(Continuing reflections on Breaking Tradition to Accomplish Vision by Paul Gupta and Sherwood Lingenfelter)
The clergy-laity distinction is a reality we have to live with. (See previous post.) In many denominations in Africa (and elsewhere) hierarchy is the norm and will not change. So how do we deal with the results of this structure which often reduces most church members to spectator status? And how can we bring about change in the system without modifying the structure? The answer is that the leaders within the hierarchy must bring about a transformation in the way ministry and service is viewed and carried out.
For example, in a seminar where I was teaching about team ministry, I was asked how this could take place within a hierarchical context where leaders are responsible to make decisions. My answer was that instead of making decisions independently they could set up a team of advisers involving members from different levels and backgrounds in the process. The leader would retain the responsibility for the final decision but would not be acting solely on his own.
This is but one small step but what would it accomplish? It would begin to break down the clergy-laity distinction. It would involve members in the direction and ministry of the church. It would model a different type of leadership to the church and the world. In fact it would bring it more into line with the teaching of Jesus on leadership as stated in Mark 10:42-45:
“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
What would our hierarchical denominations look like if the church leaders did not lord their positions over each other and the members of their churches? What would happen if Jesus’ words were taken seriously, “Not so with you!” What would happen if servant leadership was seriously practiced?
When Jesus says, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all” , who are the all? The answer is “all!” The leaders must serve: the lowest and least educated in the church to the most prestigious person in the congregation. Children. Men. Women. Young and Old. Rich and Poor. From our tribe or another. Church members and non-members. The lovely and the unlovely. The leader is to serve them all. And it is when he serves the church members by equipping and enabling them to serve others that they will move from being passive spectators to spectacular participants in God’s plan!
Sherwood Lingenfelter makes these comments:
Cultural expectations about leaders and leadership, status rivalry among people emotional and economic insecurity, and an inherent human propensity to control rather than empower others all work against the vision for multiplying leaders in the church…
The idea of training others and releasing control of ministry to them, is utterly foreign to most people and cultures…[It] is counter-cultural and counter-emotional–leaders expect to control and oversee, but they rarely expect to release ministry and equip others to do their work.1
It is when the leader refuses to maintain the distinctions and the control that comes with his position and becomes a servant leader that empowers and releases the local leaders to do the work that the traditional clergy-laity divide will be broken even while the hierarchy remains in place.
This calls for a work of the Spirit to deal with the pride of position. prestige and power that is often seen in church leadership. May revival come and sweep through our tradition bound and moribund structures so the people of God may be released to do the good works they were created to do.2
1Paul R. Gupta and Sherwood G. Lingenfelter, Breaking Tradition to Accomplish Vision, (BMH Books, Winona Lake, Indiana, 2006), p. 96, 97.
2Ephesians 2:10: For we are God’s workmanship,created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
(Continuing reflections on Breaking Tradition to Accomplish Vision by Paul Gupta and Sherwood Lingenfelter)
Perhaps one of the biggest hindrances to providing leaders for the growing church is the traditional clergy-laity distinction which has long characterised the western church. This was definitely a challenge that Paul “Bobby” Gupta faced as leader of the Hindustan Bible Institute in Chennai, India. He describes the leadership challenge they faced as a result of their goal to plant one million churches in India. The traditional formal method of training church leaders could not fulfill the need caused by India’s rapid church growth. As a result they began to develop a number of informal and non-formal means of education which I hope to explore further in this blog.
However, part of the challenge they faced was the clergy-laity distinction which had a limiting effect on the church’s view of who could be a leader. Gupta writes:
Finally, we understood that the largest pool of untrained leaders were the people in our local congregations who had been taught that only ordained pastors do the ministry. Our biggest challenge lay in “the mobilization of the national church to do the work…”[i]
How did the church come to this place? I explain this in the following excerpt from my book:
George Cladis observes, “We exchanged Paul’s notion of the church as the body of Christ for a clergy-centered ‘parish model’ of ministry that usurped the role of the laity.”[ii] He describes it this way:
A priest or minister is supplied for a geographical area, and this cleric is responsible for the spiritual welfare of his parishioners; they are the recipients of his ministry. Just as a doctor practices medicine and a lawyer practices law so the cleric dispenses religion. After centuries of such hierarchical parish systems, the authority and responsibility that once belonged to the laity was transferred to the priests and pastors; in a system of ministry that no longer reflected the nature of the early church as described in the acts (sic) of the Apostles and the writings of Paul.[iii]
Although this model was developed and is widespread in the West it has been adopted in Africa as well. This has led to the misconception among the membership of the churches that ministry is exclusively the work of the pastor. The average person in the church does not feel that they can or should be involved in ministry.
Larry Kreider writes:
In the church, the opposite of a servant-leadership understanding is a clergy- laity mentality. A clergy-laity mentality expects the clergy to do all the ministry because they are in authority while the laity is inactive, taking on the spectator role. This kind of thinking stunts effectiveness and maintains a distance between leaders and the rest of the church body. Elders who lead biblically know they must lead as fathers so the people see the need to participate actively to advance the kingdom of God and do not become complacent.[iv]
For the church to grow strong and be a vital force in the world today, the sleeping giant must be awakened. God’s people must be prepared for works of service. This can be accomplished as the pastor trains teams of elders and church leaders to minister in each local congregation.[v]
To my way of thinking we need to do away with the clergy-laity distinction as much as possible. We need to emphasize the body of believers being involved in ministry and service. Following Ephesians 4:11-13, Gupta writes:
“…The pastor must understand the urgency to equip his people to participate with him in ministry. Rather than create dependency, he must mentor individuals in the congregation to be about the work of the kingdom. He should help people recognize their gifts, point out open doors for ministry, and watch over and foster the progress of believers seeking to follow the Lord.[vi]
As I close, I don’t want to be understood as saying that we should not have trained pastors or those functioning in that role. It is a reality that exists and with which we must work. Their biblical ministry within the body is vital but often not being fulfilled within the church. We will address this in a later entry.
