I warned you - I asked you NOT to read this,
but here you are anyway . . . . Consider yourself warned!
Ive Got to
Get Some things Off My Chest
I’ve gotta say
something. It’s going to make some good, Emerging
Church folks mad and it’s going to offend “Ex-Church” friends alike.
Some “Institutional Church” people won’t like what I’m going to say
any better. What I need to say is going to be extremely
controversial, and knowing I’m going to stir folks up, I’m
going to speak out anyway.
Get mad at me
if you must; argue with me if you need to; correct me if I’m wrong,
but I’ve got to speak my mind regardless of the danger of anger,
disagreement, misunderstanding or correction.
So here goes .
. . .
“Post-Institutional-Church” as anybody I’ve met or read about. The
organizational system of Christian Religion makes my spirit grieve.
I’m all about a “Third Reformation” in the church. I live, eat,
sleep and breathe “Emerging Church.”
Those who know me know that's an understatement.
I’m also a
“veteran” (maybe more accurately, a "survivor") of the Institutional
Church. I was born into a strict religious home. My mother was
Choir Director and my dad was Church Treasurer in the old Evangelical
United Brethren Church. Later, our church would become part of the United
Church. When the churches merged, my folks left. They felt that the
church had become too liberal, too soft, and too generic. The strongest memories of my childhood center on Sunday
School and Sunday Worship and Catechism Classes.
were close friends with our Pastor, known to us all as “Pastor
Pfaltzgraff.” He was a good man – a really good man. His son, Phil
and I were best friends, and on many Sundays Phil would beg his mom
to ask our family over for Sunday Dinner. Many also were the Sundays
Phil’s mom would remind her boy of how little food the Pfalztgraff
family had available, and Phil would always counter with, “I’ll
share my dinner with Greg” and he did.
school, I joined the U.S. Air Force. On Sundays during
Basic Training I attended a different “flavor” of chapel
services each week. I wasn’t all that religious and I certainly
wasn’t spiritually-minded. I had two good reasons to
attend chapel services: 1) I was a smoker in those days and the
troops were allowed to smoke as we waited in line to enter the
service. It was a good chance to get a smoke. 2) I was curious about
the differences between the Catholics and the Baptists, the
Methodists and the Lutherans and all the other “flavors” and nuances
of Christianity available on our base.
later, I met Jesus in a powerful and dramatic way. I was
“born-again,” filled with the Holy Spirit and delivered from a three
and a half package a day tobacco habit all in the same day. From that first day as a
believer, I began to share my faith and to pray with hurting people.
after being saved, the Holy Spirit called me into full-time
ministry. My energy for ministry was boundless. I spent early
morning hours praying, and the rest of the day was lived in the
miraculous exhibition of God’s grace in others’ lives.
active military duty, I enrolled in Bible College.
I was introduced to the basics – the fundamentals of Theology: The
Study of God and of His relation to the world. We learned
“Systematic Theology,” starting before the beginning of time and
moving through the progressive revelation of God to mankind. We were
introduced to Exegetical theology, Historical theology, Dogmatic
theology and biblical theology.
Hamartiology (the doctrine of sin), Ecclesiology (the doctrine of
the church), Eschatology (the doctrine of “last things),
Pneumatology (the doctrine of the Holy Spirit), Christology (the
doctrines of Christ), Angelology (the doctrine of Angels),
Soteriology (the doctrine of Salvation), Anthropology (the doctrine
about Church History and Worship and the doctrine of Stewardship. We
studied the origins of the church, the development of the Roman
Catholic Church and of the birth of the Protestant
Church. (In the process, I decided I am neither “Roman Catholic” nor
“Protestant” – I’m just a Christian, a believer, a learner-follower
of Jesus. The Church I belong to predates either the Catholic or the
the art and science of biblical hermeneutics which is the basis for
the interpretation of all scripture. Understanding this discipline
would prevent us from using God’s Word out of context, or from
committing the common error of beginning with a position and finding
a verse or verses to support our presumption (something I have heard
many, many preachers and Christians do over the years). One of the cardinal
rules we learned was that “Scripture must interpret Scripture.” Over
the years I’ve heard my share of bizarre teachings that originated
when someone used a “text without a context” which became a
“pretext” (a red herring, in the vernacular).
