"Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body..."
- 1 Corinthians 12:12-13
I recently heard about a couple who had decided to leave the Underground community. I don’t think I knew them personally since the story was relayed to me by one of our microchurch leaders and no names were given. Their stated reason for leaving was important and something that deserves a response. They said they just couldn't come to a church where the pastor was not personally involved in their lives, not personally investing in them. They were of course talking about me. I am sure there is more to the story than that, but their critique, in particular, is worth considering. So, I wanted to take a minute to write a word, not of rebuttal, but of whole hearted agreement with that criticism and even the heart behind it.
The office of pastor is one of the five critical gifts/callings that Jesus gives to his church so that it can reach maturity and its full potential (Ephesians 4:11-13). We all need pastors, just as we need apostles, prophets, evangelists and teachers. Pastors in particular lead us uniquely through nurture and care. Pastors need to be involved in our personal lives, know us as individuals, walk with us through our pain and questions and celebrate with us through our landmarks and victories. A community like the Underground needs a hundred pastors. I think I believe that more profoundly and more sincerely than most church leaders do. I believe it so deeply that I have labored to create a community where the church is small enough so that everyone does have a pastor in their lives. God knows we need a hundred pastors, which is why he has actually given us so many.
The irony of our departing couple’s story is that they shared their frustration with their actual pastor; a spiritual leader who was in their lives and who had loved them, and was there for them in just such a moment. It is not that I don’t want the title of Pastor, it is that it is not accurate. And when we persist in applying that old paradigm to our community, putting our new wine in old wineskins, we end up pointlessly disappointed. The real spiritual leadership, the authority that God has actually given to the dozens of pastoral leaders in our movement is devalued and even dismissed when I am regarded as the Pastor of the Underground. I never want to abdicate my responsibility to be a good leader and shepherd to our community; and I know better than most the ways I constantly fall short in that task, but it is precisely because I think that every Christian needs access to a pastoral leader that I refuse to take that role, or be called by that title. If I am the pastor how will I care for the 1,500 people involved in the Underground community? Isn't calling someone in my position by that title a betrayal of what the title actually means?
I love you all enough to entrust you to the true pastors, the microchurch leaders and elders in our communities to marry, baptize and counsel. And I will certainly be a pastor to the elders themselves, and to my microchurch and intentional community, but my role is primarily apostolic. God has called me to send and inspire, to lead, teach and oversee the whole community and its leaders. The desire to have the actual person in spiritual authority over you, know you, and personally care for you is so right on, I just had to agree publicly with it. I say with all my heart, AMEN. You all need that. You all deserve that.
Yet, I have to keep leading us to break out of the misapplied expectations of a church structure that has not worked. The traditional model has not reached or transformed our cities. And that is not the fault of the message we carry, or the God who sends us, it is the fault of the systems we confine him in. The priesthood of all believers is a sacred tenet of the protestant reformation, yet it still remains largely untried in our context.
We are trying. If you are with me, let's honor the myriad of Holy Spirit inspired and gifted leaders in our movement, of which I am only one. Let’s remember and celebrate our leaders whom God has given us by giving them the honor that we once only reserved for the person behind the pulpit. If we each do the task appointed to us, and give honor for each member, we will see just what the body of Jesus can do in a world that needs him.