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Reinventing Clergy

Part 8: The Emerging Church – Circa 1970

“In the emerging Church, a new kind of preacher is coming into his own for whom there is presently no adequate training….” (p. 59)

“a clergyman becomes not a disseminator but an interpreter of news.” (p. 108)

“‘Then it hit me: the only way to break out of my authoritarian role was to shift the emphasis of my ministry from giving answers to sharing experience.’” (p. 129)

Bruce Larson, the emerging church (Word, 1970)

A key tenet from the earliest origins of the Emergent Church movement was a reinvented clergy. The pastor-teacher role must be changed. Old authority structures must be dismantled and new ones substituted. This all played out in a complicated dialectic dance over a period of four decades. Emergent leader Phyllis Tickle credits the small group structure for much of this change. In her book The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why (BakerBooks, 2008) she writes approvingly of how the early principle of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) of worshipping a “generic God” in a small group structure had “delivered a serious blow to the role and authority of the clergy.” She takes note that “AA was the first to strike a blow at the Pastor’s Study as the seat of all good advice, holy counsel, wisdom, and amelioration.” (pp. 92-93)

Not only did AA [Alcoholics Anonymous], almost by default, begin to supplant the pastoral authority of the professional clergy and open the door to spirituality in the experiencing of a nondoctrinally specific Higher Power, but it also revived the small-group dynamic that would come to characterize later twentieth-century Protestantism and, paradoxically, to enable the disintegration of many of its congregations into pieces and parts…. AA opened the floodgates to spirituality by removing the confines of organized religion. (p. 93)

It is significant that Phyllis Tickle would reference AA in this context. Faith At Work, the organization that birthed the early Emergent/Emerging Church movement (as we documented in Part 2 of this report), was connected with Frank Buchman and Sam Shoemaker, co-founder of AA. In fact, Faith at Work sponsored Brian McLaren’s “Everything Must Change” tour last year.

Transitioning the Pastorate

Step one of reinventing the clergy was to create new authority structures, and the small group format conveniently elevated one’s peer group to a higher status as “experts” because of “experience.” This concept rode into evangelicalism like a freight train during the rise of the Humanistic Psychology era, and pastors were quickly remade into counselors at leading evangelical seminaries. Pastors evolved into touchy-feely advice-givers who could facilitate small groups. It was at this point that sermons began to change shape from solid exegesis of the Word of God to feel-good sermonettes that were loaded with pablum and syrup. Gone was the Word of God, and its authority. Replacing it, during this time of transition, was arm-chair psychologists and encounter group experiences. Even the excesses of the shepherding movement, with its heavy-handed top-down authoritarianism, and thus the appearance of a clergy-driven laity, was more an indication of encounter groups run amok than evidence of biblical, Word-preaching pastors. And its later offshoot, the purpose-driven business-leadership phenomena, which continues to this day, bears little resemblance to the historical First Reformation preaching and teaching the meat of the Word of God.

David Wells, commenting on this emerging phenomena in his 1994 book God in the Wasteland, [1] described this transition period as a “therapeutic culture which treats badness simply as disease” and observed the evangelicals’ fixation with “consumerism, with all of the appetites for purchase, ownership, and power that go with it,” which he attributed to the evangelical drive for “cultural acceptability.” But he sadly observed that, by doing so, the evangelical church was “emptying itself of serious thought, serious theology, serious worship and serious practice in the larger culture.” (p. 27) Pastors were being reduced to “managers” or “psychologists”:

The modern mind will be quick to conclude that evangelical faith is faltering because it is not efficient enough, for example, or because it is not appealing enough, because it has not adapted itself adequately to the inner needs of those in the modern world. It is thus that many are stepping forward as managers or psychologists in Christ’s name, and for the good of the church, to address the world. (pp. 29-30) [italics in original]

All of this transition in the teaching pastorate had the cumulative effect of diminishing the influence, impact, and salt of the Word of God in individual lives as well as the culture.

The New Authority

The transformation of the evangelical church, into this “new thing” which is Emergent/Emerging, severs the old authority structures altogether. The new authorities in believers’ lives may or may not be pastors, seminaries, denominational headquarters or even leaders. Believers are substituting other authorities for their pastorate — things like The Shack, Richard Foster, Len Sweet, etc. Parachurch organizations helped facilitate the shift. But this is a new form of viral networking happening before our very eyes (some orchestrated, some spontaneous), which is creating downline authority structures that are totally unrelated to traditional structures, even obliterating them or rendering them obsolete.

This new viral marketing authority is accentuated by the Internet social sites, in which “every man does what is right in his own eyes, according to the social network that he belongs to.” The network is its own authority, and this shifts daily, even hourly. The Word of God is not at the foundation of any of this new authority. Experience becomes god.

Power no longer rests in the hands of a biblically-based pastorate/clergy. Power is now in the hands of the marketing gurus who manipulate the paradigm shift. Traditional pastoral authority structures have been eroded to the point that they have become dysfunctional, useless, unimportant, irrelevant, and even irreverent.

