction is of paramount importance.

Let me close this section on the deductive approach with a comment on the need for expository preaching. Some of the above discussion might lead one to think that I may not consider it vital. In the words of the Apostle Paul “May it never be!” (Romans 2:6a).

Good, solid, bible based, unvarnished, unadorned, undramatized, unmodernized expository preaching is an ABSOLUTE necessity for the edification of the faithful. It enhances (note, enhances not replaces) the personal understanding of Scripture, supports correct doctrine and much, much more. It is also sadly rare, and growing more so, as the church considers it insufficient for today (but that is another article for another time).

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Must we study, and how?

Sunday, December 30th, 2007

Let us muse about modes of Bible reading and more particularly, study. What is sufficient to facilitate the fruits of being ‘in the Word’?

There would appear to be three approaches: Deductive study, Inductive study and modified plain reading. Just to be clear, we are not talking about devotional or casual scripture reading, though that certainly is important in its own right. We are examining how the believer can effectively and individually approach personal study – understanding and assimilating God’s Word for himself or herself.

Let us start by mentioning that in some branches of the faith this activity is in effect considered ill advised, improper, not possible, or worse. If we look at the Roman Catholic traditions (flowing from the pre-Reformation church and developed to present day), and possibly the Eastern Orthodox church, each of these huge groups do not consider study and understanding of the whole Bible by the individual to be reasonable or desirable, though for very different reasons. In the former case we have an authoritative magisterium based approach that led to the Reformation, while in the latter the emphasis is more apophatic, centered upon individually meeting God experientially, through worship (bear in mind here that I am not an expert in either area).

Post Reformation Protestant traditions, particularly Evangelical ones, place a high value upon individual Bible study and the meeting of God through His Word as given to us personally. If we are to experience this, and to be equipped for a Biblically based life, how is this to be facilitated?

Scripture states, speaking of the Bereans in Acts 17:11 “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” So here we have a model which lauds the ongoing study of Scripture, both individually and within community. Not only that, but surely we would want to be as the Bereans, as opposed to the Thessalonians.

Clearly we believe that we are called to study the Bible individually and in assembly.

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Foundational Issues Revisited

Saturday, December 29th, 2007

A few months ago I wrote a number of pieces concerning the lack of foundational biblical and theological literacy in the average evangelical assembly, and the apparent lack of interest in this issue (real interest, not the usual talk) in the leadership. After reading a number of other people on the same subject, particularly an article by Dr. George Guthrie (Mind the Gap) of Union University, I have revised and narrowed my focus somewhat. Dr. Guthrie’s paper brought me to realize how widespread this problem actually is throughout the Baptist and evangelical church.

Though I continue to believe, among other things, that there is a fundamental need for basic, organized theology, catechism and similar instruction as a primary focus of congregational life, and that this supersedes many other program activities, the most pressing issue overall is the almost complete lack of systematic training in Bible Study methodology.

I would venture to guess that your average church member or attendee, including both new and old believers, has never been offered a course of study in bible reading methodology and study skills.

Wait a minute, you say. Your church has small groups that do bible studies, Sunday school that examines bible issues, and some level of expository preaching (though that gets more rare by the minute, replaced by emergent social psychology).

The answer is that none of these addresses the foundational and essential issue in most cases. They are all deductive in nature, do not effectively equip the individual to undertake effective personal bible study, and are often largely passive. As such, they do not help the believer to know how to study the Bible. They mostly examine small portions of Scripture with a predetermined outcome in sight. Though this can be valuable in its own right, it is not what is needed to equip the individual to divide the Word for themselves.

Most people are simply told to ‘Read your Bible’. In most cases that is tantamount to asking them to read the Greek New Testament and look up what they don’t understand. Admittedly that may be an exaggeration, but you get the point. The Bible is not a simple book for the most part, and they have no skills with which to approach it. The result is more often than not some combination of quiet discouragement, little or sporadic individual Bible study, and poor understanding of the implications of what is actually read. In other words, poor understand, little closeness to the Word, possibly flawed theology, and complete dependence upon others for information.

Furthermore, the existence of ministry programs such as small groups, though they serve other important fellowship functions, allows leadership to skirt the issue of instilling real, individual Bible study skills in the congregation. The result is individual biblical illiteracy. Even the congregants themselves are unlikely to see this clearly in many cases, or are not likely to admit it. After all, who is going to admit that their bible study skills are not great? Equipping the people of God for effective, individual bible study, however, is a fundamental responsibility of the church leadership, which is shirked at their peril.

What is the result of this? Not only is the result a congregation that is largely and silently unable to rightly divide the Word of God for themselves and form solid personal biblical opinions to be applied in life, but we slowly and insidiously move toward a pre-Reformation situation in which authoritative Bible study and personal theology is vested in a new magisterium of the Pastors. This is most certainly not what the Reformers had in mind!

If you don’t believe that this is happening, just observe quietly how much of the church theology defers to Pastoral opinion and how little actual biblical or theological discussion takes place.

So what is the answer or the start towards an answer?

