Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Pastorates manuscript #8

Pastorates do many things better than traditional congregations.
Not only are pastorates better at doing many things than traditional small groups, they are also better for many things than the traditional congregation.  Much of what the church does happens best in pastorates rather than in the larger congregation.

Pastorates excel at pastoral care.
One of the greatest things about pastorates is the level of care they can provide both for their participants and for others.  Several of our pastorates have walked with a member of their group through significant illnesses, and some have experienced the death of one or more of their members.  

In a congregation, a pastor often strives to provide significant spiritual care during this kind of crisis, but a single visit, or even two or three, is usually the best the pastor can provide.  

In contrast, pastorates have often set up around-the-clock care for a person in need.  They fill each other’s freezers with meals during a hospitalization.  They have done fundraisers to help cover medical costs.  They become an extended family at a time of death, walking through grief with a new widow, for example, in ways beyond what one ordained pastor can provide.  Recently one of our pastorates walked through lung cancer and death with a member.  A few weeks before Adeline’s death, she and her husband Hartley celebrated their 68th wedding anniversary.  She was not able to move out of her home, but the pastorate hosted a wonderful anniversary party for the two of them.  Pastorate members greeted guests at the door, provided refreshments, and made sure every guest understood Adeline’s limitations.  A few weeks later the entire pastorate attended Adeline’s funeral along with hundreds of other people.  That evening was the regular pastorate meeting.  Even though he was exhausted at the end of a very long day filled with grief, Hartley was there and the pastorate suspended their regular plans as Hartley shared story after story of his 68 years of life with Adeline.  The pastorate continues to walk with him through his grief, and he recognizes how important the pastorate is in his life.  

Pastorates excel at getting God’s Word into people.

The trouble with so many of the ways we do church is, as we’ve examined, that people are so often passive.  Any teacher will tell you that the more active a learner is in the process of learning, the better the material will be absorbed and applied.  And that is exactly the key -- not only absorption, but application.  

In a pastorate, there are usually two or three people involved in directly teaching and proclaiming the Word of God.  This means that you have two or three people digging deep into scripture as they prepare.  If they are properly coached and encouraged, this act of preparing to teach can be fertile ground for the Holy Spirit to work in these teachers to deepen their knowledge of scripture and their ability to apply it.  

Participants in the pastorate not only hear and discuss God’s Word.  Traditional small groups also do this.  But the pastorate is actively seeking ways to apply that Word immediately.  Pastorates are actively inviting others in, and they are seeking ways to do the mission work of the gospel in the world through serving in some hands-on way.  This means that the Word that is heard in the pastorate is applied, and this means that the Word has greater opportunity to transform the lives of individuals and to transform the collective life of the community.

Pastorates excel at discipleship.

Mike Breen, who has worked with pastorate-sized groups for many years, points out that the basic problem with institutional Christianity is that its structure imitates the structure of social life that dominated the Middle Ages, a system known as feudalism.  In many of our churches, a “lord” (the ordained pastor) and a few “nobles” (the staff, perhaps, or a church council or board of elders) have nearly total control over a large group of people who are responsible to do the work of the “serfs” (the members of the congregation).  In return for their work, the “serfs” have a claim on the “lord” to feed them and protect them.  Breen points out that this goes a long way to explain the conversation that happens in so many church parking lots after worship on Sundays.  “I’m just not getting fed at this church” is a comment and criticism heard far too often after worship.  This attitude and assumption about what’s supposed to happen in worship sets us up with a faulty paradigm for what the church is about.  

Breen goes on to say that Jesus rarely fed the masses.  Instead what he did is he invited people in (“Come, follow me”) and then challenged them (“You give them something to eat”).  This invitation and challenge is the basic framework for discipleship.

Pastorates are full of invitation and challenge.  We invite people in to attend, participate, eat, enjoy.  About the time people really start to appreciate the fellowship of the pastorate we challenge them to serve beyond themselves.  Individual pastorate members may be challenged to share their testimony, to provide teaching, or any of a number of other leadership functions.  Anyone who has been around Christianity for any length of time -- and many who are brand new to it -- recognize that this is what it’s all about.  We are putting into action what has only been theoretical for too long.

One of the keys to the success of the pastorate model is that pastorates are expected to live out the gospel.  Pastorates are expected to make disciples.  And they do.  The most effective disciple-making churches are those that structure themselves at all three levels of the church -- celebration, congregation, and cell -- capitalizing on the strengths found at each level of Christian community.

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