Pastors and church leaders are not to be put on a pedestal; rather, they are called to lead with the servanthood and humility of Jesus. They should be accessible, approachable, and accountable to the church and its members. And their task is not to do all the ministry themselves, but “equip the saints for ministry”, both inside the church and outside in their workplaces and communities.
Speaker: Pastor Stephen “Tig” Intagliata
Main Bible Passage: Luke 22:24-27; Acts 14:8-15; 1 Corinthians 3:5-11
Today we’re going to wrap up our series on the church using Skye Jethani’s book What if Jesus Was Serious About the Church? as a guide.
Before we dive into the last section on The Family Servants, I thought it would be helpful to do a quick review of what we’ve looked at so far.
In the introduction which we covered in the first week, Jethani talks about how many churches today seem to be copying a secular corporate or business model for the church, instead of seeing the church as a family. The corporate model can be more impersonal, while the family model is centered on relationships between people.
The other day I had an experience that reminded me of the church adopting more of a corporate model. I was meeting someone for lunch, and we met in a parking lot of a church to drop my car off and carpool together to the restaurant.
It was a huge parking lot, and I parked at the far end of it. There were only a few cars in the lot, and they were parked near the entrance to the building. It was a Friday so there weren’t worship services, so I didn’t think anything of parking there.
When I came back less than two hours later, I found this sign on my windshield:
“Private Property/ No Parking/ Vehicle Will Be Towed”
Not a very friendly or personal way to treat someone. If I wasn’t a Christian, I would’ve said right then and there “I never want to set foot in that church or any church for that matter.”
Now on to Part 1. In the Family Reunion, Jethani compared the church to a bus, where Jesus is the driver. The idea is that we don’t get to choose who gets on the bus with us; Jesus does.
Also, we saw that the church is the body of Christ, not just a collection of individuals, so it’s not just about me; it’s about us.
In Part 2: The Family Meal, Jethani talks about the power of eating together, and how meals can either unite or divide people. Jesus’ practice of eating with people considered “unclean” upset the cleanliness laws of his fellow Jewish people, and opened up the possibility of table fellowship with all kinds of people.
We looked at how celebrating the Lord’s Supper is a symbol of the good news that all are welcome at God’s table.
Part 3: The Family Gathering, was all about worship, and what it means to worship in spirit and in truth, as Jesus said in his encounter with the woman at the well.
Jethani stressed that we must resist the temptation to take a pragmatic approach to worship and our relationship with God, where we see God as someone that we try to please in order to get things from God.
I love the way Jethani describes worship: “Worship is an impractical and beautiful act of adoration that flows from a heart transfixed by the beauty of God.”
In this section Jethani also talks about the preaching part of worship, and that it’s not just the pastor who is qualified to preach. He says:
“If you have a story of encountering Christ, his power, and his Kingdom then you are qualified to preach.”
Then last week Jerome Waltner talked about Part 4: The Family Business, which was all about Jesus being the foundation of the church, even though some churches base their identity on a particular ethnicity, or political party, or worship style.
He also reminded us that God can use us at any time and place, and we don’t have to wait for our circumstances to change.
So that brings us to today and Part 5, which is title The Family Servants. It’s pretty clear that this section is all about church leaders and their relationship with God and with the congregation.
A theme running throughout this section is a calling for pastors and other church leaders to lead following the teaching and example of Jesus, who led with humility and servanthood, giving up or renouncing attention, power, prestige and even his reputation.
Jethani starts with the story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet in John 13. He says:
Applying John 13 isn’t about church leaders accepting menial tasks, but about church leaders accepting ridicule and embarrassment, about not being respected in society, and no need the affirmation of their peers.
Serendipitous that while I was reading this last section of Jethani’s book, I started going through this book: Streams in the Wasteland: Finding Spiritual Renewal with the Desert Fathers and Mothers by Andrew Arndt.
It’s about a movement in the church that began around the end of the fourth century. In the early church before the 4th century, the church was a countercultural movement that was focused on following the radical way of Jesus-way of servanthood, loving enemies, and willing to suffer for not bowing to Caesar as Lord, but pledged their total allegiance to Jesus.
And then when the emperor Constantine made Christianity the “official” religion of the land, the church acquired more and more power and privilege. It became more of an institution and corporation, and started losing the family feeling and the prophetic witness of the church as an alternative community.
So around the end of the fourth century, a group of men and women, known as the Desert Fathers and Mothers, began to separate themselves from the church and it’s marriage with power and privilege.
They fled to the wilderness to rediscover the radical way of Jesus through devoting themselves to solitude, silence, and prayer.
They renounced their attachments to the world that were in any way a barrier to living in communion and surrender to God. I think that this has a lot to do with what Jethani is trying to say about the humble, servant way of Jesus:
Freedom of spirit was a central pursuit of the Desert Fathers and Mothers…Freedom was the pearl of great price…they were free from possessions. Free from the need to judge others… Free from the desire for power. Free from the desire to by honored by others. Free from their own reputations. (p. 42-3)
Supreme renunciation, friend. That’s the threshold we are daily called to—a renouncing of honor and power and prestige on the world’s terms… p. 52
Jethani then goes into an in-depth discussion about the opposite of the spirit of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, which is the temptation for pastors to become like celebrities, even to the point of being put on such a high pedestal that people worship them in place of God.
