But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed?Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. Matthew 25:26-27
Honestly, I have always felt a little sorry for the poor servant who did not invest his master’s money wisely. It seems to me there is at least a little wisdom in putting the money away and making sure it doesn’t get lost or otherwise wasted away. I can still remember the first time I ever studied this parable (I was a teenager) and being shocked at the harshness of this master. “Wicked” and “slothful” just seemed a little over the top to me, especially for a servant who kept all of his master’s money intact and did not lose any of it.
But, alas, the economy of God’s kingdom does not favor the radical fiscal conservatives like me. In God’s eyes, simply hiding the resources under my mattress and saving them for a rainy day is just poor stewardship. I should rather be investing those resources and growing them. I should be risking them a little (every investment is a risk) and putting them to work.
The same is true for the church. And not just with finances or material resources, but maybe even more importantly, with the human resources God has given us in our congregants…the spiritual gifts, talents, abilities, learned skills, work backgrounds, and emotional strengths in the people God has brought us. Our master has placed all those resources into our hands as the church and, shrewd stewards that we are, we are to put them to work…risk them…use them to produce …
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teachingyou received from us…We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. II Thessalonians 3:6, 11
The last time my studies took me into Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians, it was Thanksgiving time a couple of years ago. I remember stopping and thinking about his counsel in those letters and how it might hit the contemporary American church. I found some things for which I was thankful then, and I am still thankful today. Today’s “Tuesday Re-mix” replays those Thanksgiving thoughts.
The American church is probably loaded to the brim with idle Christians. We are a fat, happy bunch of church-goers for whom convenience is among the highest of values. Prayer meeting on Wednesday night? Not very convenient. Sunday night worship service after a full day of church stuff? Not very convenient. Missing soccer games or band practice or sleeping in on Saturday in order to work at the homeless shelter? Not very convenient. Being the “consumers” we are, we just want our Spiritual lives to stay within the very small slice of our week which we have designated for that and, above all, we want God to stay convenient to us.
If Paul visited the American church today, I think he might just have a heart attack when he observed how low a priority our Spirituality has become in so many cases. Don’t get me wrong. There are many, many churches who are getting it right. But let us be honest here, it has been about a hundred or so years since genuine revival swept across our country or since the American …
In my law practice, a bit of my litigation work is in the area of construction litigation. Large construction jobs seem to have more than their share of contention among the players. It seems that the job the design team (i.e., the architects and engineers) envisions and the job the contractor actually finds in the field are often not the same job. That difference leaves lots of room for lawyers, if you know what I mean.
But it is a real benefit for an owner with a dream for a building to be able to go to a design team of architects/engineers, tell them what he/she in wanting to do, and have that team of professionals produce a blueprint for getting it done. After all, that owner may or may not have any experience building buildings. They need someone who can take their “dream” and draw up a set of detailed plans for making it happen.
That, it seems to me, is exactly what every church needs for ministry.
If you have followed this blog long at all, you know how strongly I believe in an empowered laity in the church. I believe every believer (i.e., every church member) has at least one assignment, one ministry. I believe all of us are supposed to be pouring ourselves into others through at least one ministry mechanism. Frankly, it is why we are still here on this earth.
But I’m not so sure all of our churches have really embraced that reality. I wonder if all our churches are really ready to hear ministry ideas from their laymen? If the Spirit of God so moves in someone in your church and that person comes to your leadership with that idea, that passion for ministry, are you ready to receive …
I confess I am guilty of blurring the line between vocational ministers and laity (between those who are compensated for their ministry in a particular church and those who are not). I also admit that I probably have a higher view of the roles and responsibilities of us average, non-professional Christians than most people have. Finally, when you accuse me of believing and teaching that God’s call on the life of a layman is just as high and defining as His call on any professional minister, I am guilty as charged.
But none of that translates into a dim view of pastoral authority…recognizing, of course, that “dim” is a relative term.
I am always a little afraid of a pastor whose entire model of church leadership comes from the Old Testament. When his (and I won’t add the normal “/her” because it’s pretty clear that no female leader in the church could derive her entire model for church leadership from the Old Testament) only illustrations for pastoral leadership are from characters such as Moses or David or Elijah, it tells me some scary things about that pastor. You see, neither Moses nor David nor Elijah had any experience at all leading people who were indwelled by the Spirit of God Himself. So, while those are important leadership (even pastoral) models, they are by no means complete illustrations for leadership in the Age of the Church.
