Friday, June 24, 2011


We now embark on one of the most crucial journeys in this book, with an idea that over 90% of clergy agree with in principle, but, amazingly, over 90% of those same people say they don't do this well!
Let's begin with an introduction to ‘ethology.’

Ethology is the study of the comparison between human and animal behaviour. An important concept in ethology is the notion of territoriality: the practice of marking a piece of ground and defending it against intruders. Animals as diverse as fish, worms, gazelles, and lizards stake out particular areas and put up fierce resistance when intruders encroach on their area. Many species use odorous secretions to mark the boundaries of their territory. For example the wolf marks its domain by urinating around the perimeter.

Some scholars argue that people are territorial animals: humans’ genetic endowment drive them to gain and defend territory, much as other animals do. ‘The dog barking at you from behind his master’s fence acts for a motive indistinguishable from that of his master when the fence was built.’ The list of territorial behaviours is endless: in a library you protect your space with a book, coat, or note-book; you ‘save a place’ in the theatre or at the beach – reserving a spot that is ‘mine’ or ‘ours’; juvenile gangs fight to protect their turf; neighbours of similar ethnic backgrounds join forces to keep other groups out; nations war over contested territory; and, between churches, pastors accuse other pastors of ‘sheep-stealing’. 

Our own personal territory may include our room, specific seats in a class or in church, a particular table at the restaurant… The more attached you are to an area, the more likely you are to signal your ‘ownership’ with obvious territorial markers such as decorations, plants, photographs, posters, or even graffiti. College dorms and business offices are prime places to observe this type of territorial marking.

As a result of our fallenness, this planet and its inhabitants have substituted ‘territoriality’ (‘my space – keep out’) for ‘hospitality’ (‘my space – you’re welcome!’). Throughout the Bible we have numerous stories and injunctions about reversing this effect of the Fall. You know them – references to prophets’ chambers, looking after aliens, opening our homes to strangers and entertaining angels unawares, being hospitable to one another, prophetically denouncing the group which does not welcome Jesus’ messengers, Jesus being a stranger and we take him in, and so on.

Now pastors and leaders in the church are invited to be ‘hospitable’ rather than ‘territorial’, and it’s something they generally do very poorly. The biblical models are clear. Moses was told by his father-in-law: ‘You’re killing yourself!’ (Exodus 18:18). In essence his good advice to Moses was: Your task is to pray for these people to God; teach them God’s laws; and appoint others as co-leaders. When Jesus was recruiting disciples to lead his church he had the same three priorities: prayer, teaching (by instruction and modelling), and training for ministry. It’s amazing how much Jesus delegated to his disciples so early in their relationship: ‘Go and preach, heal the sick, bring the dead back to life… drive out demons’ (Matthew 10:5-8). Just the simple stuff, fellows, to start with!

Then when these apostles messed-up the early Church’s social welfare system, they had an ‘aha’ experience: ‘Oh, we should have remembered; our task is to give our full time to prayer, and preaching, so let’s delegate other ministries to people full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom’ (Acts 6:1-4). It would be wonderful if more pastors had this kind of ‘aha’ experience.

Now why don’t they? Fasten your seat-belts: this paragraph will contain some turbulence. The Devil could not get Jesus to accrue power to himself (Matthew 4:1-11; 16:21-28) so he has tried the same temptations on the shepherds of Jesus’ church. And he has generally succeeded. The church very early in its institutional history developed an ‘official’ ministry which separated ‘ordained’ Christians from others. These ‘priests’ alone had sacramental prerogatives. The Protestant Reformers rejected Roman Catholic and Orthodox theology and practice at this point, but, in my view, did not take their reformation far enough. Protestant pastors generally feel that they too, control certain prerogatives in the life of the church (presiding at most sacramental observances, preaching most of the sermons, blessing most of the meetings etc.), and are reluctant to share these ministries with others. They have perhaps forgotten that their key role is equipping (Ephesians 4:12), empowering others for ministry, not doing it all themselves as paid ‘professional employees’ of the Church.

