Saturday, April 29, 2006

'To be' is to be called...

There is a contradiction between the theology and practice of ordained ministry in the Vineyard Church that I have had trouble identifying...until now. In my discussions with close friends (Anti-Blog and The Great PB among them), I have been made aware of this tension, but I have had trouble articulating exactly what it is. According to various statements (official and otherwise), "to be" an ordained minister in the Vineyard is "to do" the stuff that an ordained minister needs to do. Of, course, it's not exactly that simple. To be ordained might better be stated (from this perspective) as "the recognition and affirmation of a person doing the things of ordained ministry."

This "to be is to do" model is argued most forcefully by Anti-Blog in our various conversations, and has many theological and practical advantages. One of the interesting characteristics of this model is that "ordination" only applies to people who are currently serving in a pastoral capacity; that is, you don't remain ordained once you retire from the ministry, or move on to another job. Another interesting element is that your ordination is tied to the local Vineyard Church that ordained you, and not to a larger directory of (or authority over) Vineyard pastors. Much of this perspective undoubtedly comes from the Vineyard self-understanding as a "church planting movement." Because the Vineyard is relatively young (around 30-years-old), most of its pastors have been church planters. These individuals (or couples, mostly couples), have been sent by local congregations, venturing into territory with no other Vineyard Churches and established these churches themselves. In this way, the church planters served in a missionary capacity at the behest of their former local congregation, evangelizing the unchurched in primarily urban/suburban settings and establishing a Vineyard presence in those areas.

If Vineyard pastors are essentially missional church planters, then several practical and theological implications ensue. First, whatever is not required of a missionary should not be required of a pastor. This means that advanced seminary degrees are not required for ministry, nor are lifelong commitments to "vocational ministry." Just as missionaries may not be seminary trained, and may feel called to serve for a period of a few years, so pastors (church planters) may only be involved for a period of time. Second, it means that pastors can be affirmed as a married couple, and not merely as an individual (male or female). Both the man and the woman are serving in a pastoral capacity. Just as you cannot drag your husband or wife to Borneo (for example) and pretend that only one of you is a missionary, the same is true for the church planting couple. Finally, it emphasizes the Protestant notion of the "priesthood of all believers" and affirms it in such a way as to recognize the practial importance of an administrator, while at the same time freeing others in the congregation to perform important elements of traditional pastoral ministry (preaching, administering sacraments, counseling, etc.).

Interestingly enough, this explicit and implied theological position tends to run into problems not in theory, but "in practice," because in practice, most Vineyards are not set up this way. In fact, it can look like Vineyards are hypocritical when it comes to the "working-out" of this theological position in the real world. As articulated, this model seems to point toward a strong belief in "team leadership," based on the notion of the priesthood of all believers, whereby one person (or a married couple) assumes a sort-of "leadership by default" - by virtue of their recognition of the practical needs of the church and their desire to meet them. In this context, however, most of the real leadership takes place among a group of leaders, identified by their desire to engage with the mission of the church and their love and compassion for its local members. This vision is not the reality in many Vineyard Churches. At my current church home, there is one clear leader. Despite strong personal relationships and the value placed on discipling people in leadership, everyone else stands in a reduced position of authority to the pastor, no matter what their leadership capacity. For The Great PB, "the buck stops here." Whether or not this is a remnant of the more authoritative pastoral model of Calvary Chapel (the movement from which many Vineyard pastors came) seems irrelevant. At the Cincinnati Vineyard Christian Fellowship, I never met the wife of the senior pastor, despite the fact that I spoke with him on many occasions and worshipped with him for almost two years. It was a large church with multiple services, and meeting everyone (and establishing a strong relationship with them) was simply impossible. It was clear in this context that he was the one serving in the leadership position, and not his wife. Of course, this worked out fine in a place like Cincinnati, with an established church in a situation where the spouse had no desire to be a "pastor," or even less perhaps a traditional "pastor's wife."

The appearance of hypocrisy in the "to be is to do" model slides all the way back to John Wimber himself. Although Wimber was very open to God doing just about anything in the context of the Church, he only allowed men to serve as senior pastors, out of respect for what he saw as a clear mandate in the Biblical tradition. Yet in a missional, "to be is to do" model, this makes no sense! Not only are women occasionally "doing" the work of ordained ministry, but they are often serving right alongside their husbands and missionary church-planters, and deserve the recognition as such. If "to be is to do," women who "do" pastoral things ARE pastors, and should be accorded the same recognition.

Unfortunately, I believe that "to be is to do" is an insufficient model for understanding pastoral ministry, and rests on foundations that do not take into account the full thrust of the Biblical and historical tradition. We need to look for a different model that takes these various elements into account. I believe that a better foundation for a Vineyard theology of ordination is an understanding that "to be" is not "to do." Instead, "to be is to be called by God," and to answer that call appropriately. Think about it: the role of pastor, of shepherding the people of God and leading a Church that is "for the world" is not something you do now and then, because no one else is doing it, like being a little league coach or stepping up and cooking meals for the soup kitchen. Pastors serve a more important role than simply "filling in the leadership gap" in a church. In fact, I believe pastors are responding to a direct calling of God upon their lives to dedicate part of their on Earth to the service of the Kingdom of God. This does not have to be a lifelong calling, or even necessarily a full-time calling, but it is nevertheless a serious and weighty calling.

