Tod Bolsinger disagrees with Mark Galli.
In a post on his blog, Bolsinger writes, “We Need Chaplains…Just not More Of Them…Not Now.”
He says he is right there with Galli when it comes to critiquing the megachurch model and the corporate-style leadership such congregations have. “If leader means “someone who makes the organization grow in numbers, dollars and reputation,” it is a deficient definition indeed,” Bolsinger writes. He also strongly agrees that we need pastors who are spiritually sensitive.
But he is not with Galli in endorsing the “chaplain” model.
Why? Tod Bolsinger thinks the traditional “cure of souls” pastor is not adequate to meet “the complexity of the pastoral task in our day.” We live now in a “post-Christendom” world that makes everything different.
Yes, “for centuries, the pastorate was thought to be about the ‘cure of souls’.” I agree. That’s the way it USED to be. During the centuries of Christendom, this was an appropriate and helpful metaphor. In a culture where Christianity was in the cultural center, “chaplain” or even “pastor” was a crucial component for keeping powers-that-be attuned to the word of God and the way of Jesus when other cultural forces were present to lead us into temptation and conformity with “the world”.
But increasingly, this is not the mission of the church today. In a post-Christendom context, the metaphor of pastor as healer, chaplain, or curer of souls is inadequate to the task and literally killing the church. Churches that continue to cling to a Christendom context and expectation for pastors (as seen mostly in mainline churches like my own) are dramatically in decline and becoming increasingly irrelevant to the changing cultural contexts that are far more like a mission field in the first century than the cultural contexts of the most recent past centuries for which Galli (and most of us, frankly—even me) pine nostalgically.
In the light of our historical and cultural context, Bolsinger advocates that we embrace the Missional Movement, with its understanding of the pastor “as the leader of a people in mission.”
In this post-Christendom context, the congregation, not the pastor, is the embodiment of Jesus (literally “the body of Christ”). The congregation, not the pastor, is the true ‘healer of souls’ going into the world to demonstrate and proclaim the reign of God. The laity (that is the whole people of God), not just the pastor, is the prophetic voice to power in boardrooms, courtrooms, and classrooms. The Church, not just particular Christians, is the presence of God, the temple of the Spirit and corporately, communally and contextually—the manifold witness of God to the particular locales of God’s world.
Long before today’s “Missional Movement,” there have been movements in the church to equip the laity for service, help them discover their spiritual gifts, engage them in active ministry, and set them free to be salt and light in the world. I’ve heard this song sung in 70’s folk-rock style, 80’s electronica, 90’s grunge, and in today’s, well, whatever today’s music is.
And please let me affirm: I truly respect and like what I see happening in many places where a true spirit of mission is capturing people’s hearts and leading them into sacrificial service. I have been critical of the church for being separated from the world in all the wrong ways, in building a “temple” mentality, practicing what Michael Spencer called “Mere Churchianity,” and failing to engage with our neighbors in the name of Christ. The “missional” issue was one of the reasons I became disenchanted with evangelicalism. It is one of the reasons the Lutheran teaching on “vocation” resonates so strongly with me.
The problem with much contemporary American evangelicalism is that it has created an alternate “kingdom,” one which is OF the world but not IN the world (the opposite of what Jesus intended). The freedom and prosperity we enjoy in this country has allowed us to withdraw from meaningful interaction with our neighbors in the context of real life situations so that we might spend time in “Christian” pursuits.
Churches are organized to satisfy this centripetal impulse. Life for many American Christians revolves around the “temple” and its program of activities for all ages and interests. It seems that the purpose of the church is to provide what Luther called a “roses and lilies” experience for people that protects them from the harsh realities of the world and the challenges of learning to relate authentically with those who don’t share our faith.
This pattern is “of the world” because it grows directly out of the American suburban ethos. Suburban living is about comfort, security, and prosperity. The modern evangelical movement has capitalized on these desires by providing superbly outfitted temples that cater to the consumerist cravings of their congregations. It provides “safe places” where parents can be assured that they and their children will never have to rub shoulders with pagans, never be disturbed by ideas or concepts that challenge their Sunday School faith, and never have to deal with the uncomfortable realities that live next door.