Frankly, it’s nice having these privileges: all the clergy surveys tell us they enjoy these public roles in most cases. Taking power to ourselves is the devil’s primal trick however. Justice, we said, is essentially about power. When we deny others their empowering, that’s unjust.

To change the metaphor, let us transform the classical ‘wheel-model’ of the church – where all the spokes centre on one person or small leadership-group – to a discipling model. Pastor-teachers ought to spend more time with fewer people, training them for leadership and ministry on the job.

The acid test for ministry-leaders at this point is: how hard have you trained others? Could you leave your church after one year, as Paul and Barnabas did, safely in the hands of those you have prepared for leadership in ministry? Do you take people with you as you visit folk? Do you run courses on how to help your friend, how to lead a small group, on how to grow as a Christian? How about your church becoming a miniature theological seminary, as Elton Trueblood suggests? That is, how about doing in your congregation what Jesus did with his disciples? Or what Paul suggests Timothy do: ‘Take the teachings… and entrust them to reliable people, who will teach others also’ (2 Timothy 2:2). Well?


Ministry Empowerment Questionnaire

The following is the Appendix from my little book Your Church Can Come Alive - 34 Marks of a Healthy Church. Most pastors fail this test of excellence: don't be too hard on them if they're a bit embarrassed... Rather encourage them in these areas...

Pastors: why not do this ‘Ministry Empowerment Questionnaire’, and then discuss your findings with the elders and leaders of the church. 