[i] Paul R. Gupta and Sherwood G. Lingenfelter, Breaking Tradition to Accomplish Vision, (BMH Books, Winona Lake, Indiana, 2006), p. 139, 140.
[ii] George Cladis, Leading the Team-Based Church, (Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco, 1999), p. ix.
[v] Philip E. Morrison, The Multi-Church Pastor (Gratia Veritas Publishers, Allentown, Pennsylvania, 2004), p. 43.
[vi] Gupta and Lingenfelter, p. 82.
Meeting the Needs for Church Leadership Training
(A reflection the book Breaking Tradition to Accomplish Vision by Paul (Bobby) Gupta and Sherwood G. Lingenfelter.)
The Church is growing very quickly in Africa. Some report 23,000 people are becoming Christians each day[i] and that the church is growing at an estimated pace of 1,200 churches a month, many of them from indigenous African denominations.[ii]
While this growth is exciting it is sobering as well. With this kind of growth the church will never be able to provide traditionally trained pastors for all of these churches. (If, in fact we could, it seems unlikely that all of these churches would be able to support their pastor.) Therefore, most churches will most likely be served by a pastor who is responsible for more than one church.
These facts are challenging to me as I look to the future of meeting the leadership needs for the growing African Church. I spent ten years training church leaders in a Bible College and feel it is a vital need, but the traditional institutional training model will never keep up with the need for trained leadership.
The key for leadership in the African church (especially in the multi-church pastor context) rests in training teams of elders to do the work of the ministry in the pastor’s absence. By default they are already providing pastoral care and leadership. But if they are not trained we must ask “how well are they doing it?” And if they are not doing it well what does this mean in practical terms for the future of the African church? Weak leaders will not produce strong churches. Therefore, if we do not train the lay leaders in ministry skills and the spiritual disciplines we are condemning the African church to weakness.
What is the answer? We at MCPI believe the level of training must be pushed down from the pastor to the elders and church leaders. We must equip trained pastors to train their elders and in so doing we will empower them to care for the members of their flock.
Breaking Tradition to Accomplish Vision chronicles the church planting movement in India of the past 20-30 years. Their goal is 1,000,000 churches for India or one church for every 1,000 persons. How they could accomplish this goal and develop leadership for the many new churches that were being planted is the burden of the book. To do this they had to think outside of the box and turn to non-traditional and non-formal methods of training.
In the next number of blogs I want to highlight some of the lessons they learned in India and apply them to the multi-church pastor context here in Africa. Although the situations are similar they are not identical. However, we can learn a great deal from their experience.
Let me leave you with a quote that in many ways captures the thrust and the lessons of the book (and which affirms many of the core values and emphases of The Multi-Church Pastor Institute):
Every pastor and church must take the responsibility to equip members to lead by making disciples of others. The professionally-led church is a distortion of God’s plan and purpose. We return to the pattern of the church in Acts, where apostles, evangelists, prophets, pastors, and teachers made disciples and empowered people in local churches to shepherd and disciple others. God gave gifts of leadership in the people He calls to the church; pastors must learn to identify, equip, and release them to serve the body interdependently in fulfilling the needs of the church.
Leaders with advanced theological training provide a very important resource to the church, but such training is not essential to a rapidly growing church. These leaders fit most readily in an urban context and in roles of ecclesiastical leadership where they lead and train other leaders. Theological training institutions may better serve the larger body by adopting different methods to equip pastors to train others in their congregations to lead. Schools must not expect all leaders to come to them. Rather, they must go to the people, understand their need, and develop training that will serve the development of leadership in the region and in the context of the church and local culture.
The strength of the church—and its ability to serve its people and fulfill its mission—is directly proportionate to its success at developing leaders for ministry to its people. Every seminary must train its pastors to equip leaders at the local church level. Without this multiplication of leaders, the church will remain a superficial community of people who lack understanding and obedience to the teachings of Jesus, and who have no understanding of how to engage their communities with the transforming power of the gospel.[iii]
[i] Darrow Miller and Scott Allen, Against All Hope: Hope for Africa, (Nairobi, Kenya: Samaritan Strategy Africa Working Group, 2005). p. 23.
[ii] Mary Welch, Africa’s Hope, http://archives.tconline.org/stories/July01/africa1.html
[iii] Paul R. Gupta and Sherwood G. Lingenfelter, Breaking Tradition to Accomplish Vision, (Winona Lake, Indiana: BMH Books, 2006). p. 209-210.
Renew. Update. Refurbish. Start over…
That is what this blog entry is all about. The Multi-Church Pastor Institute website is about three years old. But I haven’t updated it in a couple of years. I was using the old FTP system and it was a bit difficult and confusing to me. Also the backgrounds I used were huge in size which made the old pages load very slowly which is a distinct disadvantage to those of us who live in “internet challenged” Africa. So, I let it slip.
Thanks to a friend who understands websites we have this up and running again. Not all of the bugs are worked out, nor is all of the information updated. But we are ready to make it a viable communication tool once again. I hope this can be an interactive forum for those who are interested in church leadership development.
I welcome your comments as we move forward.