Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Ministry Models: Evolutionary and Revolutionary

I'm part of certain social networking communities, some of which involve others interested in web-based ministries.   In one such community, I shared a link to this blog and asked for comment.  Here's one that came back just today:

it seems like mini-church. it great folks are ready their bible and studying but it's too much like big church. it's talk, talk, talk.

the other thing that is a problem is the phrase "lay-leadership." what other type is there in scripture? the bible says you are all brothers (and sisters). gifts are distributed by the Spirit to all. so lay-leadership is a deragatory term. like there is professional leadership? how well has that gone?

God hates leadership. he says call no man your father on earth because you have a heavenly father. He states he hate the deeds and doctrine of the nicolaitans (people rulers). paul states we have ten thousand teachers but not many fathers.

leaders will always have small groups that focus on learning. why? because that way they get to be the arrogant fount of knowledge. there is little to no emphasis on living and acting. it keeps leadership safe when action and belief are separate.

fathers are servants who participate in the development of another, leading to that individuals independence and ability to function. in other words "get things done" in the world.

Jesus was totally different than how he's often taught about in church. Leadership is not what the church needs. Talk is not what the church needs. the church needs sacrificial living with Jesus as our leader.

The writer finds himself among those who are frustrated by the church's traditions and dogmatic adherance to our structures ... to include those that are just emerging (like small groups).  Within some of the frustration, there are some worthy thoughts to pull out.  Here's the response I sent him:

I think I understand your perspective, and I find I agree with you in some measure. Yes, the we in the Western church have become far too professionalized, and this has cost the cause of the gospel much in our society. Yes, sacrificial living is in short supply and badly needed.

However, I don't find Scriptural support for your contention that "God hates leadership." Instead, what I find is that God hates arrogant leaders, but that He raises up leaders of many kinds. The Apostle Paul even says about spiritual gifts: "If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully."

Moreover, my friend and contributor, the "Jailbreaker" (a missionary to Japan), once told me that as he was learning how to break apart the western, cultural trappings we package the gospel in and to get back to the "Scriptural Roots of Ministry", he had to re-teach himself not to be judgmental of his brothers and sisters back in the US. So apparent had our church culture's flaws become to him, and so frustrated was he by our inability to grasp the importance of stripping our traditions and cultural baggage away from the central message of Christ, that he found it difficult to associate with our "church people." He had to re-learn how to be gracious and patient with our religious culture's flaws, "to win as many as possible." (Acts 9:19-21)

I think this is a worthy discussion, because it sits at the edge of where the Western church has been, and where it is going. 

One thing this discussion surfaces is the natural tension between evolutionary and revolutionary change.  I guess I'd consider myself more of an evolutionary leader, insofar as I tend to work within the structure and make change at the edges, rather than abandoning the structure.  There is a definite place for revolutionaries though, such as my friend the Jailbreaker, who is using an utterly different, relationship-based model of ministry, "de-Westernizing" the gospel in order to reach the Japanese.  It is a bold, necessary, lonely calling, and one from which I learn much.

I'd suggest that both models are important to moving the church forward, though they often find it difficult to understand one another.  Moreover, while we evolutionary types can be too timid and complacent about the sad state of things, revolutionaries may suffer from the sins that emerge from the frustration of their calling:  excessive anger, judgmentalism, loss of perspective ...

UPDATE:  Much more in the "Comments".  Please read/share your thoughts there.  Also, see Jailbreaker's Take two posts up!


  1. maybe it isn't how you move forward either in an evolutionary manner or as a revolutionary. perhaps it's simply understanding God's revelation and living that no matter what.

    it's hard to believe God wants us sequestered in a facility, hostage to one person's opinion, little to zero chance of interacting where the only metrics are number of adherents and donations. i can't imagine acts 20 as a model of church.

    i can't even imagine taking up arms against this and doing any thing but as a valid response.

    rather it seems we ought to return to a view of scripture that says this is God's revelation to me, i can understand it, i can live it, and i will.

    who was Jesus? what was he really like? was he authoratarian, academic, petty, holy and almost unapproachable like moderns seem to teach? was he like some post-moderns teach? a good guy, non-judgemental, tolerant, diverse, a friend of cannibis and prostitutes? or, something different?

    how would that inform our actions and beliefs?

