I’d like to thank David for his willingness to partcipate in my interview. I’ve never met him in person (yet), but I perceive a gracious spirit in this brother as well as a sharp intellect and a genuine heart for God and His people.
To David — a few thoughts in response to our interview. I’ll number them for ease of reading:
1. Like you, I have great respect for John H. Yoder. I particularly love his “hermeneutics of peoplehood” and his no-compromise statements on contra the “religious specialist” (the clergy). As a tag to this blog, I’ve quoted some of his words on this score.
Stanley Hauerwas is brilliant. One of the things that I appreciate about him is his passion and his unwillingness to sugar-coat his message. For that reason, he tends to polarize his audience. People love what he says or they hate it. Few sit in the middle. Personally, I believe we need more people of his tribe. When I think of people like Hauerwas and Tony Campolo (another mad man), Tozer’s words come to mind:
If Christianity is to receive a rejuvenation it must be by other means than any now being used. If the church in the second half of [the twentieth] century is to recover from the injuries she suffered in the first half, there must appear a new type of preacher. The proper, ruler-of-the-synagogue type will never do. Neither will the priestly type of man who carries out his duties, takes his pay and asks no questions, nor the smooth-talking pastoral type who knows how to make the Christian religion acceptable to everyone. All these have been tried and found wanting. Another kind of religious leader must arise among us. He must be of the old prophet type, a man who has seen visions of God and has heard a voice from the Throne. When he comes (and I pray God there will not be one but many) he will stand in flat contradiction to everything our smirking, smooth civilization holds dear. He will contradict, denounce and protest in the name of God and will earn the hatred and opposition of a large segment of Christendom.
It’s been my observation that such people are often hated, abused, personally judged, and trashed by a certain portion of the Christian population; yet God uses them to effect lasting change in His church.
2. You write: “I was really discontent with the unquestioned assumptions that drove the status quo …” You get three cheers for that sentence 🙂
3. You also said: “I saw young pastors getting killed.” A large portion of my email is from such folks, though some of these folks aren’t so young.
4. Another memorable statement: “Everything I was learning from Scripture and the history of the church suggested this was more a creation of American business than faithfulness to being God’s people in the world. Does that sound harsh? Whoah sorry!”
[Cough], you’re joking right? Have you not read Pagan Christianity? No, I don’t think you were harsh at all. We’re tracking very closely here. I would simply add that it’s not just the mega-church movement that is creating “churches” patterned after GM and Microsoft. It’s most traditional/institutional churches today. Size is really irrelevent here. Mega-churches just blow the problem up more so that it’s easier to see. Would you not agree?
5. Again you say: “I hope people reflect on what we’re doing! And probe the assumptions that drive us to do what we do in the name of church. I hope for a renewed faithfulness in our time to being God’s people in the world.” We’re tracking 100% here. Scarey.
Question on this score: Do you think it’s possible that there are assumptions that you yourself have about church and leadership that haven’t been probed yet?
6. Regarding what comes first mission or church — missiology or ecclesiology, I think it boils down to how one defines mission. For instance, if we define “the mission” as God’s Eternal Purpose, as I do, then mission proceeds ecclesiology because it produces the ekklesia. But if we define it through the lens of D.L. Moody, which is so often the case today, then it simply means bringing the gospel to lost souls and seeing them converted.
Evangelism flows out of the ekklesia. It’s what she, the organism of the church, does biologically when she is following her spiritual instincts. But it’s not the only thing she does. Nor is it the most important. God’s purpose goes far beyond the saving of lost souls (or whatever language one likes to use for that).
I personally think that within the modern missional movement there’s massive confusion on the difference between what Luke calls “the work” and “the church.”
The goal of the work is to produce local, corporate expressions of Jesus Christ (ekklesias).
I’m really not sure how helpful it is to argue over what comes first, mission or church. To my mind, that line of thinking often leads us to the same place that fruitless Word vs. Spirit debates take us.
I could be wrong about this, but I think it’s far more important to understand what God’s mission is exactly. I’ve done some surveys on this question among my friends in the missional church movement, and one thing stands out. When that question is raised, things get really murky.
That brings us back to the question of the Eternal (or Ageless) Purpose of God, as Paul calls it in Ephesians. I believe that this is the critical issue of the missional church conversation today.
7. You talk about how you’ve seen missional communities meeting in various places. Most are not bigger than 200 members. Some are smaller than 40. My question: What do these particular communites look like exactly?
Specifically, what do their corporate gatherings look like? Do they have the typical (500 year old) Sunday morning order of worship with songs led by a worship team or leader, a sermon given by a pastor, offering, etc.? Or do they map more to the NT vision of open-participatory gatherings under the headship of Jesus Christ? And what does their day-to-day life like together look like? I’d be interested in hearing this.
Please also add what your own congregation looks like in their corporate gatherings and in the daily life of the assembly. If the readers of this blog were to visit and observe your church for two solid weeks, what would we see? Give us a blow-by-blow of a typical week or two in the life of David Fitch’s church.
8. A final question: Some of the readers of this blog were tracking with you until you begain explaing the leadership schema of your church.
First, in your answer, it didn’t appear that there were any other leaders aside from pastors or shepherds.
Second, you seem to draw a distinction between pastors and shepherds. You said you have 3 pastors and 12 shepherds. Can you ‘splain?
Third, how is your view of the pastor (as an office/role) different from the office and role of the modern Protestant pastor?
I look forward to your answers ….
From the pen of John Howard Yoder
“The whole concern of Reformation theology was to justify restructuring the organized church without shaking its foundations.”
“There are few more reliable constants running through all human society than the special place every human community makes for the professional religionist . . . But if we were to ask whether any of the N.T. literature makes the assumptions listed — Is there one particular office in which there should be only one or a few individuals for whom it provides a livelihood, unique in character due to ordination, central to the definition of the church and the key to her functioning? Then the answer from the biblical material is a resounding negation [no].”
“The conclusion is inescapable that the multiplicity of ministries is not a mere adiaphoron, a happenstance of only superficial significance, but a specific work of grace and a standard for the church.”
“Losing the specific and original trait of the primitive community, the church by and large became again subject to the usual anthropologically universal pattern of the single, sacramentally qualified religionist. By and large . . . this pattern has continued to our day in churches of every polity and theology.”
“Let us then ask first not whether there is a clear, solid concept of preaching, but whether there was in the N.T. one particular preaching office, identifiable as distinctly as the other ministries. Neither in the most varied picture (Corinthians) nor in the least varied (Pastoral Epistles) is there one particular ministry thus defined.”