Something happens when a youth worker hits a certain age in life. . . at least that’s been my own personal experience. Age gives you an opportunity for a rear-view-mirror look at a road that stretches way back, offering an opportunity to evaluate the twists and turns of your ministry journey. You look back and thank God for His grace that allowed you to get it right those times when you did get it right. And, you look back and lament where your commitments and beliefs. . . though well-intentioned. . . took you down roads where you got it wrong. . . even though you thought you were getting it right at the time. . . so much so that you would have died on that hill!
And one of the great responsibilities that comes with age is to advise those behind you on which roads to take and which roads to avoid.
This morning, a blog post from Scot McKnight. . . “Willow Creek. What’s A Pastor?”. . . popped up in my newsfeed. It’s powerful bit of advice on which roads to take and which roads to avoid.
Youth workers. . . you need to read Scot McKnight’s words carefully. I’ve been around long enough to have seen, been tempted by, and increasingly lamented how what Scott McKnight is referencing here has snuck into and been taking over the youth ministry world. For example, when I ask youth workers and even some pastors “What are you reading?”, leadership books are the clear choice over theology and biblical studies. That’s really scary. . . really scary. And regarding a robust theological education. . . it’s too often ignored. I increasingly encounter folks doing youth ministry who don’t want it at all, or who pursue the path of least resistance (cheap and easy online options) as a fast track to a set of credentials/initials. That’s even more scary. Does this trajectory really prepare us to minister effectively to kids?
Here’s what frightens me about our current (youth) ministry landscape. . . The fruit of good intentions can easily yield a distracted and ultimately derailed church/youth ministry culture that the enemy glories in. We must go deep in our relentless pursuit of conformity to the image of Christ if our ministry telos is truly to see our students do the same.
Here’s what Scot McKnight writes. . .
I’ve had two stints as a professor in a seminary, schools designed to educate those in the church and especially those called into its various ministries. Two decades of my teaching career. My first stint involved a massing learning curve about pastors while the second stint, at Northern Seminary, is (what I think is) my sweet spot. I love teaching students who love the church.
While we have plenty of students who are not going to be senior or teaching or lead pastors, the pastoral calling transcends those adjectives. So, in my classes we talk lots about churches and pastors and the pastoral calling.
This all led to my book Pastor Paul: Nurturing a Culture of Christoformity in the Church. Which made my ears and eyes sensitive to Willow Creek’s summary description of what they are looking for in a pastor.
God’s design for you and for me, for all Christians, for the whole church is expressed with living brilliance in Romans 8:29-30:
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified (NRSV).
The design of God for all of us is to be “co-morphed” into his Son’s very image. I call this Christoformity, a slightly more accurate expression than “Christlikeness.” Conformity to Christ, co-morphing into Christ is Christoformity.
If this is God’s design for us, then this is absolutely the design of the pastoral calling. Pastors first and foremost are called to pastor people toward Christoformity. This theme shapes all eight chapters in Pastor Paul. I develop these themes: friendship, siblings, generosity, storytellers, witness, world subversion, and wisdom.
All as instances of the theme of pastors as culture makers, as those who nurture a culture of Christoformity.
So, two big ideas: pastors pastor people, and pastors pastor people by nurturing Christoformity.
There is not the slightest hint that Willow Creek’s pastor job description comprehends this as the central shaping vision for the pastor they want. Besides being the one and only pastoral search description I have ever seen that does not state that its pastor is to match up favorably with the elder/bishop list of the 1 Timothy 3:1-7 (or Titus 1:7-9) and besides not having anything along the line of the pastoral ends/goals, the job description focuses on the very culture formed under Bill Hybels. That is, a culture in which the pastor is an entrepreneurial leader who expands the Willow Creek brand. . . Keep reading here.