Here is a suggested but not exhaustive list of actions:

1. More public reading of Scripture in the congregation
2. Solid instruction in individual bible study methodology fro all members
3. Particular emphasis on deductive bible study skill development in the youth and new believers
4. Straightforward expository preaching, with notes and minimal dramatic enhancement
5. Small groups focused on deductive skills and foundational theology

There, that’s a start at least!

That said, the slide away from biblical literacy being an actual priority (assuming of course that it once was one) has been developing for some time, so it is likely to be an uphill trip to revival. Moreover, though church leadership (with some notable exceptions) do discuss these issues they are historically unlikely to move on them pro-actively and persistently at the expense of other more socially relevant programs. Getting beyond mere recognition of the problem and onto the active agenda is a significant part a battle in itself.

We have to start somewhere, though, and a new emphasis on encouraging all of us to learn, share and practice basic inductive bible study methodologies can do other than enhance all other aspects of faith and practice.

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Theology is a bit like Real Estate

Wednesday, June 20th, 2007

First a caveat. If you are committed to societal relevance in church programs, seeker sensitivity, the emerging church, or are easily upset or offended in this regard, you might want to skip this article…

How many times have you heard the mantra from Real Estate sales people? Location, location, location!

Well, for the assembly of believers it should be similar in a way. Foundation, foundation, foundation!

Summing up the discussion of church leadership models, and with The Cambridge Declaration in mind, it all comes down not to the model, but to direction and focus, irrespective of the model. Granted, it may be argued that one model or the other might have advantages depending upon the criteria. However, it is where we vest our group focus that makes the real difference, not how we might choose to structure the hierarchy.

I previously cited the comments of a Christian brother, who pointed out that the key was not the model but whether the assembly focus was on foundational matters. He particularly referred to a focus on the Bible above all else (notice that is on the Bible, not on material or programs about the Bible). I would add to that a consequent focus on clear education in sound doctrine and basic foundational theology. Those are the only appropriate places for focus that reflect a biblical perspective. As soon as the focus shifts to other priorities, though in and of themselves they may be important and meaningful in Christian life, then the whole body moves inexorably to become more secular. Since all creations outside a biblical focus are by definition of man, then they are also secular in equal proportions. The results, then, can not be other than equally secular in nature. And the body creating those results becomes more of the world by default.

This does not mean that the results in themselves are not good, effective, well intentioned, meaningful, supportive of Christian life and world view, and more. They may well be. However, and let us be clear, they are not biblical in nature and they are not based on the pattern laid out in Scripture. It will be argued that they are implicitly so. Sorry, no sale! I just don’t buy it. Nor can anyone taking a biblical view, without very creative exegesis. Scripture states that the things of man, as with natural man himself, are unable by definition to please God, due to their natural state.

Does this mean that such activities and programs should not happen? No, that is not what is being implied at all. Quite the opposite actually. The Lord also made it clear that the elect were to walk in the good purposes that had already been put in place in advance of creation, stepping forward in His name. These programs, activities and more fall into that category. But the critical factor here is perspective. The horse goes first, not the cart, and the activities are definitely the cart. The horse is a clear and over-riding primary focus on the Bible and the Lord. Anything else comes from that, after the fact and as a result of the work of the Spirit.

The primary (and in fact only) priorites for the church are (in equal importance) the plain delivery of the Gospel message to the unsaved (the whole message it should be noted), and the development of the saved (elect) in foundational Scripture, sound doctrine, and possibly related theology. This plays out in assembly and worship based in the Bible, fellowship in seeking Bible knowledge and direction variously, and sharing the Gospel message with the unsaved as the Lord presents opportunity.

What about other programs in support of self, family or societal actualization – even clearly productive ones? As a primary focus of vision, sorry, no sale again. These are after the fact of the primary task already stated. They can only correctly flow out of success in addressing foundational matters. Any success outside that primary directive is outside the Lord, irrespective of its value or benefits in the physical world. Why? Because the results aren’t based upon Him unless He is the focus. They are based upon the one who creates them – man. As such they can never please the Lord according to Scripture, no matter how good they are for the world or even for other believers. Only things based in Him, in seeking Him, and learning about Him, can create things that please Him. The Holy Spirit creates the rest out of those activities.

What does this all mean?

It can only mean that there is only one God approved focus or vision for the body of believers, and that is Christ. Since the only concrete thing that He deemed to leave us in hand was the Bible, then that is fully sufficient and the only primary focus. Seems pretty simple actually.

People may try to add many things and visions, implying that they reflect on the Lord positively. That may be true, but unless they come from seeking Him through what He left us, the Bible, leaving the rest to the Spirit, then they don’t meet the mark. Again, the outworking in the world is the after effect, created by the Spirit, as a result of immersion in Scripture and the Lord. Scripture does not state anywhere that the process can be the other way around. That is the way of the world and the antithesis of our Lord’s intent.

Vision can only stare directly at Christ, and therefor the Bible. Forget the programs, even the good ones, as far as vision goes.

In practice this means biblical, doctrinal and theological preaching and teaching. Modern relevance and application are not relevant, so to speak. Beyond that, for the assembly of believers, it means being lead into Scriptural immersion, discussion and study of foundational doctrine and theology, and group worship and prayer. Of course the result will be relevant, but by the hand of the Holy Spirit, working in the elect – not in the hands of men, even men of the church.

