A Pipe Dream?

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : October 22, 2004

I direct your attention to a recent post on Radical Congruency called The Pipe Dream.

I quote the post in its entirety:

The reality is simply that a pastor-less church, where everyone functions out of their co-operative giftedness is a pipe dream for armchair critics. I?m wording this strongly intentionally, because the reality of the Body is that NOT EVERYONE IS MATURE enough to function that way.

People come to gatherings who are damaged, demanding, in need of healing, counselling, etc. Those who ARE mature will hopefully be functioning in their giftedness and be a huge resource to these needy people, but the Body just isn?t that “uniform” in its spiritual, emotional or mental depth.

The only way you can have a completely egalitarian gathering is either (1) on paper, or (2) in a very small, exclusive group of like-minded friends who do not accept new group members who are different than them, or who have deep needs.

The pastor(s), whether they are paid or not, will always have their hands full with needy people, and (if they?re at all humble and servant-hearted) will gladly welcome a team of co-labourers around them.

I think they are trying to say that we cannot have a church where no one leads or where everyone leads. I totally agree. Some house churches react against top-down leadership by adopting a flat leadership system–like the Quakers have. But I don’t see this as a Scriptural alternative.

While I affirm that the New Testament gives no grounds whatsoever for a clergy/laity distinction, this isn’t to say that churches are leaderless. It is unhealthy for a group to have an equal share in every decision and ministry. It is unhealthy for the immature to have an equal weight in vision casting and implementation as the mature. However, I also think putting most ministry into the hands of one person (or even a few people) is another form of unhealth.

I believe church can be largely decentralized. Churches need leaders. Churches out to have more than one (though, I do believe that unhealthy churches or new churches can and sometimes should have one leader that functions in a primary and unique way). Leaders need to be stewards of ministry, but they should not be the sole possessors. These things are logistically difficult to work out in practice, but it can be done (I recommend the last two chapters of The Voice of Jesus: Discernment, Prayer, and the Witness of the Spirit as a place to start).

Though I agree that a perfectly “flat” church is a pipedream, I would say that a church run by one pastor, or where ministry is done by a few leaders, is an unhealthy church. So I agree that what they are describing is a pipe dream, but I don’t think we should, as a response, run back into the loving arms of a clerical idea of leadership.

for further reading . . .

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3 Responses to “A Pipe Dream?”

  1. Anonymous on October 23rd, 2004 11:11 am

    What do you mean there is “no ground” for a clergy/laity distinction? Look at people like Titus and Timothy! People like you are too reactionary. The church has worked with clergy types for 2000 years. If it aint broke, don’t fix it.

  2. ToddH on October 23rd, 2004 4:16 pm

    I don’t know that many people would want or expect a “pastor-less” church, or much less think that a “completely egalitarian gathering” with respect to power and responsibility would even be possible. However, I don’t know that a gathering where “everyone [or many] functions out of their co-operative giftedness” is a pipe dream. Hopefully that’s the goal that is creatively supported and expected by the church leadership.

    I think the previous poster may have misunderstood what was meant by “clergy-laity distinction” too. And it certainly is broken in many cases.

  3. Chris B. on October 26th, 2004 3:38 pm

    As a leader among many in a church with no pastor (Missio Dei), working out of my unique gifts and relying on the unique gifts of the other leaders, I can tell you that I can’t imagine being the sole leader, and I also can’t imagine if there were no leaders or if everyone was trying to lead. In response to the idea that group leadership is impossible, in my experience, it’s not. And in response to the idea that group leadership is difficult, I disagree as well. In fact, it makes things easier, it’s just harder to acheive because it involves abandoning mental categories that weren’t helping in the first place, and letting go of ego.

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