Thursday, October 19, 2006

Some other thoughts on the emerging church

I was at my denominational (PAOC) conference yesterday and the agenda was our Bible college (Masters). A number of Bible colleges and seminaries have been going through hard times (including ours) and sometimes it's difficult to know why. Jim Richards discussed some challenges and opportunities facing post-secondary religious training schools and that helped. But I think the problem is not so much with the college but with our model of church. The college is training pastors for roles in churches that no longer exist. Let me explain.

I honestly feel that the day of the traditionally trained pastor is over. The role of the pastor of a local church is changing because ... the local church is changing. I don't think the traditional model of church (that was adopted going back to the Reformation - and maybe even back to Constantine) is sustainable.

What I mean by "traditional" is church as church building with 100-400 people with paid pastoral staff running programs to try and attract people to their building three or four times a week. In this system the majority of the church's resources go into sustaining itself (building and staff and sometimes overseas missions). Very little is left over for outreach, community development and blessing the neighbourhood. Because of the high cost of buildings and land and staff and insurance this model is no longer working in urban areas and will become increasingly difficult to sustain in suburbia. (That is not to say that all churches are dead or ineffective. Some places are very successful at making this system work and are reaching out to their neighbourhoods and having an impact on their community. But this is becoming the exception rather than the norm.)

However, how do we actually advance the Kingdom of God in very untraditional and sometimes hostile environments? For example the city of Toronto is building 30,000 housing units (population 100,000 plus?) south of Queen Street in the east end. There is no land for traditional church buildings. How do we make church happen in that area? Training future leaders to think about reaching this community is what the Bible Colleges need to be focusing on.

What would be needed to reach a community like this? I'm thinking some very non-traditional Kingdom roles. We need to affirm that people are sensing a call of God (a vocation, an anointing) when they decide to work in business and government. There needs to be full-time ministers who work as city planners and social scientists and real estate developers and lawyers and people who sit on the Ontario Municipal Board hearing requests to ammend the zoning by-laws and the Official Plans. Is there a course in any Bible college that equips people to do this? This is the emerging church.

How about people who are called to move into a high rise apartment building to start apartment churches and who minister by hosting parties, and by sitting on condo boards, and by praying up and down hallways, by helping people move in or out, and by creating an overall atmosphere of health and safety? Are we training people to do that? This is also the emerging church.

Fundamentally we need to be training all Christians that there really is no biblical distinction between clergy and laity, that the church is not a building or a place or a time or an organization. The day of the full-time pastor may soon pass. The emerging church is people bearing the image of God, who listen to and worship Him and whose fundamental identity and purpose is to be people who live out and advance the Kingdom of God. They will be led by people who have a gift of and anointing for leadership not just a Bible college degree.

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