Of course this kind of idolatry and celebrity has been an issue from the beginning of the church. We heard about it in the scriptures from both the book of Acts and 1 Corinthians earlier:
In Acts, people started worshipping Paul and Barnabas because of the miracles they were performing. They shouted “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” But Paul and Barnabas warned them not to worship them.
In 1 Corinthians, people started saying identifying themselves as followers of Paul or Apollos instead of Jesus. It’s like when people say “I go to David Platt’s Church” or “Max Lucado’s Church” when in reality it’s God’s church, not theirs.
Anyway, Jethani has a nice little checklist to help us see if a pastor is being put on a pedestal above everyone else and maybe even as high as God. It’s called the “Pastoral Pedestal Checklist”. (read through list)
“Who is really the object of devotion—Jesus Christ or the pastor?”
Today, we are not tempted to worship a golden calf but a pastor with a golden tongue.”
The only object of worship in the church should be Jesus. Period.
Then Jethani talks about where a leader’s authority should come from, that it should be rooted in proximity or closeness and not popularity.
He says that in a celebrity-based church, authority comes through popularity, but in a proximity based church, authority is based on a person’s character. He says,
“Sadly, as our culture’s capacity to engage and maintain meaningful relationships deteriorates, we have seen a rise in popularity-based rather than proximity-based authority within the church as well.”
“It’s personal knowledge of the other’s character (i.e. proximity) that establishes the trust necessary for a healthy relationship.”
He says it’s like a marriage, where closeness/proximity leads to seeing a person’s character, and if it’s solid, trust grows, which then leads to a healthy relationship and commitment.
As I read this, I thought about something that I heard Rich Villodas say, the author of a couple of books that I’ve talked about here.
Villodas says that healthy relationships between church leaders and their congregations must have proximity, and it’s fleshed out in three ways:
The pastor is Accessible: build relationships with people, available to meet
The pastor is Approachable: not defensive or short-tempered, open to other viewpoints, a good listener
The pastor is Accountable: to a supervisory group like a church council and a denomination, not just “I answer to God and God only”, congregation as a whole.
Doing these three “A” words will help prevent pastors from being put on pedestals, and will go a long way in creating healthy relationships with God and with church members, and prevent the abuses that unfortunately take place in churches today.
Jethani then reflects on the church leader’s role, based on what the apostle Paul says in Ephesians chapter 4:
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets…..to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”
Too often we think it’s the pastors and other leaders who do all the ministry; that’s what we pay them for, and we can just sit back and watch them go (and run ragged!). But really our role as leaders is to equip and empower you all for ministry.
And then he takes it a step further by unpacking what this word “ministry” is about, that it’s broader that just inside the four walls of the church:
“leaders in the church aren’t just supposed to equip us to do ministry within the church. How does Jesus expand his rule over everything? By giving the church leaders, filled with his power, to equip His people to love and serve Him everywhere. Not just inside a church building. Not only on Sundays.
And then ‘Pastors and Christian leaders are to help us grow into maturity so that our communion with God through Christ can transform our WORK, our RELATIONSHIPS, our COMMUNITIES, and ultimately our world into one in which God is over all and through all.
I would add, non-clergy vocations need to be celebrated as genuine callings from God.
I love this idea! Every vocation, profession, everyone’s work can be seen as a calling, a ministry where you live out your faith in the real world. We leaders need to do a better job of helping equip you for your ministry wherever God has placed you.
This can be a life-giving experience. In contrast, Jethani warns that just seeing “ministry” as taking place inside the four walls of the church can be draining and such the life out of you. He talks about “vampire churches”
Success is assumed when a person is plugged into the apparatus of the church institution rather than released to serve God’s people and their neighbors out in the world. I call such ministries “vampire churches” because they suck the life out of you. They view people as resources to be used rather than as God’s saints to be empowered”.
Then finally, Jethani talks about churches being “anti-fragile”, which he likes better than using the word “strong”. Maybe another word similar to anti-fragile could be resilient.
He uses the story of David and Goliath to make his point.
“Like the Israelite army that quaked at the sight of Goliath, the American church may soon find itself parlyzed and impotent. That’s when we might discover it’s the churches we’ve dismissed as weak and insignificant—the small, decentralized, anti-fragile networks of disciples found throughout the world—that courageously step forward like David to lead us through the challenges of our time…” p. 227
One other way a church can become anti-fragile is when we act like a healthy body of Christ where all the different parts work together in harmony, respect each other’s different roles, build each other up and encourage one another.
Jethani talks about this idea of how we need each other earlier in the section:
The truth, which both my culture and my sinful pride want me to ignore, is that I desperately need others to lead me closer to Christ. The call to honor church leaders, therefore, isn’t about inflating their pride, but diminishing my own. p.202-3
I want to end with a quote from the book on the desert Fathers and Mothers that I talked about earlier. I think it sums up well what Jethani is trying to get across in this section on servanthood and humility, and in a way, his whole book on the church. Andrew Arndt says:
Once a people who have and who are continually identifying themselves with the cross of Christ can really live for the love of God and others. Only the dead are free—and if we are baptized, then we are dead—to power, to reputation, to status, to things. The challenge is to claim it , daily, and to live into it. –Arndt, Streams in the Wasteland