With the focus on foundational matters, all the other out workings will certainly evolve, but after the fact of Glorifying and concentrating on only Him. Vision based otherwise may be of good intent and even good societal result, but does not Glorify Him alone. To some degree at least it must glorify its creators, men. That is inappropriate for His people.

Soli Deo Gloria

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The Correct Direction

Tuesday, June 19th, 2007

To read The Declaration in the context of this discussion, please see the previous post Bread Crumbs on the Right Path

The Cambridge Declaration
April 20, 1996

Evangelical churches today are increasingly dominated by the spirit of this age rather than by the Spirit of Christ. As evangelicals, we call ourselves to repent of this sin and to recover the historic Christian faith.

In the course of history words change. In our day this has happened to the word “evangelical.” In the past it served as a bond of unity between Christians from a wide diversity of church traditions. Historic evangelicalism was confessional. It embraced the essential truths of Christianity as those were defined by the great ecumenical councils of the church. In addition, evangelicals also shared a common heritage in the “solas” of the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation.

Today the light of the Reformation has been significantly dimmed. The consequence is that the word “evangelical” has become so inclusive as to have lost its meaning. We face the peril of losing the unity it has taken centuries to achieve. Because of this crisis and because of our love of Christ, his gospel and his church, we endeavor to assert anew our commitment to the central truths of the Reformation and of historic evangelicalism. These truths we affirm not because of their role in our traditions, but because we believe that they are central to the Bible.

Sola Scriptura: The Erosion of Authority

Scripture alone is the inerrant rule of the church’s life, but the evangelical church today has separated Scripture from its authoritative function. In practice, the church is guided, far too often, by the culture. Therapeutic technique, marketing strategies, and the beat of the entertainment world often have far more to say about what the church wants, how it functions and what it offers, than does the Word of God. Pastors have neglected their rightful oversight of worship, including the doctrinal content of the music. As biblical authority has been abandoned in practice, as its truths have faded from Christian consciousness, and as its doctrines have lost their saliency, the church has been increasingly emptied of its integrity, moral authority and direction.

Rather than adapting Christian faith to satisfy the felt needs of consumers, we must proclaim the law as the only measure of true righteousness and the gospel as the only announcement of saving truth. Biblical truth is indispensable to the church’s understanding, nurture and discipline.

Scripture must take us beyond our perceived needs to our real needs and liberate us from seeing ourselves through the seductive images, cliches, promises and priorities of mass culture. It is only in the light of God’s truth that we understand ourselves aright and see God’s provision for our need. The Bible, therefore, must be taught and preached in the church. Sermons must be expositions of the Bible and its teachings, not expressions of the preacher’s opinions or the ideas of the age. We must settle for nothing less than what God has given.

The work of the Holy Spirit in personal experience cannot be disengaged from Scripture. The Spirit does not speak in ways that are independent of Scripture. Apart from Scripture we would never have known of God’s grace in Christ. The biblical Word, rather than spiritual experience, is the test of truth.

Thesis One: Sola Scriptura

We reaffirm the inerrant Scripture to be the sole source of written divine revelation,which alone can bind the conscience. The Bible alone teaches all that is necessary for our salvation from sin and is the standard by which all Christian behavior must be measured.

We deny that any creed, council or individual may bind a Christian’s conscience, that the Holy Spirit speaks independently of or contrary to what is set forth in the Bible, or that personal spiritual experience can ever be a vehicle of revelation.

Solus Christus: The Erosion of Christ-Centered Faith

As evangelical faith becomes secularized, its interests have been blurred with those of the culture. The result is a loss of absolute values, permissive individualism, and a substitution of wholeness for holiness, recovery for repentance, intuition for truth, feeling for belief, chance for providence, and immediate gratification for enduring hope. Christ and his cross have moved from the center of our vision.

Thesis Two: Solus Christus

We reaffirm that our salvation is accomplished by the mediatorial work of the historical Christ alone. His sinless life and substitutionary atonement alone are sufficient for our justification and reconciliation to the Father.

We deny that the gospel is preached if Christ’s substitutionary work is not declared and faith in Christ and his work is not solicited.

Sola Gratia: The Erosion of The Gospel

Unwarranted confidence in human ability is a product of fallen human nature. This false confidence now fills the evangelical world; from the self-esteem gospel, to the health and wealth gospel, from those who have transformed the gospel into a product to be sold and sinners into consumers who want to buy, to others who treat Christian faith as being true simply because it works. This silences the doctrine of justification regardless of the official commitments of our churches.

God’s grace in Christ is not merely necessary but is the sole efficient cause of salvation. We confess that human beings are born spiritually dead and are incapable even of cooperating with regenerating grace.

Thesis Three: Sola Gratia

We reaffirm that in salvation we are rescued from God’s wrath by his grace alone. It is the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit that brings us to Christ by releasing us from our bondage to sin and raising us from spiritual death to spiritual life.

We deny that salvation is in any sense a human work. Human methods, techniques or strategies by themselves cannot accomplish this transformation. Faith is not produced by our unregenerated human nature.

