Last Saturday I went with two others from our team to Chicago to hang out with approximately 20 missional church planters from around the Midwest. I was going to post some notes on what we chatted about, but my friend Wes beat me to it. His notes were pretty good, so I thought I’d just copy them here and perhaps add a few comments of my own… which will be written in bold, italicized, blue text.
Leadership: We discussed a
leadership model that focuses on a team of leaders rather than "one
guy" aka senior pastor through whom everything happening in the church
must go. The idea is that tension within leadership can actually be
beneficial when leaders learn to mutually submit to one another and
where humility and honesty are practiced. Each leader or member of the
church for that matter operates in their gifting for the building up of
the church and to prepare us for works of service (Eph 4). This model
lightens the load so that everything doesn’t hang on one person whereby
this person always ends up burning out.
talked about how our services should be structured around liturgical
forms. Liturgy means the "work of the people" where we come as one body
participating together in confession of sin, adoration, prayer,
proclamation of the gospel (preaching), reading Scripture, and sharing
the Eucharist (communion). The goal of the worship service is to form
and shape us into the body of Christ rather than to "get something".
Liturgy keeps us from the temptation to be anonymous in church or treat
worship services as personal experiences that can be kept to ourselves
apart from the rest of the body. We all come participating together.
I would add that every church has a liturgy, it’s just that we need to think through how well our liturgy is functioning – and the function of our times of worship is to form us as the Body of Christ, not to entertain us, or whip up some good emotions, or even to help us "learn something new" – it’s a gathering of the saints for formation into the gospel of Jesus Christ, not a pep-rally or a lecture hall.
Preaching and teaching are not the same thing. Most sermons in church
can be categorized in one of two ways: expository (think of a lecture)
someone dissecting the text giving you the historical critical
background to the text, parsing the Greek and Hebrew and coming to the
"real meaning of the text". The second category would be "self-help"
which could only be distinguished from an episode of Oprah or Dr. Phil
by the few mentions of God. This way of preaching seeks to empower
people to become a "better you" using principles from the Bible. Both
of these categories focus on giving the congregation something they can
take home and own, however they fail to accomplish the goal of
preaching, which is a proclamation of the gospel (Lk 4: 20-21).
Preaching should instead proclaim the reality as it is in Christ and
invite people into it. It should fund our imaginations. It should treat
the scriptures as a drama and not as a textbook, as a reality to be
lived and not a commodity to be consumed.
It was interesting to me that there was a bit of debate about this topic, even among the pastoral staff at the hosting church. It was an interesting example of tension in leadership, and also mutual submission, as the one pastor who questioned this preaching model the most was actually engaging in preaching according to this model the next day.
In an increasingly post-christian society it is no longer adequate to
evangelize with tactics and programs which seek to bombard
non-christians and force a decision in a matter of minutes. These
tactics presuppose so many things that can longer be counted on such
as: the Bible is true, the Bible is God’s word, God is real, God is
good etc… Evangelism in a post-christian society will take time and
require relationships. One way of accomplishing this is to rediscover
the art of hospitality. This can be practiced by meeting together in
homes as a community. A house fellowship would be a small group of
people meeting together to practice the kingdom and represent the
gospel. Groups would eat together, share with one another, pray for
each other, practice hospitality and justice, and be transformed
together for the sake of the gospel.
The challenges to actually doing this are immense, partly because of how people are normally formed (community is not a huge priority, unless it’s convenient and value-added – people tire quickly of the costs of real community), partly because of the structure of many of our neighborhoods (drive the SUV home from work, go into the garage, close the door, and don’t emerge until the morning when the garage door opens and you head back to work… many neighborhoods are fortresses and there is very little living out in the open), and partly because of our mobility, which makes spontaneous community difficult.
It was a great day for conversation and thought along these lines. Thanks for writing up the notes, Wes!
Justin Spurlock says
Ben… just found your blog. Really good stuff. Theologically robust and practically thoughtful. Glad to have found it. Perhaps the next time I’m in Fort Wayne, I will look you up.
Ben Sternke says
Hey Justin, good to hear from you! I actually found out what you are up to by reading a book by one of the pastors at the church you’re working at (Chris Erdman). I’d love to get together next time you’re in Fort Wayne.
Justin Spurlock says
Yeah… Chris is my senior pastor. So you read Countdown to Sunday or was it his chapter in Emergent Manifesto? I will be leaving the church this summer to pursue PhD work either in Chicago or Indiana in Religious Ethics.
Ben Sternke says
I read “Countdown to Sunday” – enjoyed it, too! We’re starting a new off-site, more liturgically focused service soon, and I was trying to figure out how preaching fit into that. The book was helpful. Interesting news on the PhD. Sounds exciting. Talk to you soon, I hope!
I resonate with the reminder on the humility required in leadership. This “missional style” requires us to buck the habit of hierarchy we’ve grown accustomed to in corporate America. Even though people have been speaking about “servant leadership” for a long time, I don’t think people have truly envisioned it like this. These are good overviews…may we begin to work it out with fear and trembling.
Ben Sternke says