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Please Lord, Don’t Let Me Get Pragmatic: Spiritual Formation for Missional Leaders

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For any pastor, there is the constant temptation to get pragmatic – do things to get people and money into your church. We all face financial pressures. We all face the pressures of other people’s (denominations?) expectations. Yet this temptation to get pragmatic is even more intense for missional leaders who are nurturing the establishment of a missional community. Results are hard to measure compared to what other churches are doing. The sacrifice appears great and appears to go unnoticed. This has never been more true than during this time when the fear of financial catastrophe is broadcast non stop across the airways and print media. And so missional church-planters face the anxieties and uncertainties associated with that as well because many of us do not have the comfort of an established money making skill or career. So the inevitable questions arise: what am I doing with my life? I have nothing to show for this? How am I going to sustain myself and my family (if I have one) long term? Can you see how this all builds up and makes the sustainability of missional church plants highly precarious?
Recently, as I sat with some friends who are missional “cultivators” of a church plant, one of them asked “How can missional churches be sustainable?” I said, it depends upon what you mean by sustainable. For in these days of financial crisis I know multiple situations of churches, mostly mega churches, who have built large facilities, and now face immense pressures to pay the bills. Their people are hurting and scared during this financial crisis, and yet these pastors are forced to get pragmatic. At the worst time to do so, these pastors must figure out what to say, or how to say it, to get money in the door. This is what I call unsustainable. The dubious nature of these church’s sustainability is increased substantially by the taking on of large capital expenditures like buildings and large payrolls.

As opposed to the capital intensive churches, it seems that missional communities should have the wherewithal to be more sustainable in these times because it is in our nature to:
a.) Keep building expenses minimal (BTW as many church buildings are being abandoned in post Christendom in the heart of abandoned parts of cities and towns – there are great opportunities for missional communities to take these facilities over).
b.) Maintain a multiple bi-ministerial (bi-vocational) pastorate who can live simply as well as develop market skills which give them options to make their support when need be. This keeps payroll down, spreads it out and keeps the pastors in mutual sustainable community. I might also be quick to add though, bi-vocational life cannot be done without at least three pastors doing it together and sharing the leadership of the church (Nothing worse than one guy or woman trying to do it all and work to pay his/her family’s bills).
c.) Build economically viable communities where costs of living go down through things like free-cycling and sharing meals, child care together.

All of this should encourage missional church planters in times like this. Our church plants are actually more sustainable than the Christendom models of church-planting. We should be encouraged to keep resisting the urge to get pragmatic.

But truthfully, resisting the urge to get pragmatic requires more than this little piece of analysis. It requires a regular practice of spiritual discipline. YOU CANNOT WHITE KNUCKLE YOURSELF, REASON YOURSELF to feel better amidst the fears, doubts and and temptations to go pragmatic. We are ever tempted to get pragmatic, do what it takes to get the bills paid, or do what makes oneself feel more secure and successful. We need a spiritual formation that shapes us into God’s mission and keeps us oriented towards God (in other words keep sane). What would such a spiritual formation look like?

In this regard I offer this suggestion. I just returned from a trip where I spent a day with God in Psalm 37 (first six verses). Amidst my own set of financial concerns, my over worked and over busy life, MY OWN TEMPTATIONS TO GET PRAGMATIC … I needed a day to ground myself. So I spent the day, returning to my roots, walking the neighborhood where I grew up, remembering God’s faithfulness to me in the days of my child hood and since. During this time I spent the day meditating, praying through these phrases from Ps 37 (doing lectio divina for those of you who know this approach).

Psalm 37: A Psalm for Missional Leaders (NASV)

Fret not …
Trust in the Lord and do good
Dwell in the land, and cultivate faithfulness (or “feed on His faithfulness” – this line is a mantra for missional pastors)
Delight yourself in the Lord’
And he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord
Trust also in Him and He will do it
And he will bring forth your righteousness as the light …

I try to take regular (daily) times of silence with a text like this, long walks, putting my labors, frets and fears into the hands of God and His Mission. This shapes me into His mission. Hope this helps some missional church leader who is close to losing his or her mind right now. What modes of spiritual formation for missional church planters have you engaged in during times like those described above?

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10 responses to “Please Lord, Don’t Let Me Get Pragmatic: Spiritual Formation for Missional Leaders

  1. Thanks for that David

    This is what I’m trying to do.

    Build economically viable communities where costs of living go down through things like free-cycling and sharing meals, child care together.

    Its tough, but I really think it holds a lot of power to help things like this last.

  2. First off, I liked this article and it made some excellent points. But I would like to challenge your argument that a church needs 3 bi-vocational pastors, not just one. I am part of a church called Awaken in Calgary, Canada, where we only have one bi-vocational pastor. But the rest of the church steps up and takes care of a lot of things in order to make sure our one pastor does not burn out. Maybe I am just young and naive but I think there are other options if you have the people to step up. I’d love your thoughts on that.

  3. hey raskolnikov
    as long as you are not mistaking pastors with the idea of staff….i think that any church that is always depending on one pastor is bound to failure and burn out

    However, by the sounds of it, you’re community might be full of pastors, they may not call themselves that or be on staff, but it sounds like they are certainly doing pastoral duties…

    you as one person can only do so much, and pastor so many people.

  4. I applaud the bi-vocational approach. It reminds me a lot of what Paul was doing as a tent-maker missionary .. but I think most Pastor’s are too scared to do it … or pehaps don’t have the time? or perhaps it means being in the real world too much?

  5. David,

    Thank you for voicing some of the questions that have been going through my head in these last months. I especially appreciate that you pose this as a spiritual rather than just economic problem. I have been working at staying grounded amidst the anxiety, and it requires intentionality and discipline, a lot of deep breaths and the will to give up the illusion that I have any control over these matters. Thanks for sharing your struggle and your prescription.

  6. David-

    Your post is very well timed. I don’t know if I’m quite as scared and pressured as your sketch here, but I have definitely been effected by the constant buzz of financial crisis. (Especially the fear of not having a marketable skill to fall back on).

    One of my spiritual disciplines is to spend more time with missional church pastors than denominational administrators and church-planting leadership. The pragmatism from the latter is sometimes helpful, but must be taken in very small doses lest it feed the temptations you discuss here.

    Thanks for your words of wisdom.

    p.s. I’m wondering if you ever responded to my question about Scot McKnight’s desire to start some new kind of post-emergent (I couldn’t resist) network of evangelically minded emergent types? Are you in conversation with Scot about this? Is anything coming of it? How has your work with LotV at developing an evangelism tool come along? I’d love to see the fruit of those conversations.

  7. Jeremy, I just saw your comment … great comment. I’ll try to address your questions in the “P.S.” through the blog … but probably not in next month or so …
    Peace ..

  8. These financial pressures did not start yesterday or today, they started long ago when the translators of the Bible mistranslated the word “ecclesia” into the word “Church” which we take for a building. The emphasis since then has gone towards the building a place to worship rather than the rightful translation as “The Earthly Body of Christ” meaning people. The wrongful focus then began a chain of errors including a hierarchical institutional system rather than a one-another type ministry. Now the Chickens come home to roost with all these financial pressures we have made for ourselves. Pressures that God had not desired for us to bear had we listened.

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