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Eleven - Labor Is Life

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A New Order Of Missional Ministry

Many Local Churches have been confined to the traditional structures of clergy for a long time. This order of professional clergy was defined by a time when there was huge demand for the full time pastor to order the entire ministry of a congregation. Seminaries were structured to educate persons for this role. They learned Biblical exegesis, preaching, administration, pastoral care, leadership, etc. all in one package. The process to ministry included getting a MDiv at a seminary, passing ordination exams and interviews, and then candidating for a post at one of thousands of local churches.  This has made sense in the 20th Century.

But the world has changed and we need less and less full time professional clergy in the 21st Century. The churches that flourish with full time paid professional staff are large mega churches who need specialists – worship pastor, C.E.O. senior pastor world class communicator, children’s ministry pastor, justice ministry manager, director of outreach, executive pastor, etc.etc.

The other kind of churches looking for a full time clergy are old-fashioned single pastor congregations. More and more of these churches are floundering smaller congregations looking for a ‘savior.’

It is true that there are more mega churches but they grow on the backs of the shrinking of the old-fashioned single pastor congregation. As we consolidate existing into larger and larger churches, the old-fashioned single pastor-small staff churches shrivel unable to even pay one pastor let alone a church secretary.

The net-net result is we need fewer and fewer full time clergy to ‘service’ the remaining Christians left in our society. I suggest there is a need for a new order of missional ministry, an occupatoinal support system that can understand the relationship between work and ministry so that it is seamless:

  • He or she dedicates 10-15 hours a week to organizing the Kingdom community in their local context.

  • He or she knows her gifting and can lead out of that gifting. He or she has a job that he/she can support her/himself and her family with.

  • He/she can develop a job skill that can adapt to changing circumstances.

  • Often, he or she adjust their work hours so that she can work a tad less than the average 40 hour week.

  • He or she can then give time to the leadership of their community without disrupting a daily/weekly rhythm of being present with family and neighborhood as well.

  • The small church community can offer a small stipend to make up the difference.

  • He or she does all this with 3 to 4 other leaders who do the same.

  • Each is recognized for one of the five-fold giftings out of which they minister and lead in relation to the other leaders. They are apostle, prophet, pastor-organizer, teacher-organizer, evangelist working together, 15 hours plus 15 hours, plus 15 hours, plus 15 hours plus 15 hours.

  • They are doing more out of multiple giftings than one single pastor ever could.

  • They are bearing each other’s burdens.

  • They are a “band of brothers and sisters.”

  • This becomes a sustainable missionary kind of ministry that changes the whole dynamics of ministry because they are present in jobs, families and neighborhoods and makes possible long term ministry in context.

Expectations must change. Participants in this system cannot get caught up in bi-vocational ministry where they will be expected to get a full time job, and do the work of a full time minister. Otherwise, there is chaos and recipe for personal disaster.

It will only work with a redefinition of bi-vocational ministry. It means channeling recources to fund those with a new imagination for what this kind of occupational support system this might look like.

This system is not just another ordained ministry that becomes bi-vocational and missional with the expectation to fulfill all the old requirements of the traditional form of full time pastorate. It's not just one person going to local ministerial associations, representing the church at local events, making sure the furnace is working at the church, taking care of funerals and attend civic events, filling out data sheets for the denomination. People involved in the occupational support system need to be given credentials that recognize the new rhythms of life they have committed themselves to.

Unless new expectations are provided, participants may get a job, may take up local contextual ministry and they may not understand the relationship between their work and ministerial leadership calling. They may not know how to look at their jobs once they get successful. They may not be able to be comfortable with 15 hours a week working for the organization of the church. They may not know what it means when the Local Churches start to grow and some leaders ask them to quit their jobs because they may have allowed the identity of their jobs and its monetary success to overwhelm them.

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The imagination of the participants, for the way their work and ministry and family (when there is one) go together, needs to be cultivated.  This can best be done through defining an occupational support system for each Local Church and then bringing those practicing together to discuss and offer visions for what this looks like.

For all these reasons the each Local Church needs to fund a new imagination for a new occupational support system that is in essence a self sustaining contextual mission.

But Local Churches for the most part have not navigated this. If each Local Church forms an occupational support system, helps develop imagination and support structures for it, then untold numbers will flock to the O God Arise initiatives. There are literally thousands of second career people, and thousands of younger seminary graduates dissatisfied with current options (dying small church senior pastor or mega church staff person) who would gravitate towards this new kind of ministry order.

Does your Local Church have a larger imagination for it? A new occupational support system could help and support these kind of missionaries and stir up such an imagination. Such a system could seed a whole new mission for renewal in the Local Church. Lead Pastor, what do you think? Do you have such an system in your structures?

Of course, it goes without saying that clergy need to commit resources to the education of this new system to laity differently, not taking people out of their context, but providing training along the way over longer (more affordable) periods of time. There are many Local Churches preparing to do this. We know we have to do it.

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