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We Americans are an independent sort. We take great pride in our Declaration of Independence. Where Asian cultures focus on group much more than the individual, we of Western European descent still value rugged individualism. I fit that pattern quite well. “You ain’t the boss of me,” was a frequent response, spoken or not, throughout my childhood.

Most reward and recognition systems in business focus on individual performance rather than the team. I worked for years when I had my business to create reward systems that focused on team and company goals, but I discovered that the farther I moved away from individual goals, the less enthusiasm many of our people had.

The Danger of the Lone Ranger

As I have traveled across the church these last few years, a great concern I hear among those in authority is the proliferation of the “Lone Ranger” pastor. As I understand it, the risk of a pastor crashing and burning multiplies if there is no circle of support and accountability. Sadly, many pastors today do not have such support.

Wounded and Alone

One of the most dangerous places we can find ourselves is wounded and alone. Surveys of pastors show many suffer depression and burnout, and yearn for a change. It’s no wonder we don’t see our best and brightest students consistently encouraged to consider a call to the ministry. When you are suffering silently, it’s hard to encourage others to follow your path.

I have seen young pastors hit the wall in their first call and bail out of ministry. I’ve seen pastors just trying to hold on to an unhealthy call until the kids finish high school, or another few years until retirement. It is difficult for me to imagine retiring from a call, since Moses was 80 when he got his. But I know pastors whose eyes light up at the thought of laying down the yoke of parish ministry in a year or so. Having lived in a church where for a while the motto seemed to be, “Let no good deed go unpunished,” I can see how this happens.

Clericalism is Alive and Well

From the Lutheran Church (ELCA) Website: Simply defined, "clericalism" is a kind of elitist classism in which the church equals its clergy. As individualized behavior, clericalism may be more correctly understood as a psychological state devoid of scriptural foundation but claiming it nonetheless. The concept of ordination and its attendant rites may continue to reinvigorate latent clericalism in individuals and in the institution.

Rick Bliese, President of Luther Seminary, in a paper reflecting on ELCA Evangelism Strategy, says, “Clericalism kills evangelical outreach, especially a clericalism that doesn't understand ‘evangelical outreach.’ Lutheran congregations suffer from a heavy dose of this type of clericalism.”

The clericalism that still exists in the church is not healthy nor is it Biblical. The view of ministry as the “pastor’s job” is crippling our church. I worked with the newly elected leadership of a large church recently. It was clear when we talked about expectations of the pastors that many had not left behind the small church idea that the pastor should be the one “doing” ministry. That they were in a larger setting just meant there could be several pastors and additional staff to do ministry. In many churches, there is a general feeling that when a layperson does hospital visits or such other pastoral care that “it’s just not quite the same as the pastor coming.” The idea that a primary job of pastor and staff is “equipper” rather than “doer” has not sunk in with many laity. They have grown up seeing pastor as chaplain, and know nothing different, and are somewhat suspect of the changing role.

The Unfinished Business of the Reformation

In my travels I have heard it said that the Priesthood of all believers is the unfinished business of the reformation. Some say it goes back as far as the Peasant’s Revolt in Luther’s time. Perhaps empowering the laity looked a little scary after that.

In a healthy Body of Christ, clergy and laity share the leadership roles. In healthy churches the gifts of lay leaders are recognized, celebrated and integrated into a collaborative leadership team. Collaboration is the key to synergy in the Body of Christ.

For this collaborative environment to emerge, one factor is critical. Shared leadership in a healthy church is built on a foundation of trust. We can only truly value the diverse opinions of others when we have built this foundation. It begins with trusting God. Once we can trust God, the next steps are to trust ourselves, be trustworthy, and finally trust others. Where this trust exists, we can build a permission-giving environment that empowers and trusts others to lead. Most churches today have a governance system based on control rather than empowerment. Micromanagement screams to the people, “I can’t trust you to do it right, I have to control every step.”

Healthy Body of Christ

So, what would a healthy body of Christ look like? The foundation would be a core of lay leaders who are committed to their personal discipleship, serving in their area of giftedness, working together to create a collaborative leadership team with the pastors and staff. Once established, this leadership team would work together to discern God’s calling and vision for the congregation, and will model servant leadership to the congregation.

This leadership team of disciples inspires and influences the next circle of lay friends to step deeper into their own spiritual journey of discipleship. A sense of mission emerges from the vision of the core team, and radiates out from the center. As people commit to missional outreach rooted in their own gifts and passion for Christ, the church will start influencing a broader and broader circle of friends and acquaintances both in and beyond the church, drawing people to Christ, and growing a community of disciples.

Mentors and Peers needed to Support and Encourage

In declaring our interdependence, we can overcome clericalism and move to health. The shift envisioned from a membership church to a discipleship community will evoke anxiety. My friend Nathan Swenson-Reinhold puts it this way, "Pastors function with an attitude of expectation in Christian community, fostering the capacity to give birth to new ideas and mission and to frame the anxiety and pain related to these changes as temporary signposts that God is up to new life in their midst."

In other words, we catch a glimpse of what God is up to as we discern together His leading for our congregation. As we move from dream to vision to creating what God is calling forth, we are trying to birth something from the plane of imagination unto the real world of our faith community. Mike Foss said to me the other day, “Using that analogy, the most painful part of the birth process is just before the baby crowns.” It is only when we can look past the pain of birth to the beauty of new life that we can bear the discomfort. If we do not understand change as a birth process, then people just want the pain and anxiety to end.

To support pastors through this time of birth, they need to be in relationship with others who are on this journey. They also need mentors who have been down this path. The great challenge is that so few pastors feel the call to move their church towards discipleship and serving. Consequently, there are few peers and mentors available to help guide the way and support those who are in a difficult time of anxiety and conflict as they move towards the future God is calling forth.

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