Sola Fide: The Erosion of The Chief Article

Justification is by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. This is the article by which the church stands or falls. Today this article is often ignored, distorted or sometimes even denied by leaders, scholars and pastors who claim to be evangelical. Although fallen human nature has always recoiled from recognizing its need for Christ’s imputed righteousness, modernity greatly fuels the fires of this discontent with the biblical Gospel. We have allowed this discontent to dictate the nature of our ministry and what it is we are preaching.

Many in the church growth movement believe that sociological understanding of those in the pew is as important to the success of the gospel as is the biblical truth which is proclaimed. As a result, theological convictions are frequently divorced from the work of the ministry. The marketing orientation in many churches takes this even further, erasing the distinction between the biblical Word and the world, robbing Christ’s cross of its offense, and reducing Christian faith to the principles and methods which bring success to secular corporations.

While the theology of the cross may be believed, these movements are actually emptying it of its meaning. There is no gospel except that of Christ’s substitution in our place whereby God imputed to him our sin and imputed to us his righteousness. Because he bore our judgment, we now walk in his grace as those who are forever pardoned, accepted and adopted as God’s children. There is no basis for our acceptance before God except in Christ’s saving work, not in our patriotism, churchly devotion or moral decency. The gospel declares what God has done for us in Christ. It is not about what we can do to reach him.

Thesis Four: Sola Fide

We reaffirm that justification is by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. In justification Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us as the only possible satisfaction of God’s perfect justice.

We deny that justification rests on any merit to be found in us, or upon the grounds of an infusion of Christ’s righteousness in us, or that an institution claiming to be a church that denies or condemns sola fide can be recognized as a legitimate church.

Soli Deo Gloria: The Erosion of God-Centered Worship

Wherever in the church biblical authority has been lost, Christ has been displaced, the gospel has been distorted, or faith has been perverted, it has always been for one reason: our interests have displaced God’s and we are doing his work in our way. The loss of God’s centrality in the life of today’s church is common and lamentable. It is this loss that allows us to transform worship into entertainment, gospel preaching into marketing, believing into technique, being good into feeling good about ourselves, and faithfulness into being successful. As a result, God, Christ and the Bible have come to mean too little to us and rest too inconsequentially upon us.

God does not exist to satisfy human ambitions, cravings, the appetite for consumption, or our own private spiritual interests. We must focus on God in our worship, rather than the satisfaction of our personal needs. God is sovereign in worship; we are not. Our concern must be for God’s kingdom, not our own empires, popularity or success.

Thesis Five: Soli Deo Gloria

We reaffirm that because salvation is of God and has been accomplished by God, it is for God’s glory and that we must glorify him always. We must live our entire lives before the face of God, under the authority of God and for his glory alone.

We deny that we can properly glorify God if our worship is confused with entertainment, if we neglect either Law or Gospel in our preaching, or if self-improvement, self-esteem or self-fulfillment are allowed to become alternatives to the gospel.

A Call To Repentance & Reformation

The faithfulness of the evangelical church in the past contrasts sharply with its unfaithfulness in the present. Earlier in this century, evangelical churches sustained a remarkable missionary endeavor, and built many religious institutions to serve the cause of biblical truth and Christ’s kingdom. That was a time when Christian behavior and expectations were markedly different from those in the culture. Today they often are not. The evangelical world today is losing its biblical fidelity, moral compass and missionary zeal.

We repent of our worldliness. We have been influenced by the “gospels” of our secular culture, which are no gospels. We have weakened the church by our own lack of serious repentance, our blindness to the sins in ourselves which we see so clearly in others, and our inexcusable failure to adequately tell others about God’s saving work in Jesus Christ.

We also earnestly call back erring professing evangelicals who have deviated from God’s Word in the matters discussed in this Declaration. This includes those who declare that there is hope of eternal life apart from explicit faith in Jesus Christ, who claim that those who reject Christ in this life will be annihilated rather than endure the just judgment of God through eternal suffering, or who claim that evangelicals and Roman Catholics are one in Jesus Christ even where the biblical doctrine of justification is not believed.

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals asks all Christians to give consideration to implementing this Declaration in the church’s worship, ministry, policies, life and evangelism.

For Christ’s sake. Amen.

Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals Executive Council (1996)

Dr. John Armstrong
The Rev. Alistair Begg
Dr. James M. Boice
Dr. W. Robert Godfrey
Dr. John D. Hannah
Dr. Michael S. Horton
Mrs. Rosemary Jensen
Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
Dr. Robert M. Norris
Dr. R.C. Sproul
Dr. Gene Edward Veith
Dr. David Wells
Dr. Luder Whitlock
Dr. J.A.O. Preus, III

www.alliancenet.org

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Bread Crumbs on the Right Path

Monday, June 18th, 2007

Is one of the models discussed correct per se?

I don’t think so.

No matter which leadership model might be implemented, is there an absolute set of criteria for correct direction?

Yes, without question.

Is direction easier to discern and apply with one of the models?

I would have to say yes. With a clear line of command, the professional leadership model likely makes consistent direction more easily implemented.

Does the professional model offer clear advantages due to the academic expectations associated with it in today’s church?