Hebrew and Greek language and culture. We learned about the Aramaic
text and delved into the history and the essence of the Dead Sea
about Allegories and Parables. We discovered the interrelation between Old and New
Testaments; we studied biblical archaeology, Christological
Exegesis, Prophecy and the Prophets, Symbols and Types and what is
known as “The Fuller” or “Deeper Meaning” of Scripture. We learned
about Typology. We were introduced to the Prophetic Law of Double
Fulfillment. On and on the list goes, and it’s not my purpose here
to bore you with every subject covered in the four-year
curriculum that culminates in the Bachelor of Theology degree. My
reason for listing these disciplines is to make you aware of some of
the process of following what in those days we knew as “The Call of
I know that
there are those who will vigorously dispute the entire concept of an
individual, personal “Call of God.” To them I would simply suggest,
read your Bible. God has called out men and women for His purposes over and over
throughout history. These men and women were separated from the
mainstream of humanity. They were separated to dedicate their full
lives, purposes and energies to God, aside from the general “call”
to every believer to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His
righteousness” and to “forsake” the world and to take up our crosses
and follow Him.
such a personal “call” in 1971. That “calling” has been confirmed,
affirmed and established through many voices and with many “signs
following” for thirty-four years. I know, there is a nit-picker reading this who will
quickly cry, “But ‘signs following’ are for every believer!” I know
that. I’m not talking about the general principle of “signs
following” the believer here. I’m talking about “signs” in
connection with a personal, individual calling and confirmation by
the Spirit of God. (See Acts 2:43; 5:12;
Ro 15:19; 2 Cor 12:12).
twenty-five years after entering “the ministry” I gave 60, 80 and
more hours per week to the endeavor of “ministry.”
those who would argue against the kind of biblical education I
mentioned above. To those I would simply ask, “Who then will let us
know when we have believed in error? Who will show us the proper
means of interpreting God’s word if not those who understand the
original languages, the contexts, the harmonies of God’s word?”
point me to 1 John 2: I’ve already read it. I also know how to
interpret it because I learned biblical hermeneutics and because the
Holy Spirit within me helps me to understand His truth. I also know that
historically, “anointed” and un-educated people have strayed from
proper interpretations. Every generation of believers has been
subject to mistakes, misunderstandings and erroneous teachings,
including my own. Yes,
the anointing in us teaches us, but that is not to say that we don’t
need to listen to people who have spent their lives studying God’s
word and have communicated wonderful truth to us. Men such as Adam
Clarke, Matthew Henry, Darby and Gill, Nave and Spurgeon, the list
goes on and on, have given their lives to enhance our understanding
of God’s word and we ought not suggest that since “we have the
anointing, we don’t need those men.”
Would you say
that the men who studied and gave themselves to learning the Hebrew,
Aramaic and Greek languages were unimportant to the Body of Christ,
since we all “have an anointing?” Who would have translated the
words of John to us so that we could know we have an anointing if
not for Bible scholars who gave us a Bible in our own language?
suggest to me that erroneous beliefs don’t occur – even in our
contemporary, highly-educated world. I don’t know how many spurious
teachings and false doctrines I’ve come across – even among
respected ministries! The Bible exhorts us to “study to show
yourself approved by God.” That study sometimes takes the form of
formal, structured, systematic teaching. And it always has. There
were “schools of the prophets” in the Old Testament. There were
rabbinical schools in New Testament times. The Apostles gave
“doctrine” to the church, and the church in turn “continued
steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine . . .”
Apostles taught and discipled those who came into their ministries.
A prime example is that of Timothy, student of Paul. Truths were
communicated from one generation of believer to another. And then at
some point, two diabolical events happened: First, a “clergy”
developed which took the authority, power and rule of the church
literally out of the hands of Christ, the true Head of the church.
