The church: Center for Problem-Solving or Community for God-Following?

Continuing our thoughts about what it means to be involved in a community of faith (i.e., a church)...

There is a fundamental choice to make about how people in a church will relate to each other. What is the pastor's role, and how will parishioners interact with the pastor? In today's world of consumerism and pragmatism, there is a strong temptation to mold the church into a Center for Problem Solving. People come to the church wanting answers to important questions in life. "What job should I take?" "Can I get my spouse to stop opposing me at home?" "How can I balance career and relationships?" "How can I have a satisfying relationship with God?" The demand from the congregation is that the pastor be a dispenser of good advice. And the pastor reciprocates by constructing a business-like organization that operates by overlapping strategies to solve the common problems of life. Thus are born a myriad of ministry departments with highly specialized Pastor-Manager-Life Coaches.

This is an attractive option for pastors and parishioners who want a relatively peaceful, low-risk relationship. The parishioner doesn't risk much, because he is only after some good advice. He can sift through what he hears, retaining what pleases and rejecting what doesn't. The pastor doesn't risk much either. He does not pry too deeply into people's lives. He does not make waves. He speaks words that can make life better, but he does not offend anyone too badly.

Because our culture is characterized by consumerism and pragmatism, there is incipient pressure for the congegation and pastor to have a problem-solving relationship.

There is another possible relationship. This option is more supportable from Scripture and infinitely more inspiring, but also much more risky. It is for the church to be a Community for God-Following. In this environment, consumerism and pragmatism must both die. In their place arise the selfless discovery of God's presence and activity. In this relationship, both congregation and pastor surrender to the costly and risky calling of searching for, finding, and following God.

It might be hard to imagine that a pastor would engage in any other vocation than finding and following God. However, the temptation to reduce church and ministry to problem-solving is incredibly strong. It is born and carried by fleshly desires and our busy, pragmatic culture. What can help overcome this temptation is a Spirit-inspired and counter-cultural agreement between congregation and pastor that they will be a Community for God-Following, and that they will continually repulse the temptation to become a Center for Problem-Solving. That is a cause in which the pastor must continually show leadership.

One more observation... Things can get tense between a congregation and a pastor who are not on the same page. If the congregation wants a Center for Problem-Solving, and the pastor wants a Community for God-Following -- or vice versa -- there will be tension and conflict. Something will eventually give.

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