Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Where everybody (or at least the pastor) knows your name

Lately, Carl Trueman has been beating the drum pretty hard against the megachurch celebrity pastor syndrome that has become ubiquitous -- even in circles that claim the name Reformed. More specifically, he argues, this approach to ministry isn't consistent with Reformation principles. Since CT is by all accounts a superb historian of the Reformation period I think his warnings are worth considering. He writes as a scholar and a concerned churchman. Here are the concluding paragraphs from his recent article: "Is the Reformation nearly over? Perhaps, but maybe not for the reason you think".

The problem with the way 'Reformed' is often used today is that it divorces certain things (typically the five, or more often, four points of Calvinism) from the overall Reformation vision of pastoral care, church worship, Christian nurture and all-round approach to ministry. The Bible becomes sufficient for the doctrines of grace; but what works, what pulls in the punters, becomes the criterion for everything else, especially ecclesiology and pastoral practice.

I have noted before how grateful I am that my sons grew up in churches where the pastor knew their names, chatted to them after the service and even stood on the occasional touchline or track to cheer them on at school sports events. If they ever abandon the faith, it will not be because they never knew the pastor cared for them as individuals, rather than just as mere concepts or numbers or pixels on a two way videolink. I am also grateful that my pastors really cared about my wife and me, prayed for us regularly by name and, I am sure, even occasionally shaped parts of their sermons to give a word of needed encouragement and to help us with trials through which they knew we were going. These pastors were not perfect -- far from it; but they were at least actually there, really available and genuinely concerned. In short, they tried to embody true Reformation -- biblical! -- church leadership.

The Reformation was about more than a doctrinal insight into justification; it was also about abolishing the fetishisation of certain great figures as if they possessed some special magic and about instituting an ideal of educated, personal, local ministry. Maybe the Reformation is nearly over; and maybe it is not Benedictine Catholicism but actually the new reformation, with its multi-sites and its virtual pastors, that is finishing it off. That is quite a sobering and ironic thought.

I've been deeply impacted by the ministry of some of the big-name pastors that lurk between the lines of Trueman's critique. But, when looking for a community of faith to call home the Reformation ideal of "educated, personal, local ministry" is for me a sine qua non. And the kind of church described is the kind I want my sons to grow up in, even if that means sacrificing whiz-bang programming or the cachet of attending an "exciting" church. I'll take faithfulness over flash.

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