Being needed by others is a drug. It is addictive and intoxicating. When others rely upon you to make their lives work it changes how we view ourselves and the world. Certainly this is true in marriage and parenting, but it is also true in the church.
When I began to explore my call to ministry no one told me about the addictive side of being a spiritual leader. Being singled out as special, as being especially touched by God, it is the best drug I know. (Granted I haven’t exactly had a wide experience of pharmacological exploration.) There is this beast within each of us, an ugly and powerful gremlin we call ego. There are ways of starving this beast or feeding it. What no one tells you in seminary, what no one in the church likes to admit, is that being put up on a spiritual pedestal and living as a spiritual lord is like feeding your ego anabolic steroids. It can be an addiction that becomes almost impossible to give up.
Having a pastor as a spiritual lord can also be a comfortable place for the rest of the church. (In bad scenarios it can also be everyone’s worst nightmare.) It reinforces so many bad ideas that allow us to stay in a place of comfort. If some are special, chosen above all others, then we can put ourselves in a different category. If there is a spiritual lord who has a place of privilege, a special place where they alone hear from God, it absolves everyone else from listening to God. Instead they can just listen to the pastor. If the pastor has a vision then no one else need have one of their own.
Being pioneer church, a church that is bringing about life in uncultivated areas, requires a shift away from the pastor as spiritual lord model. It just doesn’t work. You have to decentralize power, vision, authority, and mission in order to do the difficult work of cultivating. A pioneer church is a family of missionaries, not church members following a charismatic leader.
The most joyous part of our shift to life as a pioneer church has been this shift to functioning as a family on mission. The first step in this journey was experiencing life as family together. This meant an inward focus before we could have an outward focus. We had to learn to love each other, share our lives, and own the work of being the church before we could go and plant seeds. It occurred to us that if we couldn’t care for and minister to each other in transformative ways we had little hope of doing so for those outside of our fellowship.
This shift has been life giving and enriching. Never before have I experienced such deep relationships and intimacy within the church. Never before have so many people felt like my family. Never before have my kids had so many people investing into their lives. Never before have I felt more loved for who I am rather than for being a provider of religious goods and services. Never before have I valued the gifts and calling of others in the church so much more than I do my own.
Jesus told his disciples, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” I don’t think we take this very seriously. Instead we think Jesus said, “They will know you are my disciples if you communicate it through a powerful and well planned worship service with the latest in technological flourishes.” Or we might say, “They will know you are my disciples if you have a well run organization with highly skilled professionals leading effective ministries.”
When Jesus came to change the world he did so by forming an unlikely family. He created an alternative way of living that was in and of itself the good news of the kingdom of God. It is time for us to return to the model of Christ and to set aside our own spiritual fiefdoms. So long as we build our churches around individuals we will never unlocked the true missional power of our churches.