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Do You Trust an Author on the Church Who Leaves His/Her Church?

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Ah em … it seems that my friend Andy Rowell, in a CT article, has taken on a subject all too often swept under the rug. The title of Rowell’s article (HT Nathan Smith) is “Jim Belcher, Francis Chan, N.T. Wright, and Others Leave the Pastorate to Write and Speak.” Now I like all of these guys. I have nothing to say against them personally. Indeed, there are times when pastors (seminary professors) are carrying on ministry that surpasses the confines of the local church. My general disposition is nonetheless, to see this as a bad move.
I am frustrated by the way leadership through publishing takes one out of the local church by which our very theology and practice should be formed. I believe the theology of the future, the shape of the church to come, is better led through people engaging real life in the church and writing from it. If one’s theology does not sustain oneself in the church, why should I trust it in my own ministry/life in the church?

This goes for seminary professors, speakers at conferences, books that have pervasive influence in the church but seem to be sadly lacking in the practical in-life-concreteness that drives the questions and production of theology that should change the church. I think we should ask publishers, why should we listen to people who are detached from life in the church leadership? Again, I am sure there are occasions where this makes sense, but we should ask nonetheless.

I have thought this through a couple of times. I’ve thought about the advantages of going on the speaker tour, writing more popular books, leave the church and relax in a cabin somewhere and pump out no less than one book a year. But to me, and this is just me, it doesn’t work.

Here’s Three Reasons Why I Can’t Leave Ministry En Toto To Publish More Books

1.) There’s this weird thing that happens to you when you stand up in front of people as the expert on church (whether its missional church, missional theology or whatever). You become detached from real life, you start to take on a persona, and start telling people what you think they need to do. This to me is a waste of time. It’s a flimsy moment that vanishes with little fruit.  Many just turn off, and I find it’s impact is minimal. And yet I cannot avoid this disposition any other way than by staying grounded in a community, being humbled again and again, allowing my life and ministry to be in submission to a real life Body of Christ, being grounded in the day to day mess that is church. It enables me to go speak as one among, listening and  inviting a conversation, and providing some signposts for new directions out of my numerous experience and theological work. .

2.) My theology and writing is improved so much by my being involved in real life church with other pastors working out the issues we confront in the vast new frontiers of church and mission. My writing would become purely theoretical if I wasn’t grounded in church life. Sure I can engage with multiple stories that I hear etc… but nothing shapes the theology I write like real life issues in the church.

3.) The proof or test of what you’re writing is in the actual outworking of it in the church. If it can’t sustain you in ministry why should anyone think it can sustain them in theirs? Enough said.

It is a symbol of the sick American church culture that we make experts of people who write books. I do not wish to disaparage everyone who has left church to write books. There are alot of them who do it for a season and it makes sense. There are alot of them who stay involved in church and its leadership in other ways than being a pastor. And for full disclosure sake, I have 2 books coming out later this year and next, and I am a part-time pastor (not full time) and full time professor and I try to spend time in the neighborhoods (which for me is McD’s, hockey rinks, friends down the street).

Here’s hoping for a theology and missiology that receives its life from God’s work in the local church. Peace to all those who disagree with me …

What about you? Do you trust an author on the church who has left his/her church to write books and speak?

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