Ahem, Your Ecclesiology Is Showing
During my years at Leadership Journal, I interviewed pastors whose gifts brought them constant invitations to speak at conferences. In my observation, the people who could handle this acclaim yet keep their pride subdued and family relationships intact held one thing in common: they surrendered their right to decide whether to accept a speaking invitation. Instead, each invitation was accepted or declined by a small group, which intentionally excluded the pastor. The group usually included the pastor's wife, and a close elder from the church, and a longtime friend who knew the pastor before notoriety struck. Not surprisingly, such groups accepted far fewer invitations than the pastor would have. Sometimes, shockingly, the group would send the famous pastor to a struggling church of 23 people who couldn't afford to pay a cent: the usual speaking fee would have taken half the church's yearly budget.
As much as I admire this death to self, this inspiring corporate-mindedness, I chafe when it becomes my turn. When I left publishing to pastor full-time, sugarplum dreams of preaching and praying filled my mind. Three months after I arrived at the church, though, our congregation, which had been renting facilities for nearly 20 years, did the improbable: it won an auction for a deserted plastics factory. Suddenly, the church needed someone to manage the renovation process, to immerse himself in parking substrates and asbestos removal and sprinkler heads. Without any casting of lots, as the apostles did, I was chosen. I've learned again that my gifts are not my own. They belong to the people around me.
We all laud the church, but to truly love her, to put her needs above my own, requires accepting pain, usually more than I want to accept.
Signs our ecclesiology is growing
Since I started this article more negative than is my bent, let me turn to the positive: What signs would indicate that our ecclesiology is growing more robust, that our love for the whole is increasing? I'll mention three.
1. With God's help, our paradigm of the church as "a collection of individuals" begins to shift. The late Michael Ramsey challenges me: "It is never true to say that separate persons are united to Christ, and then combine to form the Church"—which, actually, is precisely what I thought. Ramsey says the truth is just the reverse: "… for to believe in Christ is to believe in One whose Body is a part of Himself and whose people are His own humanity, and to be joined to Christ is to be joined to Christ-in-His-Body."
We'll know our paradigm is shifting as our language for the church becomes more biblical. For example, the phrase "a personal relationship with Jesus" holds rich meaning, but we might ask why the inspired Bible writers never use it. As best I can tell, it's because their view of the parts is superseded by the whole: "… for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28) and "we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body" (1 Cor. 12:13). We will know our view of the church is clearly apostolic when we start to sound like the apostolic father Cyprian, who said, "He cannot have God for his Father who does not have the Church for his Mother."