I’d like to start a new category of posts called “Processing.” It’s really more for me than anyone else. It helps me process through stuff I’m thinking about and might even stir up some thoughts in others.
Two words have been rattling around my head and heart lately: foundation and expression. Allow me to give them some context. A foundation is something upon which one builds. You need a solid foundation in order to build. In this little mental scenario, the thing being built is the expression, what is being produced, the production, the output. To make the context more specific, I’m talking about church traditions, movements, and influences.
I have a Calvary Chapel foundation. I’m glad for it. I respect it. This is all based on my good experience in it. I know that others have had horrid experiences which sucks. For me it has been mostly great. I like the theology, the philosophy of ministry, the freedom that I have in my own context of Forest Grove. What is the expression of this foundation? Ironically I’ve been working very hard to avoid becoming what a Calvary Chapel foundation seems to naturally express without ever thinking about what it naturally expresses.
In my opinion, based on my observations and experiences, the Calvary Chapel foundation (theology, philosophy of ministry, style) tends to naturally produce or express a “celebrity pastor” to one degree or another. Allow me to elaborate. On the 1960s and 70s, people were looking for what I will call a guru. People wanted a father figure, a teacher, someone to help them to feel found instead of lost. They were hungry to be poured in to and taught what to think. (Again, this is in no way a criticism of that generation nor of Chuck Smith whom I am about to reference.) Pastor Chuck became that for a generation of people in Southern California. They called him “Papa Chuck.” He didn’t (intentionally) abuse this position, he humbly operated in it with the glory of God as the goal his entire life. No question. He taught the word. He taught people. People were loyal to him (to a fault in some cases) as he taught them.
The focus of Calvary Chapel is teaching God’s word. To teach the word you need people to be teachers. The model most people had was Pastor Chuck. One man teaching the masses. Others emulated this and continue to do so to this day. I want to teach yea multitudes, not because I have a need for the attention but because when I’m doing that I feel like I’m doing what God has wired me to do. But here is what has happens. Your skill as a teacher and how successful you are, becomes measured by how many people you have in your church. “If you teach it they will come.” No CC pastor will admit it out loud, but it’s evident at every conference. “How many you running?” The better teachers who have the larger churches get the attention. This fosters a celebrity pastor mentality and it isn’t on purpose. I want to make that very clear.
Even in a teeny church like ours, I’m the pastor, I’m the teacher, I’m the guy. I’ve worked very hard to play that down. I even discourage people addressing me as “Pastor”. One of the results is that we aren’t seeing the numbers we might otherwise see were I more “self promoting” in a sense. (As a side note, I do believe there can be a balance of spreading the word and self promotion.) So, while squashing the unintended but natural expression of a Calvary Chapel foundation, our church hasn’t really been expressing anything and therefore been generally unfruitful over the course of my seven years here. That starts with the leadership, especially me. But I’m not going to process that dynamic right now.
I have recently discovered a ministry that has put together a process and a focus, an expression, that has been rumbling through my brain and heart for years, it just never gelled; until now. My dad introduced me to a book called “Haverim, the four lost levels of study.” While this book reintroduced me to a particular Bible study methodology, I found much more as I looked into the author, Paul Gibbs, and his ministry, the Pais Movement. This page in particular got my attention. None of this stuff is new. All of it is in harmony with things I’ve heard at Calvary Chapel conferences and in discussions with other pastors. I’m sure many CC churches are producing the same kinds of things. Some CC guys might read it and say, “So what?” If your church and ministries are already producing those kinds of disciples, then God bless you.
For me, I don’t even know that I’m that kind of disciple. All I know is that checking out these guys has resulted in the second major “a-ha” moment in my life. The first was discovering the integrated nature of God’s word. The Bible is so cool. It’s so interconnected. God is so clever and creative in how He has woven Jesus on every page. That realization is what got me on a path of ministry in the first place. I didn’t know there would be more to it, until now. The Lord has used this little book and my further investigations into Pais to get me excited about the why of the Bible. I was already into the what of scripture. What’s more, and I knew this had to be out there somewhere, I see a clear picture of how to be a teacher and church leader and not be the celebrity, but equip everyone to be a student, and more importantly, a live-out-er of God’s word.
You see, one thing I picked up from CC, and I’m not discounting it because it does work, is this idea of if you teach the Bible with the Spirit, and pray for God’s Spirit to reveal His truth in the hearts of the hearers, you can expect God to move and do things. In other words, if you teach it they will do it. And I believe that’s true. I’ve seen it happen. I’m a product of that. This is an expression of the way Chuck Smith functioned as a mentor. He wasn’t hands-on with people. He did, people watched and copied. He taught, people went and done did. That’s one way of doing things, but it isn’t the only way of doing things. Paul Gibbs calls that “expectation”. He refers to another way of doing it as “inspection.” You can plant seeds and expect things to grow. However, they grow much better as you inspect the growth and cultivate. What Pais focuses on is getting back to the group or community dynamic of church leadership and discipleship. Instead of relying on a teacher to tell you what to think, or a youth pastor, or even a small group leader, you teach others to teach others how to think.
When the people of the original Calvary Chapel generation came about and wanted a guru, they found a great one in Chuck Smith. This generation, however, doesn’t want someone to tell them what to think. Instead they want someone to teach them how to think. That is what really excites me. I feel the most joy when I see someone connect the dots spiritually with the direction of the Spirit. This is what Pais encourages and produces. It’s not a program. It’s not a novelty. Like Calvary Chapel was and is, it’s a movement. It’s a philosophy of ministry that I find compatible and especially complementary to what I already know and embrace. I think Pais should have a booth at the next CC Senior Pastors Conference.
I guess what I’m saying is that I’ve had a great foundation with Calvary Chapel and I will continue in and with that foundation. Now I believe I have found an expression that reflects what is already in our church and ministry DNA. It’s nothing new. It’s nothing weird or creepy. It’s more like this. My son, Jonah, had an idea for a book that was a pop-up book of phobias. We joked about it for a while. Well, guess what? There already is one! When we saw it we had a, “That’s it!” moment. That’s what I’m having with Pais. It has put into form and function the intentionality I’ve always wanted to have in my own life and that I’ve always wanted to be used to produce in others, which is why I wanted to be a pastor in the first place.
Thanks for processing with me. I’m sure this is the tip of the iceberg and I would appreciate any comments and discussion so we can all process.