We have a lot of pastoral transitions happening at the moment in Mennonite Church British Columbia. It is a time that has given me pause to think about how we do church ministry and what our pastoral ministry positions look like.
Our church polity manual, A Shared Understanding of Ministerial Leadership, mentions the importance of the fivefold ministry. This is taken from Ephesians 4:7,11: “God has given his grace to each one of us measured out by the gift that is given by Christ. . . . He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers.”
I recently finished reading Faithful Presence by David Fitch, who has much to say about what faithful presence looks like for Christ-followers in the close circle of communion, in the home group that has an open door to the neighbourhood, and as we are guests in various spaces in the neighbourhood. He ends by focusing on the fivefold ministry. Fitch observes that “most Protestant churches are still led by a senior or lead pastor at the top of an organizational chain.”
As Jesus’ disciples were “clamouring for their place at the top of the pecking order in the coming new kingdom,” according to Fitch, Jesus calmed them down and replied, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all” (Mark 10:43-44).
Fitch affirms that, “For Jesus, authority in the kingdom would be exercised in no other way. There would be no hierarchy, no coercive power, no one person ruling over and above another person. His model is mutual, shared leadership under one Lord.”
While this model may seem impossible, given our tendency to drink at the fountain of the corporate/business model of leadership, Paul most clearly lays out the model in the fivefold leadership gifts. These gifts are mutual and interdependent. Since no one person can carry out all the gifts in the community, why do we call one full-time pastor to do everything?
Smaller congregations have shifted to calling bi-vocational pastors out of necessity because they can’t afford a full-time salary. What if congregations who can afford a full-time pastor would call several bi-vocational pastors instead, each having one or two of these five gifts? What if a congregation mixed paid staff with volunteer ministry as a way of ensuring that the fivefold gifts are all active?
If a congregation has multiple leadership staff, maybe they would discern the call based on these gifts. As we are looking at leadership changes in our MC B.C. congregations, I am simply looking at the biblical understandings of what we need for healthy congregational leadership and encouraging our congregations to creatively call out these giftings.
Fitch concludes by saying, “The five-fold ministry leaders are never to be above the other gifted leaders. Everyone operates in mutual submission to one another and to the whole congregation.”
Garry Janzen is MC B.C.’s executive minister.
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