Again, I would say yes. It could be just academic prejudice, but I would agree with the comment about this on a previous post in this series I have more confidence in the consistency of biblical messages prepared with a solid theological background. That said, however, I would add the serious caveat that a proven, clear, doctrinal and theological view based upon accepted biblical and doctrinal tenants is essential, coupled with a consistent foundational focus. Without these, the situation with professional leadership is in fact likely to be noticeably worse.

Does the professional model potentially contain more accountability issues?

Without doubt, yes. With centralized power, irrespective of the incumbent, comes implicit centralized authority, particularly in an otherwise volunteer based organization. This means that transparent, consistent and clearly defined accountability are essential.

Can the tenants of correct, biblical direction be simply and clearly defined?

Yes, absolutely.

Should the tenants or the church priority include provision for related secular concerns, programs, subjects, or the like, outside the straightforward biblical, theological or doctrinal message?

Absolutely not.

Is there room in church focus and mission for more contemporary but possibly related concerns expressed separately from clear Scripture, in order to show relevance? For example, programming around self-fulfillment, self-esteem, Christian psychology, etc.

None at all.

The Bottom line

The exploration and edification of the body in Scripture, theology and doctrine is the one and only primary focus. Although application and peripheral congregational support programs can play a part in this edification, these are only after the fact, and subservient to foundational matter. The only real focus is foundational.

Can clear foundational tenants be quantified?

An excellent statement of the distilled tenants would be the The Cambridge Declaration from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. These provide a very potent distillation of the Scriptural position, and a particularly good basis for discernment in implementation.

A thoughtful and prayerful reading of these tenants is highly recommended. In relation to church direction, focus and policy, the statements of denial are of special interest. Examination of church direction and vision with these in mind would go a long way towards clear evaluation and biblical discernment.

I would propose that Church direction or focus which explicitly or implicitly moves in the direction of any of these denials, even subtly, is not of the faith. It is error and leads to the world.

The Declaration is reprinted in the next post.

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The Youth Exception

Sunday, June 17th, 2007

In examining leadership models, one anomaly in the alternate model might be that of Youth Leader. This is particularly true at the larger end of the small assembly, with around 100 or more people.

A brief net survey of assemblies falling into this size and model group would indicate that a number perceive a need for some sort of official youth leadership. This may be an actual salaried or otherwise remunerated position, or function in a somewhat less official capacity, but with the sole purpose of acting as the youth ministry leadership.

This would appear to be an acknowledgment that youth programs are an exception in the model and require active facilitation. I think that I would agree. I would speculate that whereas the adult groups can draw leadership from the more mature believers within the particular group, youth do not typically have that option. The youth demographic does not have years of experience available. They also are members of the group on a somewhat itinerant basis (only until they are a couple of years older), when compared to adult groups, and do not have time to develop appropriate skills. Moreover, those are very busy years that do not leave room for a major leadership commitment.

Though we are speaking of salaried leadership, this is not to imply that somewhat older volunteer believers do not fill this role in an exemplary way. Historically, they have done so, and continue to do so today. However, the observed change whereby some assemblies employ full or part time staff in this single ministry position would tend to indicate recognition of a quantifiable requirement.

There is the possibility that the perceived requirement is a symptom of plain old parental paranoia, on the assumption that a staffed supervision is somehow superior, but that is just a wild guess. Possibly the staffed position is expected to guarantee time spent, programs implemented and accountability. In that case, we might be seeing the intrusion of the more secular values that has been observed with respect to leadership positions in the traditional model. But again, this is just speculation.

Lastly, the existence of this salaried position within the alternate model framework should not be taken to imply professional clergy. Although this might be the case, it appears to be just as likely that the incumbent would be an experienced youth worker just as often as youth pastor (that is, an individual with an academic or denominational designation).

I draw no conclusions here, but the phenomena does exist in a small segment within the alternative model. As such it does demonstrate the emergence of some degree of common thinking on this issue.

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Tangible and Intangible Considerations

Saturday, June 16th, 2007

Most of the discussion of pastoral leadership models so far has centered around what could be termed cost vs benefit analysis. This is admittedly a very narrow and unbiblical framework, yet it is definitely the one which I have heard the most spontaneous opinions on, and which seems to divide those opinions. In itself, this could be viewed as revealing in terms of what seems to be a significant focus in at least part of the present congregational mindset. Further, and most significant, though people are often divided (and occasionally vocal) about this, they are seemingly unconcerned about the foundational theology and related direction of pastoral staff. Incredibly, this can extend to the point where it is of only minor importance or interest what the leadership actually believes, beyond a basic node to a global organizational statement of beliefs or organizational mission document. Many in pastoral service are not plumed beyond that superficial level. Sounds unbelievable, but it is fact. Of far more importance it would seem, are issues of personality, relationship ease, entrepreneurial program skills and the like. In other words, postmodern organizational concerns rule, and a true biblical, theological or doctrinal profile is barely even on the horizon. In the extreme, believing ‘something’ in the basic ballpark is considered enough. This is in no way a comment on the staff or what they might believe, but it potentially speaks volumes about the congregational mindset and condition.

Are there other value added advantages offered by either model? Specifically, does the professional, salaried model offer any substantial advantage in significantly higher (measurable) availability or in benefits directly derived from additional background academics? For me the jury is still at least partially out, but some think it does. How do these factors contribute to an increase in congregational motivation and the development sound theological beliefs? Congregational involvement is certainly on the front burner in many churches and is often addressed, but does the general development of sound theology matter (in reality, not just talk) today?

