Calvin's counterpunch

June 5, 2015
5 min
Church & society
Calvin's counterpunch

Let me ask you a question. Could it be possible that a church (lower case “c”) might put too much pressure on its primary leadership? And, if that church is lucky enough to employ more than one individual to handle its various needs (its many, many diverse needs), is there a chance those tasks have been assigned improperly?

I have always wanted to be part of a team that works towards a common goal. So, I searched for an opportunity to be part of something within the Church (capital “C”). Since Christians all share one common goal—to spread the good news of Jesus Christ and the salvation he offers—you might assume the ideal place to find unity would be in a church. But, for some reason, to find what I was looking for, I settled into another ministry.

The ridiculous thing about church is everyone thinks it’s broken. Mrs. Whats-it thinks there is a leak in the music ministry, her husband wants to patch up the small groups, and Old Lady So-and-so wants to take a wrench to the sermon. So when I start to think about thinking about leadership, I realize I’m just another clank in the machine—an obnoxiously loud machine. Even though I know this might be an exercise in talking to myself, I simply cannot ignore what seems to be a blatant mismanagement of gifts.

Sometimes it’s good to mention what old dead people wrote or said. This technique makes relevant Christians turn down their Mumford and Sons and listen to what you are saying. Feel free to apply this tiny bit of wisdom to your life. Anyway, there once was a guy named John Calvin (ask Siri about him). John, or Jean if you are French, thought there were four leadership roles to fill in churches. Brace yourself while I quote from a textbook (don’t worry I’ve used several ellipses to get rid of all the big words). John Calvin believed, “...the pastors were in charge of the Word… The teachers… were responsible for the education of the entire community of faith—children as well as adults. The elders would supervise the religious life of their neighborhoods… And the deacons were in charge of the social services of the church” (Justo Gonzalez, History of Christianity: Volume II, 83). I just realized you might not know what an ellipsis is. Well, I sympathize with you; at one point I didn’t either.

Quickly getting back on track, I do not intend to flesh out whether or not Monsieur Calvin was correct. Instead I simply want to offer his perspective as an alternative to our current Western system. We designate pastors to their roles based on the needs of our subcultures. We have pastors for kids, pastors for seniors, pastors for families, pastors for young adults, pastors for marrieds, pastors for musicians… And, we designate pastors to tasks because someone needs to get them done. They become pastors of prayer, pastors of greeting, pastors of counselling, pastors of cleaning, pastors of organizing, pastors of accounting, pastors of design, pastors of marketing… At the moment I can say all this because, like I said, I have a different ministry. Right now I am rightly writing (with a straight face) that no single person has been blessed with all of the natural or spiritual gifts I just mentioned. All of these individuals are great people with great hearts who try their hardest, but the church has destined them for burnout.

Calvin’s counterpunch is alluring because it does not require our leaders to be something they are not. His roles are based on the leader instead of the culture. They create a team atmosphere. Pastors preach, Teachers teach, Elders program, and Deacons counsel their little hearts out. On the whole they get to work together. When a pastor has a vision for a fifteen part series on the Song of Solomon, the teacher is available to help provide the research. When the deacons bring in a new family, the elders can steer them into a healthy small group. That vision seems like something people could get behind. A common goal can be a powerful motivator.

As a way of wrapping up my thoughts, I believe scripture provides the foundation for this kind of thinking. It even extends beyond leadership. I get excited about this prospect because it is only the starting point. The atmosphere can grow to be so much bigger. Believers were meant to work together:

“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” - Romans 12:4-8 ESV