Over the last several years, I have undergone an ecclesiological revolution of sorts. That is, my understanding of what the church is and is called to be has changed dramatically. This is due, in part, to personal frustration and dissatisfaction. However, this shift in my ecclesiological understanding largely comes from my deeper trust in and larger view of God and a deepening sense what it means to be a sent people.

Darrell Guder, one of the editors of the seminal work Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America, gives eloquent words to the shift in thinking I have experienced in his lecture, Walking Worthily: Missional Leadership after Christendom:

From a missional perspective, the desired outcome of theological education is not the competent, well-equipped professional clergyperson… Rather than just the clergy, it is the entire missional community that is the central agency that God’s Spirit employs to bring about God’s healing purposes for the creation. The test of missional theological education is the equipped and faithful witness of called and sent communities. The people of God in concrete assemblies and fellowships must be the focus of missional formation and not merely the incumbents of ordered ministry structures. To borrow Leslie Newbigin’s now-classic phrase, it is the community that is the hermeneutic of the gospel.

When I entered seminary over ten years ago, I don’t think I was so calloused as to believe that my M.Div would simply be a professional degree or that “ministry” was solely the realm of the clergy. However, in the last ten years, I have felt the ground under my feet shift dramatically.

Ironically, Darrell Guder, whose thoughts have been influential in my thinking, joined the faculty at my seminary the year after I graduated. This particular lecture was published in the most recent edition of The Princeton Seminary Bulletin.  Would have been kind of nice to hear these things before launching ten years into this particular trajectory!

My understanding of church, vocation, community and calling is moving towards smaller missional communities of actual friends who live the resurrection in the reality of their lives, flattened hierarchies without the false dichotomy between clergy and laity, both/and people who refuse to accept the artificial secular/sacred divisions we’ve created, and on and on.

Naturally, this would paint a very different picture of what “church” would actually look like — and not just questions of style (e.g., “Should we sing Crowder songs? U2? Sufjan Stevens?”). For me, as a vocational pastor, it raises the very practical question of how our family will support ourselves in this dramatically changing landscape. I know I’m not alone in struggling with that question. Jason Evans is hosting a lively discussion on this topic over at his blog.

Some churches have eliminated the idea of paid staff so that pastors/staff are all bi-vocational. That is, pastors have another line of work that provides income for the family while also working for the church. Of course, there are numerous pitfalls here — unless there is plenty of flexibility in the one job, very few people have the time or energy to devote themselves faithfully to two completely different full-time vocations. On top of all that, outside of certain churchy circles, my M.Div really isn’t worth much at all (read Chris Marshall’s painfully honest perspective here) — so, if I were to pursue another line of work it would either mean going back to school (and the backbreaking debt that accompanies it) or hustling like crazy to find another job.

Any thoughts on forging a new way forward? And, if you’re looking to hire a hack graphic designer, let me know!

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