(Image copyright David Joshua Ford)
“How can there be so many experts at a time of searching and uncertainty?”
Whether our churches are in an emerging stream or in the mainstream it is obvious that we who pastor-teach them have not yet brought them to a place of maximum or equilibrium…
More than at any time I have known we appear to be in the throes of a major transition, disengaging from the old and fumbling for the new. We have left Ur of the Chaldes but have not yet landed in Canaan. A shift of values among Christians tells us that we will not continue as we were but what we will be has not yet been made known to us.
Perhaps the Lord perplexes his people at times, bringing us onto unfamiliar terrirtory, in order to get us to stop and ask the right questions, as Gideon did – “Why are we afflicted?… Why this adversity?… …Why are you no longer marching with our armies?”; and to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Perhaps that is why churches and pastors alike are finding this to be a season of questions and uncertainties.
However in recent months I have been exercised by another question: “How is it,” I have wondered, “if so many of us are in this place of transition, questioning and uncertainty; and why is it if we’re all in this humbling place of not-knowing that so many of us appear to have become ‘trainers’ in new paradigms, running training networks, writing books, hosting events, blogging blogs and recording podules, sharing our expertise?” How does that fit? Surely this journey can’t simultaneously humble and expert-ize us?!
This question troubled me not simply for the sake of others but because I too am part of that phenomenon. Is it simply that, no matter what we believe about the priesthood of all believers, the Christian economy thrives on books, sermons and conferences – and all those are built on the cult of the expert? Or is there another explanation? I believe there is and it lies in the kind of leadership that is proper to the elder and the pastor-teacher in the Body of Christ.
In 1976 on the Himalayan slopes of Kashmir (northern India) I witnessed a Biblical pattern of shepherding in action. My dad took the picture above and it shows you exactly what I saw: a raggle-taggle flock of sheep, being led from the summer pastures to the winter pastures by its band of shepherds. All had walked many mountainous miles to reach the staging post where I saw them rest, buy food and take water. Then the shepherds called the sheep forward on the next leg of the journey and they all departed. There were shepherds at the head of the flock, shepherds at the side and shepherds bringing up the rear to ensure that none were lost and that all made the journey – both the keen and the straggling. Shepherds and sheep, young and old made the journey together. It was a sight rich with reflections for the pastoral ministry. Today I just make the point that shepherds as well as sheep were making that journey – but fulfilling a special role within the community.
Being a pastor really is like that. In my recent years in the missional scene, serving smaller expressions of church I have come to enjoy fresh ways of sharing the journey. And I reflect that when any teacher exegetes a Scripture for an audience – even from the perceived distance and safety of a pulpit – he is really saying, “Make this journey with me”. And he shepherds his people through the revelations of that text. In these smaller units of church I have learned to share more vulnerably and openly – welcoming the dialogue of questions and comments that a more intimate gathering allows. At times I have sat down with the “secret” tools of the trade, laying on the table the interlinear, the Septuagint, the lexicons and dictionaries, opeining them up and saying to my flock, “Make this journey with me.”
Leadership is about how you share the being and the doing that God has called you to. That is a lesson I have been learning in this season of change and that thought leads me to believe that this plethora of “trainers in new paradigms” is nothing more than one part of the Body of Christ doing its job. Pastor-teachers are sharing with others the journey on which the Spirit of God has set them – and the whole church. This is good because it means that we can journey together from Ur to Canaan.
The Christian “economy” attempts to canonize a caste of best-sellers and so feudalize the Body of Christ. And we are right to opt out of that kind of false deference. But that does not mean that we should reject “those over us in the Lord” – to use a NT turn of phrase. Holy Scripture says we should pay such people in our lives and treat them with proper respect. Sorry if that offends! And just because we live as part of a post-modern culture that rejects the“monstrous tyranny of the expert” does not mean that Jesus has stopped finding elders and sending pastor-teachers to serve and strengthen his Body.
Post-modern or no, transition or no, it would not be good if in this season of rapid change the people of God were to turn and look for their elders and pastor-teachers and say, “Where d’they go?” That’s not the promise of Ephesians 4 which affirms that it is HE who gives them.
Consider the promise of Isaiah. I find it relevant to the terrain we are traversing in our day:”Although the Lord has been giving you the bread of adversity and the waters of affliction, your teachers will no more be hidden. You will see them with your own eyes. Whether you make a turn to the right or the left you will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”
So then pastoral brothers, and sisters let us continue with the flock of Christ, walking and talking!