With the professional leadership model, a strong case can likely be made that there is better provision of pastoral services and guidance due to simple availability. The salaried leader has a clearly defined responsibility to be active and available on a consistent basis. That should result in a great deal of activity and a high level of involvement. Further, that involvement should be at the implementation level and not merely as management. Since this likely includes exhortation and motivation of the congregation, it is expected that the church life which evolves under this leadership model would be more dynamic.

Is this in fact the reality? The results would indicate sometimes. As any position varies with the individual involved, the results also do. Nay possible problems appear to be centered in clear definitions of role, expectations and accountability. If the role is very clearly defined, with an incumbent that fits, then the probability of success is good. However, since the lines of accountability are often quite weak, the predictability of success can be limited.

On the issue of availability, salaried staff presents a two edged sword. The full time position should bring a expectation of defined minimum availability. This of course depends partially on accountability, but normally yields predictable involvement. On the other hand, with the definition of employment comes a very definite and secular expectation of time for money. This can lead to different expectations from the two sides. This is not to say that time expectations accompanying the pastoral position shouldn’t have limits, but the expectations of the congregation and the staff must be very clearly defined up front to avoid problems. This is seldom a reality, again because historical expectations have not kept up with the church environment.

Unlike secular roles, part of the pastoral position involves definition by our Lord. In that, the pastor and his Elder brethren must prayerfully seek and come to consensus. This is further complicated by the expectations of the congregation, who are often by definition excluded from this equation, other than after the fact. This is correct in a Biblical sense, since the function of the Elders is assembly leadership and the discernment of appropriate direction from the Lord in churches adopting an Elder based leadership paradigm. At the same time, it can lead to partial or complete disconnection from the general membership, with subtle alienation and division as the result. If the leadership level is not closely in tune with the general membership, nasty surprises will almost always await in the long run. Part of this must center on communications. The general church populace must be in the ongoing information loop as the leadership seeks direction. After the fact is not only not good enough, but is likely to be too little too late, no matter how well intentioned.

The pivotal issue here is, as always, the overall leadership direction. Primary direction centered on foundational biblical truth, the Lord and His Word, is the only legitimate one. That will appropriately draw the congregation and leadership together, or not, in whatever way the Lord intends. Any other focus, however well meaning and superficial beneficial it might seem, is inappropriate, man centered, and will eventually be divisive since it is by definition based in the world first (even if in the church in apparent intent).

Does the alternate leadership model operate at a disadvantage in this regard? It would appear not from appearances. In the case of available congregational care there could be lapses in availability since the leadership have more outside commitments. That said, it would appear that those within these assemblies take the biblical leadership model to heart and there is pastoral type support available as needed. Additionally, as discussed above, full time staff with employment time expectations can just as easily lead to a lapse in care. Moreover, the congregation may feel that they are more easily ‘off the hook’ as far as providing pastoral care since someone is paid to provide it. In the alternate model this combination of factors does not occur. Overall, the likelihood of lapses in care in the alternate model could be judged to be only slightly higher.

The professional leadership model can definitely offer advantages in ongoing focus, if and only if that leadership can maintain a very strong sensitivity to the general congregation and retain their confidence through transparency. Although this sounds like a secular popularity contest, it is not. There are areas of no flexibility that should be the hallmark of even responsive leadership. Those areas are foundational biblical knowledge and preaching. If that area in well addressed, with the Word as the focus of preaching and church mission, then other issues can often be more flexible. If, however, basic foundational theology and doctrine are not consistently preached and taught, the other issues will move the church more and more into a secular framework. The result is postmodern theology. Make no mistake. This is the work of enemy! Also, to harken back to an earlier paragraph, if pastoral beliefs are not known or not in tune with the congregation, then the result will likely be a shying away from theology and doctrinal discussion, to the long term detriment of all concerned.

Is there a conclusion on which model is best? No. The only conclusion would appear to be that both can function well under certain circumstances. The traditional model may, in today’s society and if the church is strongly focused on growth, be more fraught with the dangers of postmodern theology. The alternate model, without consistent leadership focused in an individual or individuals, may be in some danger of offering less congregational support and guidance.

In either case we must return to foundational theology and doctrine as the key. Irrespective of the model, if the Sovereignty of God, consistent reading and proclamation of inerrant scripture, and education in sound doctrinal theology are not the over-riding, consistent focus of the leadership, then the assembly is on the road away from the Lord toward some sort of postmodern club.

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An Alternate Model

Monday, June 11th, 2007

Now to an alternate model, one with no professional (that is, salaried) pastoral staff.

First, it should be noted that not employing salaried pastoral staff does not necessarily mean unprofessional preaching or pastoral leadership. Within the ranks of those filling roles within this model are numerous individuals with equal or greater academic and experience qualification to those in paid pastoral positions. The results can be demonstrated to be equal or superior to those achieved with salaried staff. The availability of these levels of expertise in this model does, however, tend to be somewhat the exception. We will assume for our discussion that those fulfilling pastoral roles in this model have, on average, a more limited formal academic background in theology and in associated academic designations.

