Thursday, April 6

Dialogue with a visiting volunteer

We had a group of volunteers from Stateside churches come down to help us plant house churches. Mornings were spent training them in our church planting methodology. Afternoons were spent with experienced national church planters in evangelism, discipleship, ministry, and in intentional church planting (at the end of the week five new outreach groups were begun, one became a church.)

After being immersed in the above for a couple of days, one of the Stateside volunteers asked:

"How could you as an IMB missionary sign the BF&M2000 and allow women to be out there planting churches?"

I welcomed the question and we began a dialogue more or less along the following lines...

"Well," I responded, "for starters I didn't read the part in the BF&M where it prohibits women from starting churches..."

The student clarified, "they are teaching and leading churches..."

"Yes", I replied, "and not only that, they are winning new people to the Lord, discipling them and starting new churches. They consider themselves 'ministers of the Gospel' just like you and me..."

"But the BF&M2000 says that only men may be pastors, you have women who are pastoring out there..."

"Very few of the house churches have leaders who are called 'pastors'. Leadership is usually shared amongst several individuals according to their spiritual gifts and talents...being the 'church planter' does not make them the 'pastor'..."

I continued, "In the New Testament we find several roles/functions mentioned: apostles, evangelists, prophets, teachers, shepherds (pastors), servants, etc. At least some of these roles/functions were filled by women like Junia (apostle), Phoebe (servant/deaconess), the four daughters of Philip (prophetesses), Priscilla (missionary/church planter/church worker), Lydia (church leader?), etc."

The volunteer continued to press the issue, "call it what you want, but the office of pastor is limited to men..."

I, of course understood where he was coming from and what his point was, but it was important to me that he understand that there can be a 'church' without the offices of pastor and deacons...

"Can we have a church without having the two offices," I asked?

The volunteer hesitated, "well, I guess, but..."

I asked, "Are offices needed if the church as a whole is covering all the ministry bases: teaching, evangelism, nurturing, exhortation, encouragement, discipleship, worship, etc.? Where in the NT is a church required to have an officially named pastor in order to be a functional NT church?"

I could see that my friend was not thoroughly convinced but we both had other responsibilities to tend to and the conversation ended. My point?

Eph.4:11-12 talks about apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers existing in the church to equip the saints. Equip for what? The work of serving in the Kingdom! For building up the Body of Christ!

In many of the house churches shepherding/leadership is shared amongst several without anyone filling the role of 'the pastor.' Responsibility is mutual amongst ALL the church, not just the pastor. Our team does not have any problem with churches selecting one of their own and calling them to be one of their pastors/elders. But we have noticed a pattern that has emerged within those church plants where they have singled out and called a pastor.

Of the 4-5 house churches we relate to where they did name an official 'pastor', all are suffering right now. Not because they called a pastor, but becuase the church looks to their named 'pastor' as the one to do all the work of teaching, leading, evangelism, preaching, etc.

Everyone of these pastors has come to me complaining that they cannot get the church to do the 'work of ministry'. They expect the pastor to do everything (sound familiar?) Quite a number have even left because their 'pastor' was not as dynamic and educated as some of the others around in the more established churches. The work of "being the church" has been replaced by "going to church."

Please hear my heart, we are certainly not against pastors. We believe churches need shepherds, guidance and strong healthy leadership. Our emphasis is on making true disciples and followers of Jesus Christ. Everyone in the church fulfilling their spiritual call to be an active, vibrant part of the Body of Christ. Shepherds are certainly key to helping train and ready the Body for their work in the Kingdom. Every disciple of Jesus is a minister/priest of the Gospel. We try to stay away from anything that would separate us into classes of clergy and laity for the very reasons illustrated above. The only thing that should differentiate us within the Body of Christ are not our 'positions' or 'offices', but simply the various gifts each of us has been given by the Spirit.

10 comments:

Gary Snowden said...

Guy,

What an excellent and insightful post! Clearly in the NT as you indicated women played a major role in advancing the cause of the kingdom and in church planting. We too witnessed the phenomenon in Argentina that some of our most outstanding leaders in evangelism and discipleship were women and I had no issues whatsoever with them exercising their gifts as God had blessed them. I hope your response doesn't land you in hot water with the powers that be.

Gary

Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Guy,

I'm trying to understand, but you're pushing something that is very new to me, so I'm kinda leary.

What about how Paul was concerned that Titus go and finish what was left undone and appoint elders in every town?

Love in Christ,

Jeff

Tim Sweatman said...

Ah, nothing like the inability to grasp the concept that the US Southern Baptist model is not the only way for a church to function. I'm beginning to think that this is going to be the biggest obstacle to international missions in the next few years.

Like Jeff, I'm wondering about the issue of pastoral leadership. It does seem that the NT pattern was for each church to have elders/pastors. Admittedly, we know very little about how those churches were structured. Maybe the elders/pastors functioned more on a citywide basis exercising a general leadership of the house churches in that city. (Not very baptistic, but it could have happened that way.) In that case, each house church would not necessarily have had its own elder/pastor.

