Anti-Intellectualism, Anti-Clericalism, and the Irony of Popular Missiologists
I may be one of the few missional-incarnational, non-Reformed, Baptist(ic) evangelicals who has not continued in the vein of anti-intellectual, anti-clerical, hyper-democratized, low church, revivalist Christianity that has characterized the last century and a half of American church practice. At least that's how it feels most often in popular discussions of church and mission in the Western world today. Unfortunately, the cynicism regarding the need for, even usefulness of, biblically-theologically trained pastors is growing among both "church growth" and "missional" leaders, for a number of reasons.
One of the more popular mantras heard through the latest missional church seminars, blogs, and books is this idea that effective ministry does not require "experts," only people with a basic understanding of the gospel and a willingness to live out what they understand of it. In the recent words of one prominent church consultant, this is the critical move from "Superman to every man." Speakers and authors go on ad nauseam about how crucial it is to wean ourselves from the "experts" so that "the church" will take responsibility for ministry. In their view, these experts—and/or those who hire them as their pastors—are stumbling blocks to the mission of the church. Too much ministry is consolidated into the "hands" of one person, they say, promoting non-discipleship.
I find this critique both disingenuous and ignorant of the facts of the matter. If "experts" (let's just agree that this is a rhetorically loaded label that I am co-opting for the sake of simplicity) are unnecessary for, not to mention in the way of, missional ministry, what does that say about those so-called authorities on the missional church who busy themselves writing, speaking, and consulting for church leaders on the subject? They obviously fancy their expertise as indispensable to the mission of the church; otherwise there would be nothing to fuss about (and to pay high consultant fees for). Explicitly, they claim that "professional ministers" and "ministry professionals" of various sorts are counterproductive to the mission of the church, but implicitly they deny this claim.
Moreover, their critique has no teeth, because it is a straw man. First of all, the devaluation of exegetically trained church leadership (call them whatever you want) is the majority view in Western, low church Protestantism, so at best they are preaching to the choir. More importantly, however, they make a serious category error when equating an insistence upon exegetical training for pastors with a passive or "spectator" form of congregational ministry.
The apostle Paul teaches that there is one Body, but many parts, none of which is dispensable (1 Cor 12). One of the parts is that of the teaching-preaching elder/pastor/overseer/bishop (Scripture uses these terms synonymously) who is a competent minister of the Word (i.e., able to know what the text says, to understand to a reasonable extent what it means, to discern how it should be fleshed out among the church, and to justify belief in it as the Word of God). Ministry for him looks different than ministry for the other members of the Body. His role is to "equip the saints for the work of ministry" (Eph 4:11-14), including the task just described, and not every believer has the calling, character, and competencies required for this role.
A close friend of mine has often said, "I see pastors as 1 in 10 rather than 1 in 100." While there is nothing wrong with this in principle, in the economy of real life, given the qualifications detailed above, it is simply unrealistic. Is this cause for concern? Not really. It is only problematic when we equate the specific calling of the pastor with the sum total of the ministry of the church, which is the real issue that the best of the missional church movement seeks to address.