Next, even without full time pastoral staff, there often remains a requirement for a secretary/receptionist/administrator or some similar support position, functioning as facility and ministry ‘point man’, so to speak. In fact, this would likely be of more importance with no other staff on site. With that in mind, that cost might be approximated at $20-30K yearly, judging from anecdotal evidence.

Now to the real issue – what of the pastoral functions in this model? Most assemblies following this model attempt to adopt something of a first century church framework, with lay preaching and church authority.

In most biblically modeled, post-reformation churches (of either model), the function of Elder has the mandate of local leadership and responsibility. This is often defined to include preaching, teaching, spiritual shepherd, and some form of assembly accountability (though it could be argued that in the Postmodern church this is fading). Other duties and responsibilities may also be included.

In the denominational model previously considered, the pastoral staff frequently fall into a defacto CEO role, as much due to availability as any other reason. This places the Elders at a lesser authority level in terms of governance, irrespective of the situation on paper or what may be presented to the congregation. In the alternate model, with no defacto CEO, the Elders naturally assume a more traditional, and likely more biblical, role which includes all assembly leadership requirements. Any functions that are not performed by the Elders must be delegated under their authority.

If not all Elders are gifted to preach (though this is clearly mandated biblically as a requirement of the calling) , then that pivotal role in particular can be delegated to others who are capable and available. As in the early church, those so delegated come from the congregation, as the Lord leads. Does this mean that they are not professional? Normally, yes (with occasional exceptions as noted at the beginning of this article). Does this mean that they are less competent or deliver a lower standard of preaching? Absolutely not. In all likelihood their experience, at least at the beginning, might be a tad rough around the edges as they are allowed the privilege to develop under the Lord’s leadership and local mentoring. However, experience would indicate that when properly shepherded the results can be consistently equal to those obtained with professional staff. Moreover, it can be argued that any weakness is outweighed by the opportunity that is provided for assembly members to follow the Lord’s leading into some form of preaching (without spending 4-10 years in Seminary to qualify), as well as for the assembly to participate in and support this development. The local development of future leaders and of assembly members providing substantial local mentoring is also likely much greater in this situation, out of shear necessity if no other reason. This also means that preaching can be, and normally is, shared among a larger number of individuals,allowing more preparation time for all and possibly alleviating excess burden.

Another consideration is that lay preaching increases the accountability role of the Elders, particularly in shepherding and developing those taking on preaching roles. This must include great discernment and sensitivity in guiding not only those who are gifted, but in handling the movement of those who are not gifted into other more suitable areas of ministry without injury.

We must bear in mind that this paradigm is being delivered at an 80-90% reduction in financial resources when compared to the traditional denominational model. This can not conceivably do other than reduce congregational pressures.

This may seem to paint a very rosy picture. Is this rosy scenario and outcome guaranteed? Certainly not. Without the focused leadership that should (notice that is should and not necessarily does) come with full time staff there is certainly ample opportunity for a situation to develop in which individuals or the assembly can run amuck. Considerably more responsibility and power, and the concomitant problems accompanying it, are vested in the local Elders and any designated representatives. Without a central figure, the possibility of disorganization could be much greater. Since I have very limited experience in observing this model in action over time, I can not draw any conclusion concerning the probability of problems developing. But it does strike me that our central figure is always to be the Lord. Could this scenario bring that more sharply into focus? Possibly.

Does the possibility of problems mean that this model is more prone to failure or excess? Frankly, I don’t think so. I see no indication of that, and more importantly no indication that it is any more likely with this leadership model than with the other one. I would proposed that the likelihood of problems is just as great with professional staff, just different.

In discussing this train of thought with a friend who has experience in the alternate model, we agreed that the success of either model depends directly on the degree to which the Assembly is focus on the Word. Without that, in either case, human issues related to the model become central and divisive. Only through actively seeking the Lord in the Word on a consistent, persistent, day-in day-out basis, as a congregational focus can the Lord’s leading be sought in either case. In this way, neither model was either correct or superior. Sadly, the slide into giving process priority over foundational issues is very seductive.

Again however, we must continue to bear in mind that with such a huge financial resource differential, the effectiveness of the traditional denominational model must be seriously scrutinized. It would seem that for it to work effectively and be justified there must be very strong leadership from the lay level, and transparent congregational accountability. Both of these are often largely non-existent today. In addition, to benefit from the central leadership, that leadership must have very strong, demonstrable skills, and these must be objectively evaluated on a regular basis. Failure in these regards is likely to have quite negative consequences over time.

One last note must be considered in relation to congregation size. While the professional leadership model can potentially be scaled up by the acquisition of more personnel, the lay leadership model is mostly inappropriate for a large venue. However, those who advocate that model often argue (quite successfully in my view) that the large scale venue is not a biblical model and is inappropriate. Better to spin off additional small assemblies.

Next, are there other tangible or tangible benefits for the professional model that are not provided in the alternate?

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Pastoral Leadership

Sunday, June 10th, 2007

A couple of weeks ago I was chatting with a relatively new church member. They expressed shock about what they had recently learned (not from me, by the way, since am not privy to those numbers) of the level of Pastoral salaries and benefit. Their dismay also extended to the secrecy that surrounded these facts within the congregation at large. This got me to considering how many other ‘pew peasants’ might quietly feel that same way to one degree or another. A somewhat informal survey indicates quite a few.

