As I delve into thoughts about Adaptive Community, the first issue that comes to mind is our tendency in America to treat all our issues as technical problems. These are issues that require the specific knowledge and expertise of a professional; in the case of technical problems, the problem is clear (i.e. the toilet is horribly clogged because your niece sent malibu barbie and all her accessories on a surfing trip), the solution is clear (the toilet needs to be snaked), and there is one clear person to deal with it(it’s time to call up Joe the Plumber).
It is convenient to categorize our problems in a technical sense, because it is a very clean, black and white system. Unfortunately, many of our problems in life are not so easily identified or understood; the solutions are just as elusive; and we’re left with no one to call.
An interesting side effect of our leaning toward technical problems is that we have come to rely on professionals to deal with so many aspects of our lives. We have a culture inundated with licenses and certifications and advanced degrees that tell us whether someone is qualified to fix our problems for us.
Professionalism allows us to rely on others to do something well that we could not do for ourselves, and it’s good for a lot of things. It’s nice to know that health care professionals probably know what they’re doing before they start tinkering around inside our bodies. I don’t think I’ll ever go under an amateur surgeon.
Unfortunately, professionalism has leaked into one place where I don’t think it really fits. The church has fallen into professional idolatry. We often allow only pastors, staff, and a few choice lay people (and in that order) to deal with the difficult task of being the living, active church. Pastors are certified by seminaries and ordinations and staff are backed by various college degrees. These people are called (read: hired) to be professional Christians for us.
I’m all good with a church having staff and pastors who have degrees and the magic touch from some random bishop. However, we cannot buy into a culture of professional Christians as the only ones qualified to serve in the Kingdom of God. We need to remember that all Christians have the one degree, the one ordination, the one magic touch they most need–the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit provides us with the gifts we need as a community; the Holy Spirit makes us all an integral, purposeful part of the body; the Holy Spirit empowers us to serve each other and the world. The Holy Spirit is the only one who makes our pastors and staff qualified professionals; no degree can match a B.A. in the H.S. That friendly ghost is the only pro we really need. (now, I’m done with the puns)
Seriously though, we all have a role to play in the body of Christ, and that’s just the way Jesus likes it. It’s important to note the church needs more than pastors. I’ll share a few roles that the Scriptures offer up. Some like to use the acronym APEPT from Paul’s words in Ephesians 4. Paul talks about Jesus making Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers in order to prepare Christians for service and to build them up toward unity & maturity. That’s a whole lot more than pastors. Last time I checked, pastors rarely make good prophets as they shepherd the people in faith, and prophets rarely make good pastors as they challenge the people in the lack of faith. And I’ve sat through enough bogged-down, marathon sermons to know that pastors don’t always make great teachers, and likewise teachers in all their knowledge can’t fathom how to care for a flock well. And so on with the rest of the roles. I’ve seen a lot of pastors act like they are all of these; well, they aren’t. But a church with people serving in all of these roles with the gifts God has given them–that would be a powerful church indeed.
Whether APEPT is a complete list or not, it denotes God’s design of a team approach. But it’s not even a team of professionals. It’s a team of gifted Christians who do not live the life of faith in lieu of the rest of us; rather they nurture other Christians in living out the faith to fullness. They are empowering people, not professionals.
I would like to see more of us rising up in communities who struggle through tough issues together without simple, clear answers or solutions or experts. I would also like to see more of us rising up in communities that intentionally share our gifts and recognize other roles as crucial to the vitality of the people.
I am eventually going to write about what that kind of community would look like, which is what I call an Adaptive Community. Before that, however, I am going to write about the two polarities we fall into.
And finally, I wish I could figure out a way to end that would tie this post together neatly.