Yes. Churches need to be more missional. Yes. Pastors need to provide a degree of leadership to help their congregations burst the Christian bubble and get meaningfully involved in their world. However, what I can’t accept in Tod Bolsinger’s argument is that somehow, the means by which we (pastors, in particular) most effectively provide the care and spiritual formation that will enable missional living has changed.
In my own work as a chaplain, I have come to appreciate more than ever before the power of personal, face-to-face ministry and the effects of that, which seem to multiply exponentially when we simply engage in humble, “chaplain-like” service to our neighbors.
Bolsinger seems to suggest that simple servants can’t cut it today because the world has changed. But I have to say it again: WHO is our model for ministry? If it’s Jesus, then I see a Gospel servant who changed the world by working personally, humbly, and in relative obscurity in a world long before anything like Christendom ever existed. And if it’s the apostles, then they did the same. They were “missional,” of course, going to the ends of the earth, but everywhere they went their work was simple, house to house and face to face, and energized by a servant approach and willingness to suffer. The Cross was their paradigm, plain and simple (see 1Cor 2:1-5).
I don’t care if we live in the first century, the tenth, or the twenty-first, the job of a “pastor” (shepherd) will always be to take care of sheep by feeding them, protecting them, nurturing them, tending them when they are sick and injured, and leading them on paths that they sometimes don’t want to take. It is intensely personal, hard, dirty, often repugnant work.
How come I never hear that last sentence when I hear about “new paradigms” for pastoral ministry?
Honestly, I’m afraid of “Missionalism.” Read Gordon MacDonald’s fine piece in Leadership for an excellent examination of the subject. He calls missionalism “a leader’s disease,” and warns us, “Like a common cold that begins with a small cough, missionalism catches on in a leader’s life and seems at first so inconsequential. But let this disease catch hold and you are likely to have bodies strewn all over the place, the leader’s and some of the leader’s followers.” This disease MacDonald so deftly describes is pandemic in church leadership today. It’s the next “wave of the Spirit,” apparently, and they don’t want to miss it.
This is not the place to get into all of that; I simply want to make one comment in response to Tod Bolsinger’s post. What I fear about all this talk regarding “Missional” Christianity and “new paradigms” to meet “post-Christendom” realities, is that we are simply replacing one set of corporate principles with another.
Older, 20th century “corporate” paradigms adopted by the church were established when large post-WWII corporations dominated the landscape and their suit-wearing executives still walked the earth. You know the model. It’s the one all the dying people I visit as a hospice chaplain used to work for back in the day. Back when it was cars that rusted in the “Rust Belt,” not the factories that made them.
In today’s outsourced, globalized internet age, “new paradigms” have emerged. In recent years our corporate “hero” has been the young entrepreneur with “vision” who seeks to “empower” vast numbers of people by “equipping” them through personal computers, tech devices, and continual and better access to information and data. These visionaries have a dream for building “community” through social media. They have a social conscience, value creativity, participatory processes, diversity, and they tend to foster de-centralized organizational structures. They are striving to “transform” the world.
Hey, guess what? Sounds like the “missional” church program we’re now being sold! The spiritual glaze can’t hide the corporate model beneath.
Just listen to Tod Bolsinger:
I believe [the new paradigm of pastoral leadership] will be more apostolic than chaplaincy, more about cultivating worshipping missional learning communities (isn’t that what a church of “disciples” really is?), than managing a vender of religious services, or providing private spiritual counsel. It will be both personal and communal; it will be both liturgical and public. It will be complex, holistic, rooted in and expressed differently in every particular context. It will be about organizational leadership that is organic. And it will be in every way about transformation.
In other words, it won’t be Mayberry. It won’t be General Motors. It will be Apple. It will be Facebook. It will be Twitter.
Meanwhile, my neighbor still lies bleeding by the side of the road.