What, then, is pastoral authority in this age? Where does it come from and how does it inform the relationship between pastor and layman?
First, what it is and where it comes from…pastoral authority comes from speaking the Word of God exactly as God gives it to that pastor to speak. When a pastor speaks exactly what God speaks, the authority is present.
Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.
If one of the objectives of the Reformation was to blur the line between the two “classes” of church members (clergy and laymen) which existed at the time, then I think Martin Luther would be terribly disappointed in the traditional American church of today. We talk a lot about the “priesthood of the believer” and Spiritual gifts in every Christian and how we are all ministers, but the ministerial structure of our traditional protestant churches betrays us. We still have two classes of members: professional Christians (ministerial staff) and the rest of us. And, unfortunately, the rest of us are most often content to sit back and wait to be entertained and fed and ministered to by the professional Christians. Any attempts by Luther and friends to truly mobilize the laity of the church seem to have failed pretty miserably by most standards.
Okay, okay. Maybe it’s not quite that bad. But even among our healthiest churches, there is often this understanding, this “norm” that has the professional Christians doing the work (and getting paid for it) and the rest of us just coming up under them and supporting that work however we can. Our church offices and support staff are often geared toward that same paradigm. Our budgets, our programming, our communications strategies, virtually our entire infrastructure in the traditional evangelical church is bent toward this same attitude of paying our ministers to do ministry so that we don’t have to.
Because of this, my heart aches for the traditional church. I know there are plenty of non-traditional churches out there who are experimenting with other models…churches filled with people who have fled the traditional church in order to pursue …
Tuesday Remix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.
Our Bible study in my church this Summer has been on missional living and ministering outside the walls of the church. It looks at the New Testament church as described in the Bible and observes that those Christians (all of them…not just the apostles) were actively involved in responding to the human needs around them. Only some of them were Apostles, only some were pastors, but all of them were ministers…all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and were being used by God to accomplish significant things in the world around them. You may recall from this post that I believe in a mobilized laity, i.e., laymen who are actively involved in ministry.
And so these observations beg the question: what about my church? How can I use my influence to help my local body of believers become more ministry-minded and people-focused?
Well, I can tell you from personal experience what won’t work.
Do NOT start by identifying all of the human suffering and human needs around your church and then trying to structure to meet those needs. That approach seems logical enough. It is what I would call an “agency” approach: first identify the needs, then structure to meet them, then raise the funds to support the structure, then recruit the human resources to support the vision. It makes sense, doesn’t it? But without a healthy dose of exploring who your people are (i.e., your church, your pool of human resources) and how God is at work in their lives and how they have been gifted, you will end up with a ministry that looks good on paper but which lacks energy, passion, a sense of God’s presence …
Tuesday Re-mix: This is an update of a popular post I ran last year.
Do you agree with me that, to a large extent, the American church has fallen asleep in the pews? I don’t mean that literally (although there may be another post there). I mean that we have grown fat and lazy as servants and have been lulled to a state of Spiritual incapacitation by our “entertain me, feed me, give me, minister to me” consumer mentality. I think if the apostle Paul came to America today, he would be appalled.
I believe in an active laity. I believe the Spirit of God Himself lives, moves and manifests Himself through every believer. I believe God’s calling on my life (as a layman) is no less significant than His calling on a pastor’s life. I believe God gives laity specific assignments in Body life with an expectation that they will be met with faithfulness and commitment. Put all these “belief” pieces together and it means that I am often accused of “blurring the line” between laity and clergy in the church. Of that charge I am completely guilty.
Please understand, I believe strongly in the notion of pastoral authority. I believe God gives a pastor an ability to see what He (God) is doing across the landscape of a congregation and therefore have a critical insight on vision and direction of that congregation. In that regard, then, I believe there is a difference between being a pastor and being a layman. But I’m not convinced God intended the differences to go much further than that.
It seems to me that the church (at least the various church cultures with which I am familiar) is guilty of maintaining two classes of “citizens”: the professional clergy (whom we pay to do …