STAINED GLASS WINDOWS, STONES & BUNGALOWS!
I am as they say in the old country, “A wee lad from Belfast,” but there is nothing “wee” about me! I am the first born son of a Free Presbyterian father, and a Church of Ireland mother, who were both radically converted to Christ through the witness of Elim church evangelists in the 1950’s. I grew up the son of missionary parents and church planters, first to France and then to Canada. My parents came to Canada as missionaries and eventually moved from the French mission context to the English cultural expression of church planting and pastoring in Ontario. The proto-typical church planter, both in Europe and in Canada, my dad and my mother would evangelize people, who then became key members of a new church plant. My parents had church in their homes where everything took place around a meal and fellowship, and worship and the world of God and time for prayer and shared life together. This was normative for them and for those of us who comprised the church. This was my “stained glass window” through which I saw the church and how it should be.
In 1970 my father became a passionate believer in cell groups and the youth group became the experimental model for the rest of the church. At this time my parents pastored a little church in Ontario, in a town of five thousand people. The young peoples really took to the spontaneous worship and sharing and testimonies and reading the New Testament together, and sharing Christ with others. There was some real spiritual fruit to this relational dynamic, which ended up impacting church life in other churches my father pastored in the 1970’s and the 1980’s.
In 1983 I got married and went to Bible College, as I was really on fire for God, and if you were wanting to serve God, then you went to Bible College. My wife Lori and I had one child during my time in school and by the time I graduated from Bible College in 1987, I had a $12,000 debt, and a daughter diagnosed with Leukemia. Not a pleasant prospect for the life of ministry and service.
I never fit your proto-typical model of pastor. I was considered too rebellious to the power structures and denominational structures. We had several calls to apply for pastoral positions, which I am thankful that I declined. I ended up doing much itinerant work, and pulpit supply outside the local church, but always in a supporting role to the existing institutional church structures and programs. I became a specialist in small groups training and relational dynamics. After all my dad had used cells, small groups, and life groups in his different churches, and I had developed as a leader through them as well. Combined with my military training, I found it very easy to train and equip people through small group ministry. This became more and more the focal point of much of my church work along with being an unpaid pastor of religious education.
No matter which church body we were affiliated with, I had a place in which to serve, especially since I was unpaid staff! Nothing like a dedicated and zealous worker for God, and for free to boot! You know what they say, when you have a hard working horse, you keep whipping him to get the maximum out of him. This happened to me over and over.
I was wanting to help people discover life in Christ and grow deeper in Him, but the more involved I got with the affairs of the church, the more I was kept away from the very people I wanted to help. Add to that that I was bi-vocational, and you redefine the meaning of a busy life, balancing home, work, play and church life.
I was ordained in 1994, and was on staff as an assistant pastor at a charismatic church, but within the year I had resigned and moved on due to the power and control and the political games played out between other pastors, the senior pastor and the elders board. I just saw the church becoming less like the New Testament by the day. I was also working for a Christian education ministry at the time, and this became more and more my focus.
After a failure at trying to plant a new church plant, again with a clash of egos and power and control issues, which seemed to plague attempts to plant a traditional church, even a church of small groups, I was burned out. It eventually cost me a very dear friendship, as I could not support all the dysfunction and all the agendas of people involved. I came to realize more and more that the structures and the programs are all man made attempts to do the work of God, without God’s blueprint for church life. Even where there was success, the people wanted the small groups, without wanting the big meeting on Sundays! But at the time I was clued out to what this was pointing to! Pebbles were being thrown at my stained glass window, trying to get my attention, but all it did was irritate me to no end!
In 1996 I got involved with the Vineyard movement and thought that I had arrived in Beulah land! I went to the School of Church Planters run by the Vineyard. I eventually came on staff as an assistant pastor involved in the day to day administration, and ministry to children and youth, and small groups. I really enjoyed having my ego needs met in what I was doing for God and all these people. It all seemed too good to be true, which usually means, it is too good to be true!
