Most of us wince when someone speaks the words "politically correct". While they are without doubt significant markers of these times it still rankles many people, especially more conservative Americans, believers at the front of the line. If Jefferson's phrase "separation of church and state" is to be the norm, let's be sure it's applied evenly. Which means keeping the state, at every level, out of church. OK, end of rant. .
For the most part we're not as alert to the cultural influences that are squeezing the contemporary church into smaller societal molds. Three are on my heart this week and will be the central topics of blog posts today, Wednesday, and Friday. They are, to be more precise---
1. Leadership: The Coach Morph
2. Church: The Team Morph
3. Mission: The Playbook Morph
First, some author's notes. These aren't the ramblings of an angry traditionalist motivated by emotional triggers because someone stole my church. It is true, I'm a baby boomer who never left the church. But, even in the Medicare line I prefer modern, very contemporary worship; strong biblical teaching that tells me what, so what, and now what; relational disciple making; mission that connects through the digital world; the covenant connection of every believer to the mission of Christ; observance of all that Jesus commanded and other distinctives more descriptive of the younger set. Understand up front that I'm not sour on change. Let's just stay biblical if you please.
Still, what I call cultural correctness is troubling. One of the primary examples is our current infatuation with coaching as a predominant role model for spiritual leaders, pastors included As a bank officer and hospital financial executive in my previous life I know the value each mentoring system that has shaped leadership over the past generation. Following the trend lines we've been CEOs, COOs, commanders, ruling elders, chaplains, door mats, motivators, silent partners, hired help, and so many others. Generally my objections to the cultural morphing to the office of pastor, the image of the church, or church mission isn't that someone has dared to modernize them. Get real. Change happens. My heartburn over these particular changes is that they typically portray the offices, nature, and mission of the church in more humanly conceived and achieved ways. We've imported secular images to what really should be supernatural functions. Maybe that's one of the reasons the American church seems to be so impotent these days.
As a pastor for thirty-five years I wore many hats when serving four churches and a period at the South Carolina Baptist Convention. If you're a pastor, serve on the church staff, are a congregational leader, or a church member you know what I mean. There were times when every minister on staff served as chaplains, commanders, counselors, decision makers, problem solvers, the complaint department, mission coordinator, janitor, fund raiser, cemetery manager, and, yes, even coach. They were all temporary transitions defined by the needs of the moment, you know, being all things to all people as church situations dictated (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
Shepherding the flock, however, was the over-riding biblical principle in every one of those circumstances. It's a significant image of a spiritual leader, one of the terms applied to Jesus, our Good Shepherd. Of course shepherding involves many functions----leading, protecting, feeding (as in John 21:16, 17, and so many others), teaching, guiding, exercising oversight, being examples, and maybe coaching on occasion. Peter wrote it clearly---
Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under
compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but
eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the
1 Peter 5:2-3, ESV
Not long ago a colleague told me he was no longer referencing the image of shepherd in his preaching and teaching. He was using more modern and up to date terms, coach among them. His reasoning seemed sound from one angle. His church was suburban ---malls, fast food, office complexes, traffic, apartments, subdivisions, congested roads, velocity, road rage, gen xers and millennials the mission field down the street. He said his people didn't understand the rural agrarian references in Scripture. So, he updated his vocabulary and used trendy language to portray the truth of Scripture. Cool. Except for the context thing. Honestly, you can't extract the agricultural elements of Bible teaching from the lessons intended when the writers were inspired to write them. They're essential to our understanding of the truth. We must embrace and teach them.
There have been some great coaches in history. But, the Bible doesn't say we should emulate them or insert their trade-mark coaching systems into Christ's church. A strong leader might do well to know them. But, our example is Jesus, the Good Shepherd (see John 10:11, 14), who lays down his life for his sheep (John 10:11), and expects us to follow in his steps (John 13:15). He doesn't change every season (Hebrews 13:8), and he knows that people always need a shepherd (Matthew 9:36).
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