One of the lectures I had the privilege to share at Surrender 10,
Here is the full content of the speach, that can be watched clicking here
Who needs a pastor?
To address this point I'll try to make a twofold approach.
On the one hand, I would like to try to describe what, in my humble opinion, has been a general movement the church has taken since the late 50's, but mostly in the 60's and 70's until today, and how that is at the origin of some struggles we have to address in our time.
On the other hand, I will at least try - if space and time permit - to question some of the assumptions that have led, even unconsciously, to the kind of answers we have proposed to the world.
A church going astray
After the end of the World War II, a phenomenon, surely pre-existent, started to become perceptible in the church, and eventually dominated the actions and deeds of mercy and justice that the church has been called to carry out. Far from [the church] being a victim of what I'm starting to describe here, all of this has come about because of an attitude that was proposed and taken up inside of its own walls. That attitude can be defined by the word “delegation.”
Mostly after World War II, acts and deeds of justice were performed as tools to address common assumed needs to be satisfied and strategically managed. What’s more, they were undertaken as a global task and an obligation, instead of being done as local attitude and a natural flow of love, contingent and out of a forgiven heart. Having taken on such a big task as a “call”, the church perceived, and at the end established, that the task was too big for a local congregation to deal with and--in greater and growing proportion after the late 50's--that the task had to be delegated to agencies, para-ecclesiastical organizations, boards, committees and programs specialized to address those assumed needs. Alongside those inventions, church planting and missions were also delegated to similar structures, separated from local congregations. The local community of faith did not own the missional and mercy activities anymore, which became the job of separate agents, financed and supplied by the church, in order to have the work done.
Now, milked as a cow and free from the concerns with the world immediately around it, what was left inside of the church? Self-sufficiency and maintenance. As a world in itself, the church became concerned more and more with non-tangible issues, hyper-spirituality, how to teach people to escape to heaven, or how to wait for Jesus at a secure station,
Sunday schooling our people for the sake of the keeping of them as religious consumers, the same who were being schooled during the week for the sake of a society of consumers, singing in choirs and worship teams, fighting over small issues, and splitting, splitting, and more splitting. The most frequent and subsequent temptation after having all that was this: seeking prestige in society more than the humble service that comes as a response to the God who has forgiven us.
In order to manage such a scenario, a professional version of a community leader has to be trained and created through seminaries and courses. The majority of those presenting themselves for the task have felt called to serve people, and in a godly and humble way, they have given their lives to be used by the Lord, even sometimes to the point of being burned out by demands. Demands that are not a consequence of their call, but a outcome of a life committed to programs run by structured institutions.
In a sense, the Christian church in the modern era - mostly the protestant, evangelical and pentecostal churches - have become organizations that emulate those existent [so-called “secular”] organizations in the capitalist society. That is, these churches are similarly specialized in providing services and products for their clients and partners and concerned with their own survival: a part of the established order, providing resources and charity to those oppressed by that very order, mostly through indirect agencies or programs and parallel organizations.
The professionals responsible for taking care of such organizations are called pastors or missionaries, and I'm convinced the Lord has called them to be so, but when all is said and done, when observing and paying attention to their job descriptions and the tasks required of them, one could call them managers, practical psychologists, cheer leaders, salesmen and women, strategic planners, CEOs, characters, counsellors, conflict managers, bureaucrats, visionaries, teachers, motivational speakers, peacemakers, troublemakers, marketeers, and so on. All fitting here and there into the structure, for the sake of the organization and its clients.
Meanwhile, the people outside the church walls continue to wait, with the whole creation, for the manifestation of the sons and daughters of God (Romans 8:19). As a desperate people, trapped inside a fantasy of development and progress, consumed by meaningless hard work and not knowing what to do with an apathetic state of mind, they wait hopelessly for pastors: the kind of folks that can act as links between them and their Maker; waiting for a people, who in their normal daily lives are prepared, trained, and aware of the fact that they are there not to make money and succeed, but to be faithful servants of the lord.
I'm convinced that people outside church walls are exactly how they are described in Matthew 9:36: “sheep without a shepherd,” “gone astray” and turned to their own ways. They are not clients to be attracted, nor needy to be helped, neither gentiles to be changed. They are, as my friend Jim Henderson says, the people whom the Lord loves more, AKA “the lost,” and they are ready to listen the voice of a real person, that walks along with them, lives the same life and likes to be with them. A voice of someone that is a disciple of the one that came and lived this kind of life among us.
