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Does church leadership look different after 500 years?

Nov. 25, 2017 | by D Eric Schansberg

We just celebrated the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. But what has been achieved?

The Reformation was a long-simmering effort to correct aspects of the Catholic Church’s course—against misconceptions of God and abuses by church leaders. It promised that priests would no longer obstruct the people of God; instead, there would be a “priesthood of believers.” But Greg Ogden notes a painful irony: “Protestant churches have been just as priest-ruled as Catholic churches, we just call it by a different name.” 

Think about our church-speak. “Saints” are considered to be spiritually elite, rather than a (biblical) label for every believer. We refer to “the ministry” as if it’s the particular province of professionals—and to “the minister” of Church X as if church members are not ministers of the Gospel. We call the professionals by formal titles like “reverend”; we designate “the clergy” as a “leadership caste” of specialists. 

The minister often wears clerical garb and presides over various sacraments. Even in traditions with fewer rites and more casual clothing, we depend on professional staff more than lay pastors. We tend to see evangelism as inviting people to church so they can hear the Gospel, rather than something we can do well with the Holy Spirit as we walk daily with Jesus. We focus on conversion and baptism over “teaching them to obey everything” Jesus has commanded, forgoing purposeful and robust discipleship within biblical community. 

A few years ago, Kurt Sauder (a colleague of mine) moved from being a pastor to full-time parachurch ministry. His kids are often asked, “Is your dad ever going to pastor again?” And their children blurt out: “He pastors every day!” It’s not helpful—to professionals or to lay people—to think of “ministry” in such narrow, purely-professional terms. 

Can the Reformation’s promise of an empowered laity be fulfilled? Is it possible—and if so, how so? Well, it starts with a vision that this is desirable and possible. And with that vision, it requires a workable plan to make it happen. 

Do you want to follow Jesus’ Great Commission’s command to teach them “everything I have commanded”? Do you want to follow the ministry model of Jesus—to pour his life into 12 disciples who would carry for His ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit? Do you want to follow Paul’s instructions to pastors in Ephesians 4:11-16—“to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”?

If it’s been commanded and commended to us, then it’s feasible and to be pursued. So, how to make it happen? In a word, encouraging people to take “next steps” and to invest in their own discipleship—and to lay out opportunities for people to progress in their knowledge of God, their discipleship with Jesus, and their ability to love others. 

Excerpted fromEnough Horses in the Barn, by Kurt Sauder and D. Eric Schansberg (Further Still Ministries Publishing, 2017)

Photo source: istock

D Eric Schansberg

Eric Schansberg is Professor of Economics at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, IN. Eric has co-authored two books (with Kurt Sauder) and co-authored Thoroughly Equipped: A Disciple-Making Curriculum ("DC")-- a 21-month program for "thoroughly equipping" layleaders and Kingdom workers, with 2,200+ graduates at more than 50 churches. Eric is a lay-leader at Southeast Christian Church and organizes the DC portion of Kurt's Further Still Ministries. Eric has been married to Tonia since 1995 and is the father of four sons; he and Tonia are still trying to raise a few good men. 

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