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January 17, 2013

David Lose: Rethinking the role of pastor

Editor’s note: This is the second in a four-part series. Read the first part here.

Harvard leadership guru Ron Heifetz makes a critical distinction between technical and adaptive problems. In the former, we need to revise our way of doing something in a particular context; in the latter, we need to revise (or reinvent) our whole way of thinking about the context in which we are doing things.

Moneyball” helps us see the difference -- and how it relates to our life in the church. (If you haven’t seen the film or read the book, it may be helpful to refer to my earlier post to recap the story.) If the problem is that the A’s don’t have enough money to buy the best players, they really only have one option if they want to win. They have to make their scouting and player development systems even better than they have been. That’s the way baseball teams have always solved that problem.

But in the following clip, Peter Brand (played by Jonah Hill) argues that the real problem is an insufficient understanding of baseball itself and, in particular, how baseball games are won.

He asks coach Billy Beane not to refine or change established practices (technical change), but rather to reconsider his whole way of thinking about baseball and, in light of that changed pattern of thought, to discover new practices (adaptive change).

How can we apply this thinking to the church? Rather than refine preaching by adding a slide show, changing worship by employing contemporary music or jazzing up confirmation by showing cartoons, we need instead to reconsider the fundamental nature of being the church in the world today.

In the previous post I suggested that the dominant reality is the one to which we’ve paid the least attention: Church is no longer an assumed part of people’s lives. More than that, our people are besieged 24/7 with obligations and opportunities and will not keep giving more than one hour a week to an activity unless it contributes tangibly to improving the other 167 hours.

Yet we continue to practice ministry like they’ll come back if only our pastors figure out how to do what they’ve always done, only better. And that’s just the problem: our focus is on what the pastors do. In our current model of church, the pastors are the interpreters of Scripture. They are the ones who make connections between faith and life. And they are the ones comfortable talking about their faith.

To put it both more bluntly and more accurately, the pastors are typically the only ones who interpret Scripture, make connections or talk about their faith. They are, in a very real sense, the professional Christians. And, oddly enough, we are at a point where I think the better our pastors perform these tasks the deeper the crisis gets, as after a riveting sermon the average lay person looks on in admiration and believes he or she could never do that.

This way of thinking, if not medieval, is at least better suited to the church of the mid-20th century rather than the 21st century.

We need to shift from a “performative” model of ministry -- in which the mark of competence is that the professional does the central tasks of the faith well -- to a “formative” model of ministry. In this model, the mark of competence is that, as time passes, the congregation members get better themselves at the central skills of the faith, such as interpreting Scripture, making connections between faith and life, and sharing their faith with others.

What does this mean for our practices? I can’t provide a complete answer, but I do have some hunches.

Preaching needs to become more participatory, in which congregants don’t simply sit back and listen to what the professional Christian says but are given a chance to acquire and practice some new skills.

Worship needs to be concerned less with looking like a concert performance (whether of traditional or contemporary music) and more like a dress rehearsal for our life in the world.

Confirmation needs to give our youth and the significant adults in their lives opportunities to work out why their faith matters and practice using that faith to help them navigate the challenges they are facing.

Foremost, we need to re-imagine that pastors are not first and foremost excellent practitioners or performers of the faith but rather are coaches, teachers and conductors whose success is gauged by their ability to increase our skills and confidence in using our faith in daily life.

This post originally appeared on David Lose’s blog.

1 Comment

Rethinking Pastor

Excellent. Was just having this conversation with our Bible study class yesterday.

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