For this kind of scenario, where a church can serve the people around it, church leaders – call them with the name that pleases you - must take seriously the task given to them by the Lord and change a little bit: instead of spending their time as described above, they need to be ready to be elders for their brothers and sisters, mostly sharing, as older folks, their experience in order that it can be used by the less experienced to create new and wiser ways to serve. They will do this by becoming real bishops, those that can oversee and help a community of faith to act with adequacy and in order to show forth a new way of life in their daily lives. And as shepherds that care if their flock of the church are healthy, safe and well fed, not to look nice and behave, but to serve outside as the real presence of Jesus in the World. The church has received such men and women, in order to help to prepare their brothers and sisters to live their lives in the world as priests, there is no reason to use them any other way.
But how have we been trapped inside such a situation and what could be the alternative?
As I said at the beginning, since some decades ago our imaginations have been captured by the myth of global thinking.
Why am I calling it a MYTH?
Global thinking is a myth because it creates its own narrative, heroes and goals. It's a myth because it can give the impression that is something we can give our lives to. But lets analyze it a little bit.
In order to think globally, one would have to have a global vision, a kind of omniscience that could grasp the whole picture, in other words, you would have to be God. And this has always been our chief temptation and the source of this myth.
In Dietrich Bonhoeffer's “Creation and Fall”, he describes two types of humanity: the imago dei humanity, and the “sicut deus” humanity. A humanity that is humanity-in-the-image-of-God opposed to a humanity-like-God.
Playing God, but not being God, after hearing the serpent, we started needing to be informed about what was our task, since we do, in fact, lack omniscience. Having taken the first step, the serpent was there to push us a little bit further along the centuries and at the end informed us that we were surrounded by needs: education, sanitation, medical care, food, jobs, housing, empowerment, etc. To meet and overcome these so-called needs, two other myths were proposed and invented: Progress and Development. And that two must be delivered to all as the final solution for our damnation.
Knowing that other agents, governments and markets were doing their job with one third of humanity, inscribing them within those myths and meeting their assumed needs, the other two thirds were there, waiting for someone wanting to use what has become the most profitable businesses of the 20th century: the business of AID that aims poverty alleviation and to inscribe all into those myths.
In order to understand what I'm saying, let me tell you a history that the late John Seymour use to tell. He knew Africa very well before WWII, and in a conference he said, In his own words:
The one thing I remember about the villages of Zambia before WWII, is that I never came to a village that wasn't prosperous, I never saw a hungry person, I never saw a person who seemed to me to be poor. I saw plenty of people who didn't have any clothes. I saw hardly any people at all who had things like motorcars or motorcycles, radio sets and things like that...I never saw anybody hungry, I never heard of anybody being hungry, I never heard of anything like famines.
I never heard of unemployment. The reason there was no unemployment was because there was no employment. Nobody was employed. There were no jobs. Nobody wanted a job.
What...do you want with a job if you've got everything you need? You've got your house. Anyone that I met could build their house in a day with the help of his neighbors....I have lived in those homes and I can tell you that they are...comfortable--far more comfortable than the rubbishy ones that we [pinkies] used to live in.
For one thing there was a fire in the middle of the floor. And if you stood up, you nearly choked. But you found that when you sat down, the smoke was over your head, ...and the mosquitos didn't bother you....They got the whole thing figured out. Now I went to Africa after the war, and I flew around in a flying machine, ...and I could see what seemed to me to be....Ok--progress. Progress is a wonderful thing. But see you can progress in any direction. [John Seymour Video Transcript about Africa in the 30s - click here to watch the original]
After 60 years of such good aid for progress in the world and programs for poverty alleviation, based on good intentions and tons of money, spreading things like the green revolution, western sanitation, massive schooling and job training, what have we achieved in the world? For the first time in history, since may 2009, we have 1 billion of our fellow human beings living in starvation! Just a little example of how bad we are running the business.