Of course, this is actually the same for missionaries and church planters! It is not meant to be a distinction. It's not as though the pastoral calling is somehow ontologically distinct. But we need to recognize that missionaries, pastors, and many other roles serve not at the behest of a whim or even a need, but at the calling of God. It is the call the we respond to, and in the proper response of that call we become ministers of the Gospel of Christ. The actual ordination process (like that of baptism or communion) is merely the Church's recognition and affirmation of that calling.

Understanding "to be is to be called" has several advantages. For one, I believe it aligns more closely with the Biblical narrative. Yes, the Bible affirms the priesthood of all believers; yes, Paul talks about Spiritual giftings available to everyone. But this does not mean that everyone has each of these gifts! Not everyone is called to be an apostle, nor just anyone a prophet. From the very beginning - when God called Abraham, through the anointing of King Saul and King David, to the callings of the Old Testament prophets, and ultimately the Disciples and Paul on the Damascus Road, God chose certain people and invited them to play a unique role in His plan for the World. Some are called to be prophets, some to be teachers and preachers...Paul recognized these as distinct gifts that are imparted by the Holy Spirit, and only affirmed by the Church.

This understanding solves a few other dilemmas as well. For example, since it is God that calls, it is He who determines who will be chosen. God can call whomever He wants, and can choose not to call whomever He wants. It is at least consistent in this framework to say that, while God may call both men and women to missionary roles or to other church function, God may choose to restrict the calling of senior pastors to males. I am not necessarily claiming that this is in fact the case, but I respect John Wimber's understanding of the New Testament, and it is my desire to remove the appearance of hypocrisy within the framework of ordained leadership. (I might offer a tentative explanation of this by noting that perhaps God desires to model the pastor-church relationship on His own relationship to the universal Church - so limiting those whom He calls by virtue of upholding some element of that relationship.) This is not to denigrate the importance of feminine leadership in the Church, nor is it to undermine the priesthood of all believers. Affirming the central importance of calling does not absolve the priesthood of all believers any more than Jesus calling the Twelve does. Similarly, it does not increase the "bureaucracy" of the Church to a mainline levels, because it is God's calling, not an M.Div. or some fancy process that establishes the pastor in his capacity. The Church merely recognizes that calling, and affirms it.

I will admit that part of my emphasis comes from my observation of the way Vineyards actually function, and the appropriate (I believe) emphasis they implicitly place on the unique calling to ministry displayed by those seeking ordination. This is occasionally in spite of their "to be is to do" rhetoric! They seem to understand the importance ordination without properly being able to articulate just why is it so. My mindset shaped by my understanding of my own call to pastoral ministry in the military chaplain corps. This role is very distinct, both in the Church and in the military, and allows for a unique kind of access to authority by virtue of this position. It is not something you just "start doing" and are then recognized. For military chaplains, "to be" is most certainly not "to do." It is a position that entails rights and responsibilities that are occasionally matters of life and death. Just as an apostle has certain responsibilities, a prophet has others, and an evangelist still others, so too does the chaplain/pastor. You do not leave the Church to become a prophet, evangelist or pastor. You are not called out from the Church for these roles. Instead, the ministry is internal to the church body and to the world. But the recognition and affirmation of that calling provides both responsibilities and rights. It may be important to be called "Pastor _____", or perhaps in certain occasions to wear a certain type of clothing. This is not to highlight your special characteristics as special, but to enable those in your care (or perhaps more importantly, in the world) to recognize your calling and identify you as someone who might help them see God in their situation. In the military, I will be addressed as "Chaplain ________." I will wear a uniform with a cross on the sleeve and on the collar, so that anyone who sees me will know that they can approach me with spiritual questions and have confidence that I will take the time to help them address these questions. The same rules apply in the civilian world (although perhaps less distinction is required for practical purposes) and there is no reason to shun either the rights or the responsibilities of a calling from God under the pretense of false humility or "team leadership." Humility and team leadership are important, but we must recognize that God calls certain individuals to distinct roles in the church (prophets, evangelists, pastors, etc.), and if he has done so for a reason, then we ought to step aside and let them do their job, or step out ourselves in confidence and live out those rights and responsibilities. To do otherwise is to undermine God's call.

A proper understanding of Vineyard theology of ordination ought to focus not on "to be is to do." This notion fails not only on the practical level, but also on the theological and Scriptural ones as well. God's call will lead us to understand rather that "to be is to be called," and to respond and be affirmed appropriately in that calling...I welcome your thoughts and considerations.

Grace & Peace