Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Is Hierarchy in the Church Ethical?


The above cartoons are by David Hayward, known on the internet as nakedpastor. I think they’re funny at first rub, but they also carry a biting sarcasm with them.

What do these cartoons say about church leadership?

What do they say about the church?

Why do you think the artist drew these cartoons?

Certainly these cartoons do not satirize all churches and pastors, but rather a certain kind of church and a certain kind of pastor. However, I think the satirized and non-satirized churches and pastors have something in common, viz., hierarchy.

I think hierarchy is unethical in the church and I want to discuss this issue with you all. I know everyone thus far has done all of the talking in their presentation, but I such a format would undermine my vision. You see, if I do all the talking, you might interact with my thoughts, but you won’t interact with me; there will be no dialogue, only monologue. When I do all the talking, I rob you of your voice. I silence you. I see the role of pastor—not pastors, per se—as silencing the laity and rising to a position not just of authority, but privilege. The hierarchy in the church creates an inequality between the members of the body of Christ.

At least, I see the hierarchy that way. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. I would like you all to think about the chain of command in the way we do church.

Can we have hierarchy with equality?


Brian McLaren, a Christian author advocating change asks, “What do we do about the church? What future should our local congregations, our denominations, and the Christian community at large pursue? What are our primary, essential functions? How will we cope with the many changes we face?” McLaren raises the issue of transition. How do actually go about changing if we think the hierarchy is wrong? We can’t step into a position of power and exert authority, because we would undermine our agenda. Instead, somehow, we need to have our convictions and carefully subvert the authority by empowering the laity, by listening to the voices the hierarchy silences.

Think about your church for a moment.

If you are not a pastor, do you feel like you have a voice in your church?

Who amidst your congregation do you believe is silenced by the hierarchy? Is it based on gender? Age, whether young or old? Sexuality? Economic status? Education? Will your congregation listen to anyone who has committed certain actions perceived of as sins?

Can you believe everyone has a role in the body of Christ, but not be willing to share yourself with them and allow them to share themselves with you? Can we believe in equality, but refuse to give or receive criticism from certain people?

The silenced are not the only people to be considered, of course. If hierarchy is removed from the church, current church leaders are going to be in a pickle. I firmly believe it is not my place to say who is or is not called and to what they are called. However, I question how much culture influences our interpretation of God’s call. Someone might feel called to be a pastor, but only because they only know how to equate pastoral care with the role of a senior pastor. Another might feel called to educate people on the Bible and theology, but have never seen preaching or teaching on the Bible and theology done outside of church leadership.


I cannot answer every question I raise or do not raise when it comes to changing the way we do church. Perhaps if I knew more answers, I would be more comfortable with hierarchy, but since I don’t know everything, I assume nobody else does either. I am more comfortable with group leadership—I hear a rope of three strands is not easily broken.

So, let’s reflect together. We’ve been given a model for reflection, so let’s work with the Methodist quadrilateral.


What does tradition have to say about hierarchy?

(Points to hit: orthodoxy; equality throughout time)


What does the Bible have to say about hierarchy?

(Points to hit: the Bible as tradition; culture differences between NT church and church of today; how much does the NT say about church and is it proper to think the whole NT works towards one model of the church?; Paul; Jerusalem Council; Jesus; supposedly God-appointed hierarchy and leaders in Torah and histories; prophetic questioning of authority and cultic festivals)


What is your experience with hierarchy inside and outside the church?

(Points to hit: Sunday school and small groups; businesses, jobs, teams, children, governments; deconstruction of counselor/client and teacher/student)


I already asked about hierarchy and equality. But, I wonder if anyone has anything else to share? What do you think about hierarchy? What does your reason say about hierarchy in general and hierarchy in the church?


Although some of you might disagree, I think we need to forgo church as we know it and replace it with small or “cell” groups. Instead of meeting Sunday mornings for a “service,” groups could meet based on location or time. Perhaps Sunday morning doesn’t suit a number of people, so they start a small group on Sunday night or Wednesday afternoon. Another group might meet because they all live on the same block.

They could meet in their homes. Perhaps they’ll sing songs. Maybe they’ll have communion. Maybe they’ll talk about the Bible or some other book. Maybe they’ll talk about culture and theology or plan ways to help the homeless living almost in their backyards. The people in the small group will determine what they do.

Perhaps they will support a larger group, much in the same way one church supports a denomination. This larger group could have a team of former pastors, each with different roles. Perhaps one could be a resource of biblical and theological wisdom and knowledge for groups to seek out. Certainly not every small group will have a biblical scholar in their midst and they should have free access to at least one. Another one of these resources could be a musician or two who could bring music to those groups without them. Another could be a counselor, providing group and one-on-one therapy when needed. In some areas, perhaps one person could wear a few of these hats in the way many pastors do today.

These people would not be leaders, they would be servants. They would not tell people what they should believe and do, but offer counsel when asked. They would not be the face of the church, especially since visitors to any small group might not see this person for weeks.

I think the small groups would foster a sense of equality. I think they would require less money, so Christians could spend more money on loving people instead of on themselves with pews, lights, air conditioning, lighting, and fancy clothes. The people in these environments would be more involved in each others lives and their theology—they would be a community and the body. In smaller groups, it would be so much easier to mobilize and accept others.

I’m sure I’ve left things out. What questions do you all have for me about this vision?


Bauer, Walter. Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity. 2nd (German) ed. by Georg Strecker. Trans. Philadelphia Seminar on Christian Origins. Ed. Robert A. Kraft and Gerhard Krodel. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971.

Burke, Spencer and Colleen Pepper. Making Sense of the Church: Eavesdropping on Emerging Conversations about God, Community, and Culture. El Cajun, CA: emergentYS, 2003.