We also have billions eluded by promises of possible and future progress and development that will never be accomplished, abandoning their original lifestyle at the grassroots, leaving their villages and families, alienating their thinking from their work, humiliated while called excluded, underdeveloped, primitive, non-educated, living in slums and dangerous neighbourhoods far from where they work, being moved around by trains and mass transportation systems like cattle, working in factories to produce unnecessary goods, exposed to violence, abusing alcohol and drugs, producing more and more garbage and wasting their time, their energy, and the lives--all the time being lured into the same addiction to luxury experienced by the rich and all this for the sake of nothing good for them or the world.
[They are:] Sheep without shepherds while we play God.
Notice carefully how the serpent has done this: how we have been lured away (Gen 3:1-5a.)
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.' "You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God,”
According to Bonhoeffer, the paradox of the Fall is that we become less human, as described above, by trying to become "like God." The Fall is the refusal to be God’s creatures or icons-- the IMAGO DEI humanity, loyal and happy with the Lord’s order. The Fall is exchanging this for the attempt to "play God” and improve creation and God’s order, becoming the SICUT DEUS humanity - an humanity that thinks that it is “like God” and can play God.
Having said all this, we could affirm that development and progress are just expressions and false certainties of a “sicut deus” humanity. The irony is that by trying to play God, we have become less human, and by trying to improve the creation we have been led to a point close to extermination. I believe the most necessary at this point for us would be to listen to someone boldly simply saying: REPENT, stop doing evil and learn to do good.
(My brothers and sisters, that’s the bad news.)
The good news is that Jesus has another idea for us. The local church can push the restart button and imagine and experiment a different scenario and a different kind of action.
First, what if, instead of trying to have a global vision, we started having a local attitude? Instead of huge churches to which one must drive miles to attend, small parishes again, in walking distance from our homes?
What if pastors and whole congregations, began to think about themselves as the true priesthood for the sake of those outside their walls? Looking to all who are in their reach as their parishioners and responsibility?
What if the church becoming something like a real parish, recovering the Greek origin of the word para- oikia – around a home? And instead of long trips, what if we began sojourning around our homes – the verb paroikein in Greek, used to describe Abraham sojourning in Canaan.
What if instead of thinking of ourselves as a missionary people, we became open to being a diasporic people, with the backpack always ready to be taken? Ready to be sent wherever the Spirit send us, ready to follow the cloud, not for a global, monocentric domination of the universe, but as a network of multi-centric pluriverses, set in local communities and centered around Christ only because disciples know where the well is. This means a readiness to go, as an old Mennonite saying has it, where we did not plan to go. Avoiding Babel, following Pentecost, the cloud and the column of fire.
What if those in local churches, called to be bishops, elders, pastors – use your preferred word – become focused on training, preparing and sending their people as pastors and priests of their surroundings? Being neighbors of hope and who care about their folks.
What if, instead of letting the world set the agenda and use us to expand development and progress to the grassroots, we become a people ready to admire, observe and learn from the grassroots in order to learn from them, to question our lifestyle and to celebrate a multi-centric pluriverse of expressions of God. What if we establish dialogues and conversations from which we can learn a distinct lifestyle that can inspire us to stop what we are doing with God's creation, assuming we are not rich but we are also impoverished at least as much as the others we try to help?
What if everybody becomes an authentic communicator by becoming a person committed to action in the world around him or her, taking the body and blood of Christ and sharing it on the streets, in the factories and inside offices?
What if, instead of strategic planning, we start to embrace contingencies, addressing them out of the local fellowship and its gifts and local resources, instead of milking rich churches to help us run our programs and organizations. Not addressing assumed needs, not doing things because of a bad conscience, or a sense of moral indignation, but as a communal overflow of the gospel that points towards what Leslie Newbigin calls that “greater reality which can never be fully grasped in a program of social action”?
I believe the world outside our walls needs a pastor, not a professional one, but a pastor in the form of a people, a people trained “to be there”, while working and living their everyday lives: in the market, schools, hospitals, government services, close our cultures or displaced, wherever they may be, being the very presence of the Lord in the world.
We could go back to our places reviewing our plans, ready to embrace contingencies and having the readiness to be there, simply paying attention and answering with the simple things we have in our hands as local communities building relationships with our neighbors, trusting that the Good Shepherd will be with us, every time we decide to be there with others.