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Is Church about the Superstar Pastor? | What America can learn from the European Church | Part 5

[This is the fifth post of a 6-post series titled "Letters to America," written by Paul Maconochie, the pastor at St Thomas Philadelphia. Paul was the pastor who followed me at Philadelphia and now, 8 years later, it is one of fastest growing churches in Europe, doing some incredibly imaginative things in a truly post-Christian context. I hope you enjoy the series, and if you'd like to read a little on the history of St Thomas, check out this blog post on how I chose Movement over Mega.]

When Mike Breen led our church in Sheffield, UK, he introduced a number of important concepts to us.  We began to grasp that we’re all missionaries, even if we’re living in our home city. We learnt the importance of raising up people into positions of leadership so that our groups could grow and multiply. And we took hold of living  an ‘extended family’ lifestyle, living life-on-life with each other and finding ‘people of peace’ (Luke 10) to disciple. During the 1990′s we saw substantial growth as a result, becoming one of the largest churches in the UK.

I became the Senior Pastor of St.Thomas’ Church in 2004 and during the next three years almost the entire senior team left and we saw almost no growth at all.

Can you imagine how that felt?

It was pretty grim to be honest. By the fall of 2006 I was in hospital with a serious back problem and I was feeling stressed (to say the least).

There were two things I needed to learn.

The first was that I am not Mike, and I needed to stop trying to be him. Mike had already told me this many times, but I began to really understand what this meant. I’m an introverted prophetic leader, always asking the question ‘What is God saying to us?’ My personality, my way of interacting with God and with the team was very different to Mike. But I was trying to be an extroverted, apostolic leader (who asks the question “How do we build a movement?) And it just wasn’t working.

The second thing was that our new generation of Missional Community Leaders needed to stop trying to be the first generation. Our early Missional Communities had grown under the leadership of some very gifted people who had made leading 40-50 people in their spare time look easy. Most of these early leaders are now successful church or business leaders themselves; visionary pioneer types who quickly latched on to the ideas Mike was preaching and made them work. But a lot of the new generation of leaders were, necessarily, every day folks who had been raised up within the communities and had stepped up into leadership positions. Many of them were pastors or teachers who loved to look after people but found it hard to be really intentional or strategic.

As I came out of hospital and started to engage with leading the church again, the phrase we started to use was ‘no longer one size fits all‘. We started to ask the question ‘This is my call, what is yours?‘ We also reduced the average size of our Communities down to around 30 adults instead of 40-50, which meant they had to multiply more often.

Of course, Missional Communities never were ‘one size fits all’, but we needed to release people from the concepts they had in their heads of what a Missional Community ‘should’ be. The fundamental questions we wanted the leaders to ask, and to answer, were

  1. What is God saying to us?
  2. Who is He calling us to reach?
  3. How is He calling us to live as a community?

Once people could start to answer those questions, then we could hold them accountable that they actually did what God was calling them to do. We could train them and help them to be effective in their community life and their missionary endeavors.

Groups started to blossom everywhere.  Missional Communities reaching out to suburban neighborhoods, urban housing projects, outward-bound activity groups, soccer teams, university students. Others focused on supporting each other in the work place or in businesses, or reaching out through their teenage children or their elderly relatives in nursing homes. Over the next five years we quadrupled in size in Missional Communities. So far this momentum has continued; we grew by as much this year all over again.

When I look at the church in the USA I see many examples of huge congregations that have gathered around the amazingly gifted teaching of ‘superstar’ Pastors. The numbers of people who gather are impressive, but I cannot help asking the questions:

  • Are the people taking hold of a vision from God and living to bring it into being? Are they being released and equipped enough to be able to do this?

  • Are the leadership teams of churches effectively holding the people accountable to the vision God has given them and helping them to fulfil it? Or are they just asking them to listen to teaching, help with programmes and pay their tithes?

However we do it, I believe that building a culture of low control (what is God saying to you?) and high accountability (what are you going to do about it?) is essential if the Church is to become all that she has been designed to be and if we as Christians are to begin to look like Jesus Christ.

Paul, along with Rich Robinson, are spearheading much of the 3DM efforts in the UK. To check out their blog, click here.

 

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