It would have been so much easier if God had given us detailed information on church organization in the NT, but maybe He didn't do so because He knew the church would need to be flexible to relate to different cultures.

alexander said...

Woa! Guy you are so patient and full of grace. It is so powerful hearing you speak about critical issues like this right from the frontline of experience; so helpful for us in the West. Thankyou. I was interested when talking to some of those involved with the CPMs in India, like the Choudhries, their breakthrough came 5 years after they started, one of the keys to that was the releasing of the women to baptise and plant churches.
Keep going brother you are breaking new ground for all of us.

Mark said...

Interesting conversation Guy.

Right now I'm finding myself surrounded by Eph. 4:11,12. I'm writing a paper in one of my graduate classes on the nature and function of the Ephesians church leadership model. I'm learning that the Letter to Ephesians was probably written not JUST to the Ephesian church, but to all churches everywhere. Our best look into the vision of Paul's ideal church. Paul is also talking about the larger, universal church in Ephesians. To read a popular book on the subject, check out "The Shaping of Things To Come" By Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch.

As I'm reading more, its becoming clearer that not every house church could have all 5 gifts, but that throughout a city or region, leaders emerge that have the vision to resource the entire network. See (still under construction) www.jesusfamilynetwork.com to get a feel for what this might look like today. Just another expression of myriad methods of leadership in this blossoming church movement. Blessings on your ministry. And blessings on the women who are showing us the way!

GuyMuse said...

Gary,

I admit the women issue is a touchy situation, but do not feel we have stepped beyond NT guidelines in anything we have done to date. I could share some situations that I personally feel uncomfortable with that have arisen over the years, but these are situations beyond our control. If I felt we were doing something contrary to Scripture we would not be doing it. But I have yet to be shown by anybody where we stepped outside of Scriptural boundaries.

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Tim,

Are you a prophet? "...this is going to be the biggest obstacle to international missions in the next few years..." is very much on target. It is already beginning to draw attention. Much of what we live and experience is definitely out of our comfort zone. It has taken years to begin to understand these things. Our paradigms for what a church is and what church should look like have been drastically altered as we have gone back to the NT and carefully tried to understand exactly what Scripture has to say about these matters. No one wishes more than M's that God had given more detailed info about church organization in the NT, but as you say, maybe He knew something we didn't. We have been given the Word, the Spirit, faith, the gospel, and prayer to lead and guide us. Tradition still is very much with us and weighs heavily on much of what we do. I still believe though that most S. Baptists would be quite comfortable and thrilled being a part of one of the house churches being planted overseas, even though it is not what they are used to back home.

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Alexander,

I love your blog and check it daily for updates! Thanks for the good word. As I say above, we are on a steep learning curve ourselves. Much of what we live is new ground for us as well. Thanks for keeping us in your prayers.

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Mark,

I would be most interested in getting hold of your "Eph.4:11-12" paper you are writing. I have heard of the Frost/Hirsch book but have not read it. I too feel the 5-fold ministries are not necessarily present in every house church, but are gifts given to the city-wide church. In a sense this is what I do. I relate to over 100 house churches, not to just one. We have others who are city-wide evangelists, teachers, etc. I will give you a visit at your jesusfamilynetwork.com site!

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Jeff,

It is new to us as well. I don't claim to have all the answers and am certainly open to be corrected where we may be off course. What I share is our experience as the Lord continues to lead. It is often scary, but very exciting to be out on the edge.

I posted a second fairly long comment on your own site under the "Pastor" article along these same lines. Would be interested in hearing your response. As far as Titus being sent by Paul to appoint elders--no problem. What we have seen happening is that the church planters that don't actually become the pastor/elder will usually stick around long enough to ensure that adequate leadership is in place before moving on. Wednesday night I met with one such case. Cever had planted a church in one part of the city and left several men in charge (one being a named pastor). He is now planting another church in a different part of town. He will function as the pastor/elder until leadership arises within the new church plant.

jpu said...

great post. love your blog title too, sounds like mine.
God is good
jpu

Tim Sweatman said...

"I still believe though that most S. Baptists would be quite comfortable and thrilled being a part of one of the house churches being planted overseas, even though it is not what they are used to back home."

Maybe most Southern Baptists would be more comfortable and thrilled with one of these house churches, because when you look at our attendance stats it's obvious that they're NOT comfortable in or thrilled with our churches in the USA.

Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Brother Guy,

I finally got around to commenting on that thread about "Should We Be Called Pastor." I'm sorry I took so long getting back to you on that.

Love in Christ,

Jeff

GuyMuse said...

Jeff,

What you responded to in your own "Should we be called Pastor?" posting along with the dialogue in the comments very much goes hand-in-hand with my own posting above. Thanks for adding to the dialogue and for your insightful comments!