Simultaneously a “laity” was created that had no history or root
within either sacred text or in Christian community and experience.
The role of
“pastor,” a gift given by God to the church to assist the church in
the process of maturation and edification and protection was used by
these “clergy” to accommodate their newly fashioned positions. Since
then, the role of “pastor” has risen and fallen with the times. One
generation of “pastor” was looked upon as a pawn, a pauper, a
“thing” to be used by unscrupulous men to advance their agendas. The
next generation of “pastor” was dictatorial, controlling and
tyrannical. This see-saw of cause and effect continues today, and in
the wake of this struggle lay the remains of broken, abused,
injured, confused and bleeding Christian people who only wanted to
find a church where Jesus and not a man or a committee truly is
currently living in an hour when the term “pastor” and the “office
of pastor” or if you will, “the gift” of “pastor” (see Ephesians 4:11-16)
is being attacked, derided, scoffed at, belittled and disbelieved.
So much abuse is being heaped upon the title, and those associated
with it, one almost wonders about the source, the motivation of
those aiming their flaming missiles at pastors. The characteristics
of God – of His glory – are mercy, grace, patience, goodness and
truth – in that order. (That's another truth for another day, but
trust me - or better, check me out - Read Exodus 34). As I have listened to various “emerging churchers” speak or write about the gift of “pastor” in the
negative, there is so much venom spewing forth that I want to point
out, call attention to and plead with those involved: “Please, for
God’s sake, Stop It!”
I know a great
number of men and women who call themselves or who are called
“pastor.” Some of them are maladjusted, almost neurotic,
dysfunctional and out-of-control people. Some are in “the business”
because they like to be in control of other lives. Some are “on the
take,” seeking to make financial gain through their position. And
guess what? God knows all about it! And God will deal with such
unscrupulous and misguided individuals. But the greatest number of
“pastors” are good, fine, sincere and wonderful people who have
heard the voice of God directing them to serve His church. These are
literally, “servants of God and of His people.” Their hearts break
over the broken; they shed tears over the wounded. They long to see
healing come to broken families and to see their communities
cleansed and purified and touched with the mercy and the grace of
Why else would
some of the people I know work full time, secular jobs so that they
might give themselves to the work of the ministry? Why would
otherwise brilliant men and women serve the church at half or a
quarter of the pay scale they could receive if they used their
talents and abilities in secular employment? (Trust me, some of my
friends would have made fine attorneys, physicians, engineers,
architects, builders and more. Some of my friends were
attorneys, physicians, engineers, architects, builders and more and
gave away those positions for the honor of serving Jesus in His
church with all their energies).
“pastors” with the broad brush of judgment is doubly dangerous:
First, God and not man is the judge of all. Second, may I shout this
gently? “You don’t know the hearts of these people!” I have
learned to leave alone what I know nothing about.
I want to
encourage you to examine the source, the origin of the gift, title,
position, or role of “pastor.” This gift did not originate with man;
it began with God.
Has the title
“pastor” been misunderstood, abused, twisted? Absolutely! Are there
pastors who are little more than “hirelings” in “the church?”
Without doubt! Are there abusive, dictatorial control-freaks wearing
the label of “pastor?” Definitely! But just because there are
crooked lawyers and medical quacks among us does not mean that all
attorneys and all physicians are phonies!
Let it be
understood, I am not a pastor. I filled that role from 1973 to 1998, that’s 25 years of my life; a quarter
century; more than a career in the military. (And by the way, unlike
the military, there was no “pension” or “retirement” program and no
monetary compensation for those years I spent “pastoring” churches.
I live today by faith, trusting that if I “seek first the kingdom of God
and His righteousness” “all these things shall be added unto” “us.”
