The Pastor-Driven Church

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Last month I wrote a blog called, Why is There a Pulpit? In it, I shared this tweet that appeared in my Twitter feed:

“Wherever the pulpit is going, that’s where the church is going.”

In addition to asking why there is a pulpit, we need to explore the pastor centrality so prevalent in most institutional church settings. The pulpit isn’t neutral for several reasons, one being because it presents one more level of separation between the assembly and the “professional” up front. In almost every institutional church setting, everything inside the room and everything outside the room point to the pulpit. The pulpit is the focal point.

Outside the room, everything from our signage to our advertising points to the pulpit. In the neighborhoods where we live, the sandwich board signs go up on sidewalk corners every Friday, pointing to a meeting room and ultimately, a pulpit. Church websites echo the same themes. Come be with us on Sunday and hear a message from behind the pulpit that is sure to inspire and bring you back for more.

Inside the room, everything points to the pulpit. The pulpit is the nucleus of the Sunday event. All the seating points to the pulpit. Instructions emanate from the pulpit as we’re told when to stand, when to sit, when to sing, when to pray, when to say hi to people we don’t know, and when to give. It’s like a well-oiled machine, reaching its climax when the pastor takes his or her position behind the pulpit to lecture us for 30-60 minutes. This is the pinnacle of the institution’s week and it’s what all the previous week’s preparation and hype was all about. Once the lecture is complete and the Sunday event comes to a close, preparation for next Sunday’s event begins with no one asking why. Is it any wonder so many are leaving that setting and seeking to find a more authentic reality outside those four walls?

The institutional church is a pastor-driven system. As the person behind the pulpit, the pastor(s) gets to (and is expected to) set the agenda, goals, and direction of the church. As central as the pulpit is, the pastor is even more so because he or she is the living, breathing, speaking embodiment of the pulpit and the one supplying the pulpit with its personality and life. Is it any wonder that someone would tweet,

“Wherever the pulpit is going, that’s where the church is going.”

I think not. At least they’re being honest and they see things as they really are. We’ve taken a word (pastor) that appears one time in the New Testament (Ephesians 4) and institutionalized it. We’ve turned that person into a religious celebrity and handed them power and control inside an environment where power and control over others should not exist. Jesus wasn’t joking when he said, “It shall not be so among you.”

“Wherever the pulpit is going, that’s where the church is going”  isn’t a banner to proudly wave or an expression of some great accomplishment. It’s a symptom of something gone terribly wrong in the assembly that needs to be talked about honestly and openly. For those with their finger on the pulse of the ekklesia, it’s one more obstacle to living out the one another’s of the New Testament and it has a choke hold on every believer functioning as a priest because it brings with it, an unbiblical us and them, clergy/laity separation that creates and sustains an illusion and facade of top-down authority where no top-down authority really exists. The pastor-driven model is not neutral and is a poor substitute for genuine community.

At the time of this writing, my Ekklesia website is still in its infancy, but there is already plenty of material here to interact with. You may be interested in reading my Rethinking Church series. At the time of this writing, parts 1-3 are finished and parts 4-5 are pending.



Rethinking Church: The Clergy/Laity Fallacy

This is Part Three of a series I’m calling Rethinking Church. If you haven’t read parts one and two, I encourage you to read them before reading this one because they build on one another. Here’s a glimpse of all five parts so far:

Ignatius (ca. 110 AD) said this:

Follow your bishop as Jesus Christ followed the Father… Let no one do anything in the church apart from the bishop… Holy communion is valid when celebrated by the bishop or someone the bishop authorizes.

I’ve previously noted that this directive by Ignatius was firmly in place in most local assemblies by the middle of the 3rd century (250 AD). It was assumed to be a biblical directive, but it is not.

We’ve already shown that the top-down authority structure that is present in most modern institutional churches is a product of tradition that started as early as Ignatius. The one pastor authority model that we unquestionably accept as a biblical one, is actually something that has been  handed to us by church history and tradition and we accept it without question. Not only do we accept it without question, but we’ve also complicated it by adding layer after layer of hierarchical organizational strata where pastors are over pastors, and those pastors are over other pastors, and the higher the structure rises, the more sophisticated the honorific the titles become. Our church authority structures more closely resemble corporate America than anything in the New Testament. We’ve taught tradition as the commands of God for so long, it doesn’t dawn on us to look past the traditions, open our New Testaments, and ask hard questions, questions that threaten 2,000+ years of those same entrenched traditions. But with so many leaving the institutional church, not because they’ve left Jesus, but because they feel the church has, it’s time to ask why. Will Ignatius’ words, “Let no one do anything in the church apart from the bishop. Holy communion is valid when celebrated by the bishop or someone the bishop authorizes” stand in the light of scripture, or should we jettison it as tradition that has proven harmful to the practice of the one anothers within the assembly and to the priesthood of all believers.

In part two of this series, we talked briefly about the clergy/laity separation that exists within most institutional churches. I presented the idea that church tradition, not the Bible, has given us this distinction. Our continued practice of referring to pastors with honorific titles that mark them out as a special segment within the church called “clergy” while assigning everyone else to the lower class of “laity” has caused a deep rift in the body of Christ and in many instances, has led to the Continue reading