I am not sure why I love spending time with pastors. I do know that our Father loves pastors, their wives and children. With around 3500 churches in the USA closing annually one cannot but feel the pain of those who have labored long and hard yet these churches no longer exist. There is so much pain in the hearts of wives, over 80% of whom wished their husbands were in another line of work. Conferences do not provide the answers for their journey. These events [and they are legitimate] certainly inspire, equip and enthuse, but do not offer the apostolic moments that scripture speaks of. These precious people are so important to Jesus. He loves them deeply, cares for them endlessly and empowers them daily. Yet they need to know that there is 'flesh and blood' who will do life with them.
When I look at the texts, I see apostles showing deep affection for the churches that they worked with. Paul said "I carry daily the burden of all the churches". He prays for them deeply, personally and intimately. He longs to get to them. He does not only write long theological treatise. Rather, he writes to specific churches about specific matters yet keeps the personal and fatherly role ingoing and clear.
I am saddened by what poor alternatives these pastors are often offered. Instead of this personal partnership, friendship and applause, the modern church offers:
1. Denominations that invariably priorities the tradition of the system before the support of the individual pastors,
2. Networks that are often driven more by a form of ecclesiological expansionism, than care for the individual leader,
3. Generic teams that provide a general leadership essence, but loses the intentional, personal apostolic partnership that scripture speaks of,
4. Independence is seen as the only alternative because of the perception that this is what works best.
May I suggest a few biblical reminders:
1. Apostles and prophets lay foundations [Eph 2:20] not presidents, coaches, mentors or team leaders... why is this such a challenging truth to embrace?
2. Every church in the New Testament had at least one apostle involved with them [as in Colossae] while others, like Corinth, had several,
3. Paul was a father to the church at Corinth, yet he spoke with equal apostolic confidence to the Colossian community, yet he had never visited with them, but was invited to journey with them,
4. There was no territorialism. Paul fought the notion of "us and them". He would not allow the churches to be identified with one apostle. I do not know if I have to let my naivette die, but I still long for the reality of relationships to be evident but the trauma of sectarianism to be avoided at all costs.
5. Apostles are not the top of the pile! They are not the CEO of the church world. They are not the mafia family heads and are certainly not the creators of new monolythic protestant papal structures. Paul said they were the scum of the earth, pioneers [first of all], eunuchs to the bride. If we were to use a modern business metaphor, it may well be that they are consultants to the churches - where the local elders are the highest human authority, always remaining autonomous yet desiring interdependence and belonging.
If an apostle is to be a 'father in the house' could these be the implications?
1. He accepts the full privilege and responsibility for the 'children / churches' who come from his loins - they are not numbers on a denom list...
2. He is open to adopting orphan 'children' whom the Father may send his way - churches without clear spiritual family and roots...
3. He knows that he is not called to build a corporation or an extensive organization with corporate structures and mid-management, but a family,
4. His focus is to prepare his 'children / churches' to leave home not to create a life time of dependence,
5. His tasks include to bring the 'children / churches' to maturity by equipping them for the journey with doctrine, direction, discipline, biblical design, remembering the delights of the journey,
6. He invests more time when the 'children / churches' are younger - the role changes as the church gets more mature and he is needed less,
7. He fashions his 'children' both one on one as in the date with Dad, as well as the dining room table moments, whilst remembering how the children imitate his faith and life's decisions-they do life together,
8. He does impart a family DNA but celebrates that, when they leave home, they draw from the best he gave them, adding their own flavor to their story,
9. Ongoing relationship is never demanded but certainly longed for. A healthy family is not seen by gatherings through manipulation but togetherness by desire.
10. A healthy father does not impose his dreams on his children. Rather, he progressively finds more joy in partnering with the 'children' on their journey, rather than what he has achieved.
11. Healthy families are not insular, isolated, myopic. They collaborate with others both in joy as in sorrow. They benefit from the perspectives of others, often marrying into new family lines - thus the kingdom advances through the many and the elitism of the few is avoided at all costs...
12. Parenting ideally is done in plurality... we journey with other apo friends seeking opportunities to collaborate.
OK some closing thoughts: While I was in Australia recently, I was asked if there was room for churches and leaders to belong to a broader brotherhood and a bigger story. I believe that with all my heart. If we can resist the tendency to drift toward denominationalism and hold loosely to a brotherhood, if we can prevent conformity but celebrate unity, if we hold out against sameness and applaud unique diversity, if we will denounce territorialism but love the real, authentic, God relationships then I think we can do it - enjoying a brotherhood but loving the space that this God journey brings
I trust some of these thoughts help...