Monday, July 27, 2009

Blogging the Deliberate Church: Part 8

If churches are to be led by a plurality of elders (pastors), then what about other paid workers within the church? How should a church go about adding staff positions and personnel? This is the subject discussed in chapter 18 of The Deliberate Church, and I found the discussion to be rather insightful and thought-provoking.

This chapter is interesting because it challenges the idea of specialization, the commonest way of staffing in most churches. What is specialization?

One of the most popular ways of hiring and organizing church staff has been to divide the variegated lump of ministry responsibilities into specialized departments such as music, youth, adult education, community, evangelism, discipleship, and the like. It only makes sense, then, to look for a person who is particularly suited or gifted to lead in one of those areas. So we hire a minister of music or youth, a director of adult education, a pastor of evangelism and so on. (page 161.)

What's wrong with that? The authors point out four potential problems: professionalization, fragmentation, territoriality, and program drivenness. I cannot elaborate on those four areas now, but will comment on the first, professionalization. While it is true that the ideal is for people to serve in areas we are most gifted to do, too often we find giftedness (or a lack thereof) to be an excuse for non-service. Why should only "gifted" childcare workers fill children's ministry positions? Surely all parents are called to children's ministry, whether they feel gifted to do it or not! As the authors point out, the problem with specialization is that it creates a niche-marketed mentality where we assume the problem with our children's ministry is that we do not have enough gifted workers when the problem may really be we haven't trained the parents how to minister to their children.

So is there an alternative to specialization?

What we want to work toward is a staff model that contributes to the integration of ministries, the evangelical camaraderie of pastors, and the unity of church members. (page 165.)

The idea proposed by the authors is to no longer divide pastoral ministry into different departments, led by a departmental "specialist." As they say, "no more Music Department to be run by the Minister of Music; no more Youth Department or Evangelism Department or Adult Education Department" (p. 165). "Instead," they explain, "we want to view pastoral ministry (and, by extension, Christian maturity) as one integrated unit whose distinguishable parts grow together in proportion to the whole" (p. 166). This does not mean that there are not certain individuals who are given oversight over certain areas of ministry. It just means that these individuals are not to be limited by or even defined by those ministries. No more "ministers of" any specific ministerial area.

Here's how it works at the authors' church. "Instead of hiring specialists, we've found it useful to hire pastoral staff who are willing to be generalists" (p. 166). They hire pastoral assistants, a full-time but temporary position who may or may not go into full-time pastoral ministry. The PA's assist the senior pastor and are often single, post-undergrad, pre-seminary guys who want to test their giftedness in the context of the local church. So it is an "assistanship" as well as an apprenticeship, and it is designed to train young men to be generalists in ministry.

The church also hires assistant pastors whose distinction from the PA's is that they are brought in from within the congregation after being recognized as gifted for vocational ministry. They assist the senior pastor as well as the associate pastor(s) and are often given general oversight over various ministries, though again their job description is not limited to these things. Again the goal is to get them to be well-rounded in ministry.

Third, the church also hires associate pastors who actually may look just like the senior pastor in giftedness and call but who are willing to submit to the senior pastor's authority while serving in similar yet complementary ways. The idea with associate pastors is to have other people on the boat who can steer the ship in the absence of the senior pastor.

So how does it all work between the staff, elders, and deacons? The authors explain with this analogy: "The elders decide on teh destination. The staff drive the bus. The deacons make sure we've got enough gas to get there" (p. 169). In other words, the church is "elder-led, but staff-executed" (p. 168), though of course, some staff will also serve as elders.

These ideas on staffing the church are quite distinct from the typical church's setup. Whether one adopts all of the ideas or not, I think the authors have made a great point about the need for the pastoral ministry to not only be shared by having a plurality of elders, but shared also by having the pastors be generalists. Yes it is wonderful when we can serve the church by executing the gifts we have been entrusted with. But a lack of giftedness should never be an excuse to neglect important aspects of ministry, and it is the responsibility of the pastors to be sure that essential ministry is being done within the church.

I also think the idea of hiring pastoral assistants is noteworthy. It seems like the church often falls short in giving men the opportunity to test their giftedness and call to pastoral ministry within the context of the church. Here is a way to get staff responsibilities done while at the same time giving young men an opportunity to see if vocational ministry is truly what the Lord is calling them to do.

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