When I was a zealous, recently-converted evangelical Christian, I threw myself into the conventional process of trying to discern God’s will for my life. Call it what you will: vocation, calling, career—what should I do with my life that honours God? A tumultuous process (which I will spare you the details of) led me to the surprising conclusion that I had a pastoral calling on my life.
This did not mean that “pastor” was going to be a job title for me. Even then I believed that the pastor-as-career model was bizarre and confusing, and that the “tentmaker” bi-vocational approach of St. Paul was the path to be on. This type of ecclesiological experimentation is certainly welcome within the Vineyard family of churches that I find my home in. Indeed, stories of bold individuals who set out to do something different and wound up with a church around them are not only abundant in the Vineyard, they are foundational. I always assumed that I would follow a similar trajectory.
That assumption led to a lot of unrecognized frustration and guilt, because it just wasn’t happening. Not only could I not discern the first step, the thought of trying to discern the first step was unpalatable. I didn’t want a plan, and I definitely didn’t want to go around casting a vision and trying to get people caught up in it. It all felt so patently alien to me, but I had no language to name it.
But recently I had an epiphany that helped make sense of this part of my journey. I was feeling the old familiar pangs of guilt and inadequacy as I looked at leaders I respected who were so much further along in their ministry (whatever that means) by the time they reached my age. I saw that, in the context of much evangelical Christianity, the move into pastoral ministry is analogous to an entrepreneur: a do-it-yourself, self-motivated, trailblazing individual who has charisma, clarity of vision, and the ability to gather followers.
This realization was immediately and incredibly freeing, because I know that not only am I not a charismatic entrepreneurial-type, this meant that the implicit “career path” of my ecclesiology was broken because it was based on personality traits. This doesn’t mean that I’m recommending the “normal” path of seminary either—that model is just as broken, but for different reasons.
Instead, I have come to realize that what our churches desperately need is an apprenticeship-based training within the context of the life and work of local churches to help shape and form leaders. I believe that we are robbing our churches of some of our best leaders by failing to do so: leaders who are unwilling or unable to go to seminary or who are simply gifted in ways other than personal charisma.
I have a hope for a church that doesn’t model its leadership after that of the business world, in either the mode of the CEO or entrepreneur. I have hope for a church where leadership is shared, rather than held tightly by a “man at the top.” I have a hope for a church that doesn’t fall prey to the accreditation trap of disembodied, non-contextual learning that our non-relational world holds as normal. I have hope for a church where leadership is looked at differently, where it is nurtured and grown in ways that are different, beautiful and unexpected.