By Dr. Bob Roxburgh
When a church is in transition without a stated pastoral leader, it needs TLC (tender loving care). I do not minimize that need, but I do believe that caring may also involve laying the ground for change, during the time of transition.
The winds of change in Church and culture are very significant and those who would give effective long term help will need to know those changes and have learned how to share them in a productive, proactive way with churches they seek to help or mentor, during their interim mentoring time.
Church leaders (boards and the like) need as much prophetic input as they do pastoral care, if they are to face the future and find a leader(s) to take the church into its new beginnings. Part of the process of course may be for the ‘transitioner’ to help the church to understand the conditions that led to the exit of its last Pastoral leader. This will require healing processes.
While this article does not address those issues, there is another - namely that churches must be helped to see the value of changing if they are to have a viable future. That itself is a delicate but important process. There are skill sets and consultants that can do that so well.
There are numerous ‘trends’ that are impacting Church in the present culture. As ‘transitioners’ grasp these trends ourselves, they do not have to get bogged down in definitions and debates about so-called Missional and Emergent Churches, but they do need to help the leaders of the transitioning church to understand what is going on in today’s world and help to put things into perspective. Transitioners will also be caring by helping the church leaders to envision the future, then they can discern the kind of leadership they will need in the difficult years ahead.
The Church is in a time of significant change. The world that shaped us in the last century is over. Modernity which in some degree lent support to the Church in culture has given way to a new world in which it will be harder for churches to truly impact their secular society. Apparent “success” there may still be for some churches as the ‘saints’ float around but a real impact on the culture is going to take some dramatic shifts in understanding and approach. We do not need clever ideas, magic bullets, quick fixes, nostalgia for the past, and the like, but instead we need a Biblical understanding of the Gospel. We will need to understand the compromises and accommodations which the contemporary Church has made, and continues to make, to modernity and secularism. We will need to seek in the Bible for different models of effectiveness than have been championed in the last 50 years. It must be God’s Kingdom rather than marketing techniques which inform our directions. In our multicultural and pluralistic culture we must learn how to be incarnational and engage that culture in ways that do not compromise the true heart of the Gospel.
Radical changes are needed which will affect our views on leadership in the Church and offer new skills to leaders as to how to deal with the transitions which the Church must surely have to face if we do not wish to be marginalized further. There are exciting discoveries to make about being missional communities of intentional people instead of pressuring leaders to be vendors offering services to religious consumers.
The ‘transitioner’ must go beyond being ‘chaplain’ to what exists and rather become a gentle ‘prophet’ who helps them work their way into a future. They must be helped to see Church as an alternative community embedded in the life of the culture; what it is to be the people of God when we are no longer front and centre and have to a great extent been marginalized. Longing for the good old days is futile.
Church leaders must be helped to change their reductionist view of the Gospel, wherein evangelicalism, in its structures, programs, ethos, and songs has emphasized the individual person's responsibility before God, but expresses little corresponding sense of the communal life of the Christian and how that community can express to its surrounding culture the way God is at work in the world.
Organizational change is about creating an ethos with sharper Kingdom values in which a new future might emerge rather than being determined ahead of time by a new pastoral leader. The church will need to look for a leader who will believe in the worth and maturity of the church members to take them on such a pilgrimage.
Missional Church-Emerging church is Church shaped by the context in which it is surrounded and not by tradition. They say in effect, “We will come to you and see what emerges rather than we will design a church that we think is creative and invite you to come to us”.
The Gospel, can only be proclaimed within a culture and not at a culture nor as a culture as is the woeful case in North America today.
It must always be the Scripture that informs our ecclesiology, but we must not assume that the ways in which most evangelical churches have functioned in the past were more Biblically than sociologically based.
Helping a church get ready for its future by understanding what is going on and what is needed is a vital form of caring for it.
Questions that could be asked of its leaders in transition are as follows:
1. What is the nature/ethos of the neighbourhood/culture in which our church is located?
2. Within the Great Commission, what specific call or mission has God placed upon our church in the neighbourhood?
3. What kind of believer will it take to live out an incarnational lifestyle in the neighbourhood?
4. What kind of a church will produce that kind of believer? (This will not be a discussion about structures and programs but about the life of the members)
5. What kind of leadership, both those who are present and any new pastoral leader to come, will produce that kind of church?
Get leaders looking at these issues as part of the process and their journey into vision will have begun, and the much needed caring will be more than feeling based.
Dr. Bob Roxburgh, in “semi-retirement,” is Director of ILI, an Intern/Mentoring program based at Southside Community Church (www.southside.ca.) Surrey, BC, which in conjunction with Carey Theological College, UBC, grants the Master’s degree in Pastoral Ministry.
He is Adjunct at two Seminaries and does numerous mentoring conferences each year. During the 1980’s he was Senior Pastor at Millmead Centre near London, England, which is one of Britain’s largest Baptist churches. Since that time he has mentored and pastored numerous churches across Canada
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