During some of
years of “pastoral” ministry, my family “prayed in” our
next meals. We have memories of rejoicing when a farmer stopped by
and gave us a bushel basket of sweet corn. (We ate sweet corn and
water for a couple of days before realizing this was a medical
mistake!) We purchased our heating fuel from a church that
overcharged us for that fuel while we shivered in a drafty parsonage
that lacked insulation. When we left the church, I had to settle a
debt with the church for fuel we had used trying to keep our babies
warm in the frigid Midwest
to chisel plow in the spring and to chase sheep and inoculate cattle
and all sorts of wonderful pastoral skills in my journey of the past
thirty-four years. (I've done these things and more, then had
somebody on Sunday morning say to me, "pastor, if you had to
really work for a living, you'd understand what we're going
through . . . "
through long nights, cleaning offices and department stores while my
wife worked a day job so we could pay for a car that our
congregation felt was “appropriate” for their pastor to be seen in
and so we could put food on the table and pay for hospital charges
for delivering our babies since we couldn’t afford medical
insurance. And I could go on, but the stories are boring and the
things we learned through those years serve us well today. We are
the better for those times, and we’re far from angry because of
We do know
something of what it is to “sacrifice” for the honor of serving
God’s people. And before you yell at me with the accusation, “See!
You were out of God’s will or you wouldn’t have had to suffer!” let
me point you to Hebrews 11. Some other folks suffered IN the will of
God before us and in greater dimensions than we know anything about.
I’ve also had
the privilege of being known as “The Senior Pastor” of a modern-day
“Mega-Church.” My income was commensurate to the position, and long
gone were the days of struggling to pay the phone bill and the light
bill and to keep the water flowing.
Amazingly, we’ve learned
both how to be abased and to abound. “Everywhere and in all things I
have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to
But I’m not a
pastor today. I no longer wonder or worry about a paycheck from the
church: I have no paycheck at all! Yet my “heavenly Father” feeds my
family and in the moment I have need, God provides.
And I’m not
comfortable with the current expression of “pastor” in the church
any longer. (Actually, I don’t ever recall being “comfortable” with
doctoral work I focused my attention on the role of the pastor in
the local church. I conducted a cross-cultural examination of the
modern, evangelical pastoral role, using research in various world
regions, including Europe,
Southeast and Southwest Asia, the Middle East, Latin and South
America, the Pacific and North America. In examining these eight
world regions, I discovered that much of what we consider to be
“pastoral” roles and duties is actually the product of our particular
culture and not the result of a biblical mandate. In about 1993 I
began to vigorously pursue a more biblical understanding of the
position or gifting of “pastor.”
minister mainly to people who have for one reason or another (and
there are many) left the “organized” “institutional” church. I know
hundreds, perhaps thousands of “out of church” Christians; I am in
touch with folks from South Africa to New Zealand and Australia;
from Indonesia and Malaysia to Thailand and Germany and England and
Ireland and the South Pacific; from South America to North America
and beyond - people who love Jesus with all their hearts, but who do
not attend organized church services.
Some of these
people aren’t injured at all. They just sensed the Spirit’s leading
to walk away from organized church one day and haven’t heard Him
instruct them to return.
been offended, injured, hurt, abused, controlled, devalued by a
heartless “system” of church. Many of these have been given
beautiful talents – gifts – that have been unrecognized and unused
by the “ruling elite” in the church.
Some of these
people brought the injuries on themselves – but they are all people for
whom Jesus died, and I, for one will not abandon even one of these,
regardless of who is to blame for their pain and suffering. I’m
sorry, if you don’t like the fact that I will run to the aid of
someone who is to blame for their own hurt, you’ll have to take the
matter up with God. In fact, while you’re at it, why don’t you ask
Him what He thinks of broken-hearted people who caused their own
pain? (I’ll help you – we ALL cause some of our own pain, and He
keeps loving us, reaching to us, embracing us, welcoming us even
running to us to bring us back into His arms of love).
I also spend a
good deal of time with often-frustrated pastors who are seeking with
all their hearts to hear God and to obey Him implicitly.