  2. Mark -- The problem I see with this is that it defines the body of Christ by what it is not more than by what it is. It is reactionary, without spelling out a really positive vision of what the church should actually be. While I think many in the church have had a notion that "something is wrong", the real work comes about when we try to do something that is right.

    There is a saying that "when you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail." Perhaps in your concept, every local church body looks like a bunch of people "sequestered in a facility, hostage to one man's opinion, little to no chance of interacting," etc.

    I will meet you part way, and I join you in being intrigued by the thought of what church should be, but tossing aside everything that currently exists discards too much that is good in favor of ... what exactly?

  3. I find it interesting that in your response you talk about your friend having to "reteach himself not to be judgemental" of the "church people" and then again at the end of your response you list judgementalism as a sin of the revolutionary. From personal experience, this may be a direct response to those same "church people" , or evolutionaries, judging him.

    I am definitely more of a revolutionary than an evolutionary according to your article, and find that the number one thing I struggle with is the judmentalness of other "Christians." My natural response is to be judgemental back and I have to remain in constant prayer and study in order to avoid this.

    The danger of the evolutionary model is complacency. If there is a problem, fix it. Do not perpetuate it by ignoring it or hope that someone else will do something. When I was a member of the Lutheran Church they referred to themselves as "the sleeping giant." They had milllions of members and bemoaned the fact that they took no action in the world and yet none of them were willing to be that revolutionary and spur others on to action.

    As a woman, one of the biggest dangers I have seen to Christian women are all female small group Bible studies. In fact a I have several friends whose husbands will not allow them to attend an all female small group. These groups have a terrible tendency to become a venting session about husbands and home problems rather than a Bible study about our relationship with God. Prayer becomes an excuse for gossip as it becomes an acceptable way to discuss "poor Polly's problem".

    A properly run small group ministry of any kind needs to be based in our actions, not our words. After all, Jesus was trying to teach us the proper way to live our lives, not the proper way to hold a discussion. If you are involved in a small group ministry I encourage you to add a "revolutionary" twist and end each session with a call to action.

    I was sent a story once where the moral at the end was "Be careful how you live. You may be the only Bible some people will ever read." If what we study and what our "leaders" in our churches teach us do not filter down to the everyday way we live our lives, then what is the purpose?

  4. Kerry -- I'll certainly stipulate that judgmentalism is not a sin exclusive to revolutionaries, and (as the Pharisees proved) can be woven into the fabric of the church "establishment". I guess what I was trying to say there is that because they tend to have a lonelier, more adversarial relationship with the established church, they can fall into a particular kind of judgmentalism born of that frustration. In other words, the established church may be more or less oblivious to the revolutionary at most times, while the revolutionary is essentially defined as not being part of the established church.

    Perhaps that's what you're saying when you talk about being "judgmental back".

    Oh, and I'm completely with you on the gossip issue. Our little church has just been going through something very similar.

    Your "revolutionary twist" intrigues me. There's much to be said for a call to action, though in its extreme form it can result in the "social gospel" model, where faith is defined by social action more than by the gospel. There are many slippery slopes to avoid ...

    Great discussion, thanks!

  5. I can certainly understand what the original writer (in green text) is struggling with. There are a number of examples of leaders who have created heartache and disillusionment with the body of Christ simply because they have failed to abide by the serious and holy calling to which leaders have been called. Instead, they have, as the Old Testament prophets pointed out, fleeced the flock or fed themselves on the flock when they should have been feeding and protecting it. Certainly the Sadducees (the formal leaders) and the Pharisees (the - dare I use the word?- unordained lay-leaders)were guilty of these same offenses according to Jesus. And who can forget the licentiousness of the Renaissance Popes on whom both Luther and Erasmus poured unapologetic scorn? And on and on ad nauseum.
    We need to balance these by reminding ourselves that scripture not only approves of good leadership, it gives Christians not only models of good leadership but parameters of what constitutes good leadership. I think what the "green writer" may refer to is the same kind of leadership that both Jesus and the prophets condemn, rather than the godly shepherds that are commended in Scripture. Paul in his Pastoral Letters outline the qualifications of leaders in the body of Christ. Note too, that different types of leaders are designated - deacons and elders, fulfilling different roles, yet all necessary for the proper functioning of Christ's body. Peter, while recognizing the need for leaders to avoid lording it over the their group. Instead, they were to be examples to the flock (I Peter 5:2,3). As painful as our experiences may be, we must avoid the temptation to substitute our experiences for the clear position of God's word.


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