Tuesday, August 02, 2005

What Makes Church? 5 - leadership, authority, ministry, giftings

In many ways, the two subheadings Leadership and Authority, and Ministry and Giftings, overlap. That's because good leadership is not only a gift, but it facilitates gifts and ministry among the members to the extant where it could be hard to tell the difference between the "full time ministers" and what we previously thought were "laity".

A few years ago, at a church conference in Thailand, I was asked to interpret for one of the speakers. He was the pastor of a Baptist church in New Zealand, who had led his church through a very interesting transition. It began as he was pondering and praying about how the church could fulfil its mandate of reaching the world, then realising that it wouldn't happen unless some drastic changes were made. The transition he took the church through was difficult, he lost many valuable members, but was worth it in the end.

Not only did the process change the structure of the church, but it redefined their concept of ministry. Under the new structure, more of the responsibilities lay with the group of elders. Some were the same who originally served on the board, but they were had a calling in one of the five-fold ministries listed in Ephesians 4. Their role wasn't so much to minister, but to lead and enable the members to minister in the five areas. The pastor reduced his own role to that of a fellow elder, albeit a leader among equals. They were only ministers in so much as they ministered. It was no longer a job that came with a title. Moreover, anyone could be a minister. It wasn't so much a matter of being chosen for a position, but simply doing what they saw needed to be done. In doing that, they had the support and mentoring of whichever elder was called to that gifting.

The whole idea of a separation between clergy and laity was obsolete. Furthermore, as a minister in this sense, it's so much easier to be humble -- no title to maintain.

As I was translating for him from English into Thai, I was becoming more and more excited by what I was hearing. I had just recently started following the Emergent conversation, and pondering what exactly is church, and what would it look like if reduced to its bare essentials. Some of the aspects, such as the definition of ministry, had been in my head and heart for many years. But now, here was someone who was actually doing it. Now, I know it's possible.

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