“Real Pastors” and “Real Christians”

Please allow me to take a moment for a personal theological/missiological rant:

Mike and I were talking this morning about how people from traditional Christendom style churches have trouble understanding the concept of church-planting.  He told me that sometimes people ask him when he’ll be a “real pastor”.  My response: “Maybe you should ask them when they’ll be ‘real Christians’.  Then you can explain to them why all Christians are called to service, to witness, to mission.  Ask them ‘Were you baptized for nothing?’ The answer would probably be ‘Yes.'” 

Yes, my judgment is harsh and exaggerated.  I speak in hyperbole.  In truth, anyone who believes Jesus is Lord is a Christian.  But we ceased long ago to believe that the Lordship of Jesus requires all who name Him as Lord to speak and act in His name, regardless of whether we’re employed by a church.  Mission is something that every Christian is called to.  But congregations would rather outsource that work to their pastor.  That’s cowardice.

We’ve been reading Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics IV.3.2 together with some other friends.  In the first few sections of this volume, Barth labors at length to make the points that (1) Christians are not “saved” for their own sake only, as though Jesus someone exists only to satisfy their consumeristic desires.  Instead  (2) all who have been “awakened” and “called” to follow Jesus are called to do so as witnesses for Him.  Witnesses bear witness to who Jesus is, what Jesus did, what He cares about in the world today.  Witnesses bear witness to the Kingdom of God by proclaiming that Jesus is Lord and by working to bring the justice and peace of His Kingdom into the world.   By this definition, very few of  our society’s nominal baptized-as-a-baby-because-the-parents-thought-it-was-magic cultural “Christians” are actually “real Christians.”

And yes, baptism matters in this discussion.  I have no theological qualms with infant baptism.  I’m a Presbyterian – a good old Reformed paedo-baptist.  I wouldn’t even say I have missiological qualms with infant baptism.  What I have a problem with is the assumption that anyonecan be baptized without (a.) clear commitment to Jesus (as for an adult baptism) or (b.) a clear understanding that one will be raised in a way that points to Jesus as Lord (as families and congregations covenant to do together in raising a baptized child in the church).  When we promiscuously baptize anyone out of social ritual rather than commitment to the mission of Christ, we perpetuate the notion that following Jesus means nothing more than enjoying the fact that one’s been “saved”, if one even believes that.  Instead baptism should be practiced in a way that clearly communicates a call to be born anew to Christ’s mission of redeeming the world.

Last night, while working at the cafe, a customer asked me how many people attend my church.  There are about 20 people who are in some way connected with Upper Room right now.  When I told her this, she responded, “Oh that’s too bad.  I’m sorry.”  Sorry? Why?  Because the cultural assumption is that churches neither start from scratch, nor grow – they just exist as institutions and buildings where people participate in their civil religion without it challenging the social order or upsetting the principalities and powers that be, much less proclaiming any good news that results in transformed lives and increased faith. 

No, I’m not saying every Christian is called to be a full-time church employee, pastor, or missionary.  That would be preposterous.  But I am saying that every person called to follow Jesus, every person sealed with baptism in His name, is called to be a living witness to Jesus in the world.  Doctor, social worker, teacher, engineer, secretary, parent, student, government worker, landscaper, fast-food server, barista, garbage man, businessman, accountant, lawyer, nurse  – in whatever sphere of influence one inhabits, that person is called to bear witness to Jesus.  Maybe it means doing your work in a way that reflects the beauty of creation, the justice God desires for the world, or the use and stewardship of Creation’s resources. It definitely means not being afraid to speak the name of Jesus when people ask why you do what you do the way you do. 

Maybe if we had this mindset, and connected it directly to our fundamental identity as Christians, the idea of mission would be less strange to cultural Christians.  Then not only pastors of large corporation-model congregations would be considered “real pastors”.  Instead we might actually practice a form of the priesthood of all believers.  Except, I might term it the “missionary society of all believers” among whom some are designated as pastors for the specific task of guiding the mission and ensuring its faithfulness through Word and Sacrament.

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2 comments
  1. Jimmy said:

    Good stuff Chris! I couldn’t agree more. I think people fail to follow through because we as Americans are obsessed with convenience – if it’s not easy or straight forward, generally speaking we shy away from it. And let’s face it, being a witness is not convenient, it’s quite the opposite. It’s life changing. I remember in CS Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, Wormwood is instructed to keep his target human “comfortable” because as long as we’re comfortable we’re not growing in Christ and we’re less likely to share our faith.

  2. Dan Thayer said:

    Rant on! This is great stuff. Every Christian is called to be a full-time witness to Christ. What I wonder is, how can pastors communicate this? A couple of thoughts:
    1) Lead by example, witnessing to Christ in every area of our lives, not just when doing professional church work.
    2) Make sure that we don’t present a watered-down, simplified, easy Gospel but a Gospel that is worth devoting your entire life to.

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