Pastor-teachers ‘prepare God’s people for Christian service, in order to build up the body of Christ’, so that they may become ‘mature people’ (Ephesians 4:12,13). How well are you doing?
Answer every question by circling the appropriate number (1) (2) (3) (4) or (5). If in doubt, choose the most nearly correct answer. Note: ‘Practical theology’ is all about the practice of ministry, and covers such areas as the theology of ministry, spirituality for ministry/mission, preaching, Christian education/formation, counseling, church leadership, Christian management etc.
1. PREPARATION. To equip myself to equip others I spend time in prayer, reflection and study each week: (1) 20+ hours (2) 15-19 hours (3) 10-14 hours (4) 5-9 hours (5) Less than 5 hours
2. DELEGATION. As a pastor-leader I would delegate at least three or four pastoral visits to others each week; I do not attend most committees in the church but keep in touch with them indirectly; I live comfortably with the idea that people other than I can chair significant church meetings or committees; I am not worried if I do not know the details of everything that happens in the church; When a job has to be done I have a habit of asking myself ‘Am I the best person to do it? Would I be depriving someone else of a ministry if I did it?’; I readily delegate tasks to others; most of the time I have the skill to choose the right person for a job, and am happy to leave them with it; I circulate leadership material to all our leaders.
(1) I would score well in all these areas (2) OK in four or more of them (3) three (4) two (5) one or none
3. THEOLOGICAL TRAINING: (1) 4+ years full-time or equivalent (2) 3-4 years full-time or equivalent (3) 2-3 years full-time or equivalent (4) 1-2 years full-time or equivalent (5) Less than one year
4. PRACTICAL THEOLOGY: My theological training included practical theology components such as # regular spiritual direction with a spiritual guide, # personal growth and development, # a supervised pastoral placement, # a thorough critique of my communication/ preaching skills, # supervised counseling, # a time management course, # leadership skill development, # other courses in practical theology:
(1) all of these (2) at least four of these (3) three (4) two (5) one or none
5. CONTINUING EDUCATION. I do a post-seminary course (of at least 3 days’ duration) in some area of practical theology (1) more than once a year (2) about once a year (3) less than once a year (4) about every 2-3 years (5) hardly ever
6. PROFESSIONAL READING. I read books on practical theology: (1) at least one a week (2) about 2-3 a month (3) about 1-2 a month (4) about 1-2 every two months (5) fewer than 1-2 every three months
7. JOURNALS. I read practical ministry periodicals or journals: (1) 4 or more a month (2) about 3 a month (3) about 2 a month (4) about one a month (5) fewer than one a month
8. LEADERSHIP TRAINING. # I would meet with key leaders individually at least once a month; # I meet with the leadership team for a training session at least once a month; # these leaders would aim to reproduce themselves in the lives of others; # we have elders who visit members on a regular basis; # we have commissioned deaconesses or lay visitors who visit in homes and hospitals; # at least 10% of our regular Sunday attenders would be involved in significant occasional counseling of others in need; # there is a ‘prayer chain’ or similar structure to engage in intercessory prayer for those in difficulty; # we have regular community ministries in place that would meaningfully contact the equivalent of at least 20% of our Sunday attendance each week; # at least a quarter of our people would know how to pray with someone to receive Christ as Saviour and Lord; # a significant minority of our people would find themselves spontaneously praying with another as part of a meaningful contact.
(1) We would score well in at least seven of the above (2) five-six (3) three-four (4) one or two (5) none
9. WORSHIP LEADERSHIP. Our church involves many people in leading worship services through # seminars on worship; # setting up one or more worship committees; # having at least 2 people participate in leadership besides the preacher in most worship services; # involving musically-gifted people to help choose hymns/songs; # training persons with preaching/teaching skills and allowing them to minister publicly according to their gifts; # opening up a part of many services for people to share their faith-stories.
We do (1) all of these (2) four of them (3) three (4) two (5) one or none of the above
10. COUNSELOR TRAINING. There is a ‘counseling/how to help your friend’ course run by our church (or some other nearby group which our church members are urged to attend): (1) about once a year (2) about once every 2 years (3) about once every 3 years (4) every 4 years or so (5) never or hardly ever
11. VISITATION TRAINING. To train people in visitation /counseling I have a trainee with me (1) at least 50% of my people-time (2) 30-40% (3) 20-30% (4) 10-20% (5) Less than 10%
12. GROWTH GROUPS. The proportion of our regular Sunday attenders belonging at any one time to a small group for spiritual growth would be (1) 70% or more (2) 45-70% (3) 25-45% (4) 10-25% (5) less than 10%
13. FORMATION. To foster our people’s ongoing spiritual growth we have: # a how-to-pray course at least once a year; # a bookstall operating after most Sunday services and perhaps at other times; # regular book reviews from the pulpit and/or in the church bulletin; # a church library (with books, audio-tapes, videos, MP3s etc.) in regular use by at least a significant minority of our people; # at least two courses on Bible study or theological topics a year; # at least one seminar per year on life-related themes; # a habit of regularly circulating emailed/photocopied articles particularly to leaders; # announcements at least twice a month of outside training opportunities for our people; # at least a significant minority of our young people attending Christian camps, beach missions, Christian groups at their schools or colleges and similar functions; # leadership training opportunities in place for small group facilitators (1) We would have at least five of the above in place (2) four (3) three (4) two (5) one or none.
14. ORGANIZATION. In our church’s structure, # we have regular communication between the leaders and the church; # we open positions for junior members to join important leadership groups; # our leaders invite and receive regular written communications from church members; # we have a feedback mechanism which produces ideas and suggestions from many in the church; # we have a ‘sabbatical’ system so that leaders must retire for at least a year every six-to-eight years; # at least 30% of regular Sunday attenders would belong to a committee or task force during a two-year period. (1) We have all this in place (2) we have three of the above (3) two (4) one (5) none
**** How did you score? If your total circled numbers was 14 (honest?) go straight to heaven: you have fulfilled your ministry! 15-20: your church is quite unique (but don’t rush into organizing seminars on ‘how we succeed around here’!). 21-30 – excellent: now work on setting goals to improve. 31-40 – get the John Mark Ministries’ ‘Your Church Can Come Alive’. 41-50 – get the JMM video and a copy of the book for each leader. 51-60 – definitely get the video and book, and get other churches in your area to combine for a live seminar.  61+ Don’t get discouraged, and do all of the above!

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