I guess I’m a
bit like a bridge – made to be driven over. I seldom notice the
Narrows Bridge that connects the Kitsap Peninsula of Washington
State with the main body of the continent. I cross that bridge every
week that I’m home. Yet when I am approaching the bridge, my only
thoughts concern the amount of traffic trying to get across. I don’t
ever recall pausing to look at the bridge or to even be consciously
thankful the bridge is there. It’s just a means of getting me over
the gulf of Puget Sound and onto dry ground on the other side.
And I think
I’m a bit like that bridge – which suits me just fine.
Years ago, a
guy named Jeff Lucas was visiting us from England. He had carried an
almost silly-looking, wooden staff with him across the Atlantic. He
told me of his embarrassment when flight attendants asked him what
the staff was for, was he Moses or some biblical character come
alive again? Yet Jeff felt the Lord had instructed him to bring the
staff with him on his flight.
during a time of prayer at the altar of our church, Jeff suddenly
grabbed his staff, reached out over several people and laid the
thing on my shoulders, one after the other. At the same time he
began to prophesy, “You are a bridge! Don’t ever forget this moment.
God has called you, prepared you, ordained you to become a bridge!”
understand his words that night any more than Jeff did. We talked
about it, wondering what the words meant.
and one day I found myself sitting in the home of a pastor as he
told me with much pain about several people who had been faithful
members of his church who had suddenly disappeared. He had tried to
make contact with them, but to no avail.
Later, I went
to the home of one family we had discussed. I spent several hours
with them, listening to their hurts, their questions, their hearts
broken open before me bringing tears to my eyes.
As I left the
family’s home, the memory of Jeff Lucas and his staff pierced my
mind, and I began to understand the “bridge” the Holy Spirit was
talking about through Jeff.
Collins I can say “I’ve looked at life from both sides now . . . “ I
can see from the perspective of the often-frustrated pastor and from
the view of the often frustrated believer.
And I agree with
I understand the “old” and the “new.” I relate with the hearts of
the “in” and the “out,” of “leadership” and of “followership.”
difficulties I encounter with “pastors” of the “institution” is a
fear of those who have left church. There’s also a sense of fear
among leaders to examine alternatives to the current structural
church - the biggest fear is probably of the potential loss of a
paycheck, which must be countered by the admonition of scripture to
live by faith, to trust in God and to remember that His word
declares that “a man’s gift will make a way for him.”
pastors (who may or may not be experiencing a “leak” in the hold of
church attendance and membership) will question why we would want to do
anything different than what we’ve always done. But the old adage
“We’ve always done it this way” doesn’t cut it in a world that’s
been rearranged by modern realities – fractured homes, a transient
society, changing morays, fatherless children, time constraints and
the need for rock-solid, real and valuable relationships.
tired of going to church, Sunday after Sunday only to “stare at the
back of somebody’s head” for two hours, then go home feeling “I’ve
done my religious duty.” Increasingly, people don't have time to
give to a church that produces a shoddy representation of Jesus and
a thin veil of spirituality.
weary of potlucks, church socials and most of all, exhausting
programs that do little to win hearts to Jesus or to bring healing
tired of preaching sermons, Sunday after Sunday, feeling somehow
that a bunch of spiritually-starved people have wandered into the
feeding trough of the church with knife and fork in hand demanding,
“Feed me! Feed me!” when they should have been "feeding" themselves
all week long without the luxury of a ready-made, professionally
designed spiritual diet.
weary of spending hours upon hours placating grumpy church members
by sitting with them in their homes, listening to their complaints
about other church members or other pastors and drinking weak coffee
and eating fattening pastries while their cities around them are
dying for a witness of the life of Jesus.
I know, I’m
being extreme – it’s my nature – you don’t have to like it, but if
you want to read this, you’ll just have to endure my extremity.
In the words
of my Northern Irish family, “Aye, laddy, we’ve got ourselves in a
wee sit-ee-ation here!”
Next: THE CURE, or "Water, Water Everywhere, But Not a Drop to