In 1999 I read a book on intimacy with God that ruined my life. I began to question all things pertaining to my relationship with Christ and with church and the Kingdom of God. I resigned a week later knowing that I could no longer play this church game, and be in the “box of religion” any longer. Now someone had thrown a freaking rock through my stained glass window and shattered it! This began the process of unlearning what I had known as church. I began to deconstruct what I had been taught, and then began to re-read the book of Acts and all the epistles, and what began to emerge was a clergy-less body of Christ that gathered around the One head, Christ Jesus. The only thing that distinguished me from another Christian was the giftings of God given to me by the Spirit at His discretion, so that I could do the works of the ministry. There were no class distinctions in God’s economy. Now my stained glass window was shattered, and there were breezes blowing in!
We began to gather with a group of other disenchanted Christians, and over a year, we would gather and eat meals together, pray and worship and spend time together and discover what Christ was showing us as we sought His face together. We were blessed to have Robert Fitts come and share the vision of simple church who confirmed that we were on this relational journey with Christ. It was a grand exciting journey with Jesus as the head. It is His life that flows through us as we yield to His leading and prompting. This is what the Kingdom of God is about, letting Him manifest His presence in us and through us as we engage with pre-Christians and with others, be they in our home, workplace or at play.
I retained my credentials until Decemeber 2005. I thought I needed to hang unto them for the “rites of passage” and in particular for weddings and such things. I have officiated over funerals and weddings with credentials, and one funeral without the credentials. I am convinced that they are not needed to minister effectively to people at their time of need.
You can make arrangements with local hospitals, to be allowed to visit people who are sick, and even family members can request other people to be given access to the person who is in hospital. It can be done, so we don’t need credentials for that function.
Weddings in Canada force a minister to act as a representative of the state, in this case the Queen, and her representative of the province in which you live. I have two daughters and I had always dreamed that one day I could officiate their marriages. I thought that this dream was over with due to the lack of credentials, but not so.
I can officiate at their Christian marriage. They can get a marriage license and go to a Justice of the Peace and have a seven minute civil ceremony which addresses all the legal issues of hereditary title and deed, much like in Holland and Germany, and then they can come home and have the Christian marriage with their friends and family. I still get to bless my children’s union without the undue influence of the state on the ceremony.
I can do a funeral service without any need of clergy status as it currently stands now in any jurisdiction in Canada.
So why do I need credentials? I may or may not need credentials. They can serve a useful purpose, especially in building bridges and relationship both within the wider Body of Christ and also within our culture and society. If you need them, or believe God has called you to build bridges, and walk through doors that recognize ministerial credentials, then by all means listen to God and do what He says. Like Paul, we all must become all things to all people that we might win some. Credentials do open doors and the recognition does assist us in furthering the Kingdom of God. We should however not look at the credentials from a human organization as a title to be sought after or an ego need that needs to be quenched. In all cases, credentials become a means to an end, and that end is serving God and people and seeing the Kingdom of God extended in the earth.
The most difficult transition for the clergy who want to leave the institutional setting, is in finding employment that will support their calling. This is comparatively easy compared to the detoxing from the church system, and compared to unlearning all the CEO leadership paradigm that has been “Christianized” by the institutional church. But this is all necessary. A pastor must detox and re-discover who he is in Christ, and how there are no class distinctions in the body. He must unlearn a great deal, and be open to learn new ways of relating and being the body of Christ under the headship of Christ, the leading of the Spirit and in submission to the Word of God.
I was fortunate that I was working in the insurance claims administration field when I left my leadership position in the Vineyard. But I had a lot of unlearning to do, of what it means to gather around Christ and in community. For the first while it was as if the cathedral had been moved into the bungalow! Church structures, and paradigms had to go as well as how to lead and facilitate. The unlearning is the most challenging for the pastor who really desires this change.
Then when he has unlearned and begins to learn what the body is, he will see that it is no longer “the cathedral in the bungalow” which is a natural transition, at the time painful but needed. He will then look and see that all the stained glass has been removed, and he can see through the clear glass a lot clearer now. He can see the stones too, because in a house church, people cannot hide. The stones if thrown at all, are thrown at close range. It is easier to disarm a stone thrower at close range than from a distance! It is easier to engage and dialog with people face to face and understand where they are coming from. And soon, over time, we will see less and less of the cathedral in the midst of the bungalow! We will eventually see the people of God gathered in Christ and in community, who just happen to meet in a cozy bungalow!