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Should the Church Be Led by Scholars and Teachers? by Donald Miller

September 29, 2011

I think it’s a good question. It’s one Donald Miller (writer of Blue Like Jazz) has asked over at Catalyst’s resource page.

The question assumes that the church today is led by scholars and teachers. So the first question then is, is that true?

Well, it certainly appears that way.

Many of the most influential Christian leaders in the world today are pastor/teachers and/or scholars. They lead larger churches, have resource heavy websites, create podcasts, lead and speak at multiple conferences, are a part of leadership networks, host seminars and workshops, do video Q&As, write a personal blog with a large following, stay busy in social networking (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and oh yeah, write a bunch of books (like 1 a season it seems).

Like Donald Miller says, our churches are shaped by who leads them. And how our churches are being shaped in turn shapes how we do mission, approach the world and culture and therefore how we spend our time. It also therefore shapes what atmosphere our churches create and therefore what types of people we attract, keep and repel. And how we grow them and what we aim them towards.

Having a church led by scholars/teachers can create an atmosphere like a classroom which can tend towards more theory, book knowledge, study and inreach. But I think Jesus was wanting a more Ephesians 4 approach to the church in that it would be led by men and women who were gifted to lead (apostles, prophets, teachers, evangelists, pastors) and equip the saints for ministry. And a Great Commission approach, one that says it’s about accomplishing the mission; which requires real, raw action not simple theory.

I don’t believe Miller is pitting theory (or in this case doctrine, theology, teaching) against practical action (or obedience, faithfulness). I think Miller is only making the case that the church today is often one-sided in its leadership structure which dictates the atmosphere, people and mission of the church. And that atmosphere tends towards an academic, schooling aproach to ministry instead of naked pragmatism. Just doing the mission, not merely talking about it.

Like I heard someone say one time, “God is not merely a topic to be casually debated on in a local coffee shop, but a supreme person to be adored and worshiped and loved and expressed!”

Even as a confessing reformed, charismatic and missional Christian (yes it exists and I hate titles, just making a point for now), I grow weary of conferences, events, networks, initiatives, coalitions, webinars, events, training, workshops, movements, etc. Not because they are ill-motivated or ill-intentioned at all. I whole-heartedly believe that the men who launch and create these love God, love the church, love the mission and love the lost.

But do you ever stop and think how much money, time, resources, management, promotion is put into these events? For what end? Sure, I’ve gained much from many conferences, seminars and retreats. Yes. But if any of these attendees are like me, these Christian getaways are good at content but not at creating a context for it or effectively managing the application of it.

What does this have to do with the church being led by scholars and teachers? Well, scholars and teachers typically perform best in a teaching context; a platform for discussion of ideas. Good, we need that, always. But where are the people who meet simply to worship, encourage one another, pray and then go back out on mission together.

Not trying to bash on conferences, the importance of doctrine and theology, the gift of teaching or the need for a focused environment to learn and grow in. God created those for a reason, for the mission. But the American church culture today, no denomination excluded, is too heavily dependent on a teacher/student context to accomplish the mission. I would argue that the best equipping for ministry is not primarily done in a large, classroom setting but in a small group or local church setting. You know, raw, real naked ministry. On the streets in the hood. The hard but simple stuff. The mundane. The details. The ugly and the dangerous and the risky and the informal and the uncomfortable and the dirty. Not the dressy, formal, safe, pretty, organized, comfortable and clean way.

Disciple-making, being the church and accomplishing the mission are not about creating and training more scholars and teachers; but more Christ-followers. More disciple-making disciples.

And the mission is not accomplished through that larger classroom context but in a smaller local gathering of sent ones where a community loves the word, loves the Spirit, worships Jesus, is on mission as a community, making disciples and practicing the gifts for the sake of the mission.

I say we trade the classroom for the home (or wherever for church gatherings) and the street. Being a community on mission together. I bet Christians would be much more productive, fruitful, hopeful and happy in their daily walk with God.


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