Jeff Christopherson: How We Lost Our Missional IQ

Alejandro wasn’t a pastor. As an immigrant from Peru, Alejandro’s understanding of church leadership was unlike what he was observing in North America. He found it difficult to see how he might lead, even though his life demonstrated evangelistic faithfulness and fruitfulness that far surpassed many of those who received paychecks from the local churches he had attended.

Alejandro wasn’t your typical ‘Type A’ leader. One-on-one he could converse with anyone and showed an uncanny ability to turn everyday chats into amazing gospel conservations, but he was paralyzed by a large crowd. On one hand, His dexterity in applying the good news of Jesus to commonplace needs was unmatched, yet he struggled in crafting a 4-point, 40-minute sermon on a biblical text.

And, to top it off, his love for the marginalized and broken led to a real struggle relating to the first-world miseries of the average dispirited church-goer. He was drawn to endeavors that pressed to the margins of society—those that required a large measure of risk and experimentation and presupposed a high likelihood of failure.

Is there room for Alejandro?

Diverse factors combine to create the combustible environment we experience as missionaries, church planters, pastors, and congregations today.[1] Say the word “pastor” and certain caricatures are likely drawn in the minds of most. Aside from the physical attributes one might mention, there are certain gifts or abilities that tend to rise to the surface.

One such mental image is often that of the charismatic, silver-tongued celebrity. If there’s a crowd of church goers, the celebrity is right in the middle, exerting his influence by sheer power of will and strength of personality. When this person “on,” everything about the celebrity is big and the spotlight rarely loses focus.

Then there’s the professor, who takes pride in the ability to slice doctrine thin, quote the Church Fathers, and fall on the right side of every highly-nuanced online discussion (a concept that’s a bit of an oxymoron from the outset). The professor studied in the approved seminaries and readily quotes all the right authors, and even has aspirations of publishing a few theogical correctives himself along the way. The glazed look among the congregation each week goes unnoticed since the professor predetermined that the pathway to gospel mission is directly correlated to the volume people bearing through orthodox oration.

Finally, there’s the loving care-giver, the consummate chaplain-pastor—merciful, kind, tender, and long-suffering. Those languishing under sin or suffering want the care-giver by their side. The local hospital staff know this person by name, and the congregation wells-up with tears at the recollection of the care they’ve received during times of crisis. A lack of pulpit prowess is mostly overlooked because of the many first-hand stories of care.

Where does a person like Alejandro fit into these archetypes of a pastor?

The short answer is, “He doesn’t.”

No caricature develops in a vacuum. There’s a lengthy past history that’s contributed to the view most have of the leaders of God’s church.

The Pastor as a Celebrity

This idea is derived from the wholesale embrace of the church growth paradigm adopted almost carte blanche throughout North America as evangelicalism’s principal operating system. In such a model, the church isn’t the only thing that has to be big; so too does the pastor.

The land of leader-driven churches is ripe territory for books like Michael Hyatt’s, Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World to take root.[2] Hyatt, a consultant, publisher, and social media expert, created a bit of a cult following around his concepts meant to do just what the subtitle commends. He helps people, pastors amongst his core cliental, to get noticed.[3] A simple swipe of the thumb on any given day is enough to prove that many on social media have embraced platform building as a primary goal in their ministry. Surely those who have something to say want as many people as possible to hear them bloviate.

The absurdity of such a goal was exposed in one article, which suggested that many leaders, including pastors, were buying followers on Twitter in an effort to boost their platform and therefore their supposed kingdom significance.[4]

Those engrossed in church growth as their missiological aim baptize this triviality under the guise of a means to an end. What’s the harm in a little online jockeying for marketplace position if it enhances the church’s brand by virtue of further elevating their celebrity leader?

But those like Alejandro can’t imagine a worse personal fate than participating in such platform posturing. They see little place for themselves within the North American evangelical ecosystem. They long for humble, simple, missionary practices intent on reaching an increasingly lost world, which, from their observation, seems to be the antithesis of the aim of many in the clerical ranks

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Source: Christianity Today

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