Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Another cultural insight

I was chatting with a friend yesterday and he mentioned a difficulty his small group was having with a passage in Acts.

The passage was Acts 13:1-3 - where the church in Antioch send out Barnabas and Saul. I read the passage, thought 'it looks like a pretty standard 'missionary commissioning' sort of thing' and wondered what the problem was.

The problem the group was having was this. 'What happened to the church in Antioch?' As the story continues in Acts 13 the missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas is followed, but we don't hear much about the 'sending church'.

I was kind of - oh well, doesn't matter, I guess it carried on as normal, just with a few less members who might have been missed for a couple of weeks but life went on.

But no - and here was the cultural insight. This was a great concern for my friend's group, because here in many cases the identity of the church is very, very closely bound with the identity of the pastor. Saul (son to be Paul) and Barnabas were clearly very important pastors in the church in Antioch (they had been there for a year Acts 11:26), so for them to leave, in the mind of the group here, was an almost unimaginable thing.

Not only that, but they didn't just leave, the church sent them out!

Because of the strong link between the church and the pastor here, that was a very difficult concept for the group to get their head around.

And so I asked - what happens when a pastor leaves a church? I mean, surely it happens.

Well, yes, it does, but often it is the source of great disruption and division in the church. It depends a bit on the circumstances, but sometimes a significant number of the congregation will leave and go with the pastor to his new position, or sometimes they will just leave. Sometimes it precipitates a huge power struggle, because the church / identity / pastor link is so strong the vacuum needs to be filled. Sometimes the position can never be filled, because the new guy can never be as good as the old guy.

But I asked - what about sending missionaries. If it is so difficult for a pastor to leave, what hope is there for the congregation to send him off as a missionary.

'Not much' was my friend's reply.

I'm very thankful for the 'sending' culture of our churches in Sydney. To be sending the pastor away to serve away from 'homebase' short-term or long-term is seen as a great thing to do, not a threat to the health and identity of the church. That is a wonderful reflection of God's concern for the whole world, not just the bit of the world inside our own parish boundary.

(By the way, the picture is of the church Friday night men's group I am part of)

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