Easum, Bill and Dave Travis. Beyond the Box: Innovative Churches that Work. Loveland, CO: Group, 2003.

Green, Michael. Church Without Walls: A Global Examination of Cell Church. Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster, 2004.

Harvey, Van A. "New Testament Scholarship and Christian Belief." Jesus in History and Myth. Ed. R. Joseph Hoffmann and Gerald A. Larue. Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1986. 193-200.

Hayward, David. Nakedpastor.

McLaren, Brian D. "A New Kind of Christianity: 10 Questions That ARe Transforming the Faith." The Huffington Post. 24 February 2010.

Shults, F. Leron. "Reforming Ecclesiology in Emerging Churches." Theology Today 65 (2009): 425-38.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Miami Trip Reflection

As many of you know, I have been involved in planning a trip to Miami. Between Miami and the neighboring sandbar, Miami Beach, another small island exists. The island is just long enough north-to-south to house a six-lane highway with trees on either side. Thanks to Google Maps, you can search for "Julia Tuttle Causeway Miami, FL" and see the size of the island and the highway with the street view option.

Look to the southwest of that little island and you'll notice tents on the side of the highway. It should be no surprise that this little island is no campground. Who in their right mind would want to camp by the highway? Sure, you have a beautiful view of Miami and Miami Beach, but you have to listen to the cars all day and all night.

The people camped out along the highway and under the bridge are camping under compulsion of Miami City. The people under and around this bridge are sex offenders. Sexual offenses range include, among other things, sexual conduct between an adult and a minor, sexual relations between two minors (even if consensual), rape, and urinating in public. In Florida, sex offenders have a curfew, monitored by parole officers and technology akin to house arrest anklets. On top of this law, you cannot live within so many feet of a place where children might congregate (this law in Miami has been changing and I am not up to date on the latest distance).

Because of these overlapping laws, many registered sex offenders were forced to move out of their homes. Due to the lack of affordable housing leftover for sex offenders, the city of Miami forced sex offenders to live under the bridge of the Julia Tuttle Causeway. The community has been made of men and women, from a handful of people to over 70.

About two weeks before our planned departure date, we learned a group in Miami went to the community and began moving the community. After four years, Miami finally did something, probably just to hide the city from bad publicity. They people were moved to apartments, campgrounds, motels--expenses paid for six months. Who knows what will happen after six months.

With about two weeks before our flights departed, we were blessed by the Miami Coalition for the Homeless. They work with a local feeding program they allowed us to volunteer with and fed let us meet with one of the formerly homeless men in their speakers' bureau.

So we went to Florida and visited with my grandparents in Palm Beach County before driving back and forth between Palm Beach County and Miami. We went to the bridge as a sort of pilgrimage where, to our surprise, we found people still living under and around the bridge.

I was confused, shocked, and upset. We could have put a lot of time into those people, but we didn't know they were there. We prayed under the bridge. I hope that did some good.

We got a few items for the people we saw and we talked very briefly. They were surprised to see us. They wondered why three college students would be under the Julia Tuttle Causeway during spring break. I hope we made them feel special. I hope we encouraged them to feel human.

We were a bandage on a serious wound. We weren't enough and felt covered in blood and puss. But, I have to remember bandages can promote healing, too.

My Canon within the Canon: Sermon Preparation on Gen. 17

If you place more emphasis on one part of the Bible over another, it is said you have a canon within the canon. In general, I read the Old Testament more carefully than the new. I read the Gospels more than anything. Above all, I believe God is love (1 John 4:8).

While doing some homework today, I had to "prepare a sermon" on Genesis 17:1-14. I didn't actually have to write the sermon, I just needed to do some sermon preparation based on my professor's requirements.

Genesis 17:1-14 talks of God's covenant with Abraham and the sign of circumcision. I was concerned with the women not mentioned. After v. 14, Sarah is mentioned, but not any other women. What is their part in the covenant? Why don't they get to have the sign of the covenant?

And how is circumcision a sign of the covenant when so many other people had circumcisions? Claus Westermann noted many of the peoples surrounding Israel practiced circumcision. The Egyptians did it. The peoples of Canaan did it (except the Philistines). If anything, circumcision made the Hebrew people blend in, not stand apart (until the exile).

If the people of Canaan also bore the sign of the covenant, then why was God giving their land to the Hebrew? According to Amos, God called the Philistines to the land, so why kick them out for the Hebrews? Earlier in Genesis, God made a covenant with all creation, so why make a covenant only with Abraham and his descendants? And why does Ishmael get such a bad deal? He is a son of the covenant, but his people are ignored in the rest of the Bible. And why does God further limit the covenant between Jacob and Esau? Why is God limiting divine love?

The last question on this worksheet asked how I would preach the sermon. After thinking about this passage and other parts of the Bible, I yielded to 1 John 4:8. I figured this passage of Genesis must have been one interpretation of God's love, which was influenced by a people in exile (assuming the text was written while in exile).

And I figure the interpretation of God's love was too narrow, too bound by its time and culture. In a large moment of pride, I figure my interpretation is better. In the tradition of scripture, I look at history and life around me and I look for God's involvement and God's love. I simply do not know a God who limits divine love. I could be wrong, but I hope and pray I'm not.

And so my sermon would say. It would deconstruct the traditional interpretation of God's love, an interpretation ignoring women, Ishmael, Esau and any part of reality that is not Israel. It would portray scripture as interpretation of history, a search for God. It would learn to search for God in this life, seeking inspiration to be scripture, to be God's love today--including a love beyond gender, genealogy, and religion. A love not giving way to supersessionism, but inclusion.