But all is not lost. Pastors can retain or regain their authority by becoming transformers. This is why Leadership Network, which formed the modern Emergent church movement, is at the core of this paradigm shift. The pastor in the Leadership Network paradigm becomes the viral networking agent of transformation.[2] “Image is everything.” But he isn’t just a corporate guru. He is a guru of the New Spirituality. And this is the key point. When things become full blown Emergent he becomes a shaman.

And, this point takes us to Pastor Larry DeBruyn’s insightful analysis of Spiritual Directors, which we publish below in its entirety with permission:

“Spiritual Director”: A New Gift from an Ancient Tree

Regardless of what you might think of the operation of spiritual gifts–whether all of them, some of them, or none of them are operative today–we should be aware of the new spiritual gift on the block; the gift of “spiritual director.” As one spiritual director remarks, “I continue to be amazed at the richness of this gift to the church, whether it is experienced individually or in groups.”[1] But just what is this gift?

Alice Fryling says that, “Spiritual direction is a way of companioning people as they seek to look closely, through the eyes of their hearts, at the guidance and transforming work of God in their lives.”[2]

Spiritual director appears to mimic the role of an eastern religious guru who tries to affect the spirituality of others in either one-on-one or small group settings. As Fryling states, “People throughout the Christian church, including those of an evangelical orientation, are experiencing again the gifts that God gives to his people through the loving listening and the gentle guidance of spiritual directors.”[3] So what is the Bible believing Christian to think of this so-called gift of spiritual director?

We should know first of all, that among the lists of gifts in the New Testament (Romans 12:5-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, 28-31; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Peter 4:9-10), there is no spiritual gift of spiritual director. Second, the central gifts for the church’s edification are those of “teacher” and “pastor-teacher.” The risen and ascended Christ gave these gifts to the body of Christ so that it might come to, “the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God . . . That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive . . .” (Ephesians 4:11-14). The exercise of these gifts is consistent with the example of Jesus. In the Gospels, He was primarily known as, “Teacher” (Matthew 8:19). Too, Jesus commissioned the disciples to make disciples via a two-fold process of “baptizing” and “teaching” them (Matthew 28:19-20). According to Paul’s ministry, the exercise of “the gift of teacher” is consistent with not only Paul’s example, but also with his exhortation to Timothy (1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Timothy 4:11; 6:2). As distributed by the sovereign Spirit of the ascended and glorified Christ, the spiritual gift designed to bring maturity and unity to the local church is “pastor-teacher,” not “spiritual director.” That is why Fryling must state that, “spiritual direction groups” are an “exciting new branch from an ancient tree . . . a practice that began in the early years of Christianity when people followed the desert mothers and fathers out to the wilderness to ask them how to know God.”[4] There is no gift of “spiritual director” which is sourced in the Bible and bestowed by the Spirit of the Living Christ.

What is important to the church is not that people, in one-on-one, or in small group sessions, listen to spiritual directors and vice versa–though sharing fellowships have their place in the local church–but that people listen to God, and the emphasis upon listening to one another does not qualify as listening to God, for we are neither God nor gods. As the Lord said to His people through the psalmist, “Oh, that My people would listen to Me, / That Israel would walk in My ways!” (Psalm 81:13) One Old Testament scholar remarks, “To listen . . . has the double force in Hebrew which it sometimes has in English: to pay attention and to obey. So this saying is close to the famous words of Samuel, ‘to obey (lit. to listen) is better than sacrifice’.”[5]

This business of “spiritual direction” resembles the experience I once had in a T-group (i.e., sensitivity training) as a young teacher in a progressive school district where I worked in the late ’60s. A doctor from a major mid-western university was my group’s “director.” The modus operandi of the group was that, “the learners [listeners?] use feedback, problem solving, and role play to gain insights into themselves [and] . . . others . . . The goal was to change the standards, attitudes and behavior of individuals.”[6]

I fear that the gift of so-called spiritual director is just another guru-gimmick which sources spirituality in religious opinions, teachings, and practices that are utterly foreign to Holy Scripture, and such a source of spirituality will not promote the unity of faith amongst believers, as does the legitimate gift of pastor-teacher, but a diversity of beliefs revealing that all the spiritual directors and listeners are being “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine.”

For this usurping of the ministry of pastor-teacher by spiritual directors in local churches, pastors are to blame. By allowing methods to trump the message, they created the spiritual vacuum into which spiritual directors have moved in, and instead of being unified, Christians will become increasingly diversified (and apostate) as pan-evangelicalism, under the tutelage of spiritual directors, bows before the mysticism of the postmodern culture.

The Truth:

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

To be continued…..

1. David F. Wells, God in the Wasteland. The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams (Eerdmans, 1994).
2. For more on this topic see the series “The Dopamine-Driven Church” published on Herescope in April and May 2007, starting here: https://herescope.net/2007/04/dopamine-driven-church.html

ENDNOTES – Pastor DeBruyn http://www.frbaptist.org/bin/view/Ptp/PtpTopic20090519192113
[1] Emphasis mine, Alice Fryling, “A First Look at Spiritual Direction Groups,” Small Groups.com Posted 5/11/09 (http://smallgroups.com/articles/2009/firstlookspiritualdirectiongroups.html).
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Derek Kidner, A Time to Mourn, and a Time to Dance (Downers Grove: InterVarsity? Press, 1976) 53.
[6] “T-groups,” Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T-groups).