In a similar vein, I had been musing lately about the Pastoral leadership model that most major denominations adopt, as opposed to that used by some smaller denominational groups, such as parts of the Brethren.

These considerations jointly brought these related issues more to the front burner.

Having always attended major denominational congregations (both now and in childhood), I have taken the model of a professional clergy pretty much for granted. However, I have been slowly changing my mind about this for a variety of reasons, and the related feelings of others from the pews helps to convince me. I also realize that I am very likely to tilting at a sacred cow here, but…

To keep the playing field level, I will artificially limit consideration for now to congregations and assemblies that have a physical infrastructure in place. That is, they have a house of worship of some sort, with all the administrative and resource requirements that accompany even a minimal facility. Later I might get to the house or non-facility-based church scenario, but that brings a different set of considerations and it is not a fair comparison to those with a facility to support. Additionally, I have to admit that I like the idea of the concrete focus provided by an at least minimal church building.

In most established denominational churches, professional clergy fill the key preaching and management roles. Historically, these positions have been regarded as being in the Lord’s service, by implication sacrificial, and thereby not high paying is relative terms. In more recent times, with recognition as professionals and a corresponding demand for ever increasing minimum academic degree levels, these positions have developed substantially escalated salary expectations. This is not to suggest that a professional does not merit a fair salary, but the historical (and not so historical from what I have gleaned lately) congregational perception of the poorly paid pastoral position is no longer a global reality in North America, especially in established congregations. Many congregants seem unaware of this reality of present day church resource allocations, even in their own churches. In many evangelical denominations today, members of the pastoral staff are likely to have salaries and benefits that eclipse those of the majority of the congregation. This is not widely acknowledged, and in recent times many churches have exacerbated the situation by moving to the secular tradition of salary secrecy (which would have been unheard of only a few years ago). Moreover, the perception and common presentation by the clergy of themselves as holding low-paying, high requirement, service positions, is completely at odds with the current reality.

Let us begin by considering the church budget in relation to today’s higher salaries. On the assumption that congregation size most often determines the number of pastoral staff, the percentage of the budget allocated to salaries and benefits is likely to be somewhat constant, scaling up or down with the congregation size. This would yield a relatively constant salary allocation as the congregation size and number of staff varies. Anecdotal evidence appears to show that today 50% or more of the overall budget is often allocated to pastoral incomes (salaries + benefits). Over even the short term, and barring an anomalous jump in contribution levels, this percentage could reasonably be expected to slowly rise. In addition, there may be incentive plans such as interest free or interest reduced loans in place. This in itself may shock some people.

Although I was going to cite an example here, I think it more prudent to simply suggest that the reader apply the suggested paradigm to the church budget of their choice. Bear mind that in the case of congregations with several pastoral positions they are usually graduated in relative salary (eg. senior, associate, etc.). This should allow the reader to approximate salaries if they are not published. Moreover, ordained staff benefit from a substantially lower income tax rate (in Canada at least), so that any salary must be increased to allow comparison to secular employment numbers. It is likely to be an eye opening exercise for many.

Although pastoral responsibility profiles vary, pastoral staff are expected to perform a number of basic functions in most churches, including regular preaching, congregational oversight, program or organizational administration, and visitation. Hours are seldom fixed, and most work largely on their own time and schedule. It must also be born in mind that there is an element of being ‘on call’ for congregational incidents that comes with the territory. There are also occasionally some at least informal expectations of continuing education. None of this would seem drastically out of line, however, with the salary levels, compared to secular employment.

What of various types of review and accountability?

In a secular corporate position, most employees serve within defined lines of accountability and reporting, including some sort of external oversight. The objective performance and evaluation bar in congregational service would appear to be quite a bit lower. Accountability, particularly in denominations with no external hierarchy, is normally through a locally elected board of some sort (usually Elders), to whom the pastor is also the defacto spiritual adviser or even mentor. Intentions notwithstanding, this is a clear conflict of interest, and makes true objective accountability and performance evaluation very difficult, and likely limited. Even when there are no actual problems, the lack of transparency in the situation can erode confidence. This does not discount that fact that the pastor is actually accountable to the Lord. However, some form of transparent, temporal accountability is also surely necessary for as long as we remain in the world, as it is for all within the body of believers.

For salary accountability the lines are even more hazy. Salary increases are rarely tied to measurable, reported objectives and performance. Although usually approved in some forum by the congregation, increases are implemented as an entitlement of the position, with great potential for guilt attached to any questioning from the congregation. After all, who is going to propose that the pastor does not deserve a raise unless the pastor was to suggest holding the line themselves? Even then, anecdotal evidence would indicate that it would be unlikely. So we have, when examined objectively, a situation with questionable accountability, limited performance evaluation, and stable increases in a better than average income.

In some post-reformation denominations there is some sort of over-riding administrative body. In that case there may be some more object review, but I have no experience or knowledge in that area.

In summary, how many within the average congregation have the privilege of that level of income, with that level of limited organizational review and accountability? Likely very few.

Next, an alternate model…

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