DEAR RUSSELL

Jeff Rada

[I am writing this letter to a real Elder Statesman of the "Brotherhood" (associates of the North American Christian Convention, otherwise known as the Independent Christian Churches). He is one of the hundreds of older "preachers" who represent the received view of the modern institutional church. His letter to the stereotypical. "Timothy" of the modern era has embedded within it unbiblical assumptions that need to be exposed for what they are. The letter to which this response is directed was written by Russell Blowers, the so-called Senior Minister of the East Ninety-First Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana, and was carried in the 8 October 1989 Christian Standard.]

Dear Russell:

Seeing as you broadcast your Dear Timothy letter in the Reflections column, and as I have trained for the role to which you addressed yourself, I will take the liberty to respond to your words of encouragement.

I appreciate your assurance that we are called to he faithful; not successful. However, I note that you made the Reflections column and hold down a pulpit of a church organization of about 2700, according to the latest Directory of the Ministry.

I wholeheartedly agree that success in "the ministry" can be hazardous to your spiritual health. I also agree that the "preacher" whose "goal" is to keep moving up to bigger bucks, budgets, and buildings full of born again baby boomers has within him the seeds of self-destruction." What would you say of the man who has arrived there after a lifetime of striving? That it was a mere by-product of his "preaching" and not an explicit goal?

How much creditability do your words of consolation carry for Timothy for hint to know that you stand secure at the helm of a megachurch whose elders are possibly in your hip pocket, in utter contrast to his small rural congregation with an obstructionist Eldership? You urge Timothy to be willing to take tough stands when necessary even if he is threatened with dismissal. Given your situation, I wonder whether you have lost touch with the vulnerability of his nearly impossible situation. You speak of the [elder] "board's" unanimous disapproval of Timothy's implementation of his ideas he received from his recent Church Growth conference. You say Timothy is where God wants him to be; that he should wait for God's timing [Translation: Stay put and be content. After all, somebody has to keep the small pulpits filled.]. I wonder how you would feel if you were back at Steppingstone Christian Church.

You say that Timothy should not covet green pastures beyond Stepping Stone Christian Church. You cite the example of David. When he became "top gun" he was yearning for the greener pastures back home in his former humble setting. Would you trade your position for one at Steppingstone Christian again? I doubt it.

In point of fact, you are allowed to address "Timothy" by virtue of the position you have built for yourself. You speak of being in "the ministry'" as though it is possible to he a Christian and not be in "the ministry." In truth, you are regarding "the ministry" as a ministerial caste, of whom you and Timothy are "ordained" members. This is a lie and it is a tremendous hindrance to the evangelization of the world. None of the New Testament Greek words translated "minister'' or "ministry" ever refer to a member of a ministerial caste such as the one to which you belong. In the New Testament, the "minister" is just and only the Christian; "the ministry" is just and only the entire ekklesia or people of God; not merely you and the rest of the Good Ol' Boy Network.

Next, we consider your idea of a "preacher." To you and the men in power in the "Brotherhood," a preacher is a man who "fills a pulpit" and "delivers sermons" to Christian audiences. But as a matter of fact, the New Testament Greek words translated "preach" and "preacher" never refer to such a creature! A preacher in the New Testament presented the gospel principally to non-Christians for the purpose of conversion. So when you are thundering from the pulpit, you are not doing the work of a New Testament preacher. Then why do you accept that title, brother? Because it carries honor in the church institution. As long as you claim to be a preacher but are not what you claim to be, you are misusing Bible words. And the irony is that you are serving as a spokesman for the so-called "Restoration Movement." Fortunately, the encouraging thing is that there is a growing body of "Timothys" who are beginning to ask questions about this abuse of language.

I mention in passing a whole world of Bible abuse embedded in your use of the word [elder] "board." How interesting that so-called "preachers" view these men as intransigent obstacles to "church growth." The current clergy system insures that most of them will be kept in the dark about their biblical function and does nothing to prepare them for that function. Most of them think that they are primarily Board Members and Decision Makers when they should be principally teaching and being examples.

Now about your organization. I know that you wrote a few, years back in the Lookout about "mothering daughter churches." Insofar as this stimulates evangelism, your initiative is to be applauded. But insofar as you are helping to establish organizations which emulate the assumptions upon which the mother organization is predicated you do a disservice to the ekklesia. I admit that your organization has "mothered" daughter congregations, but what has been done is a mere token of what could be done.

But as a matter of further admonition, surely you are aware of the statistics which show, that younger and smaller congregations are more efficient at winning converts per capita per year than older and larger congregations. In fact, it would not be exaggerating to say [and I can produce statistical support on demand] that you could increase the evangelistic intensity of the Christians in your charge by about a factor of three if you broke up your empire into house fellowships or other such fellowships of 50-100 each. The same 2700 people who on the average will baptize 80 per year would then on average baptize nearly 300 per year. If you are really a preacher, and are therefore concerned for lost souls, then how can you justify a methodology which is certain to exclude approximately 300-80 = 220 per year from the Kingdom? Furthermore, to perpetuate your organization takes enormous amounts of money that could be better spent on transcultural evangelization, Bible translation, or benevolence. Your organization may contribute impressive raw dollar figures to these causes, but as a percentage of the people's giving, it is not nearly what it could be, given your overhead. What is worse, you are held up as the example to whom all young clergy should aspire. Better that they should establish new assemblies whose expression or manifestation has broken free of the assumptions of the institutional church. Thus, the very position which allows you to "console" Timothy has been bought, sadly, at a probable cost of a couple hundred souls per year. Put this way, you are in no position to advise the young "lad" as you call him.

If I were a young "Timothy" styled after the current model of a preacher/minister, I suppose I would in my tender years, and my occupational frustrations, feel envy from your letter. Envy because you have obviously made "Top Dog" as you call it, while saying that making it to the top isn't important. Being content with one's station in life and not counting success in mere numbers and dollars rolls easily off your pen. Too easily to be believed.

But rather, I am more angered. I am angered by what appears to me to be a feigned consolation; by the fact that your role, job, title, and status in the "Brotherhood" have no biblical justification. You are indeed Top Dog, of the Kingdom of the Clergy. A fraternity which usurps power by using Bible words in unbiblical ways. And after would-be evangelists hear your teaching and emulate your example, they give up evangelism for pulpiteering, religious politics, and climbing the clergy pecking order. And few recognize these abuses, except perhaps after a particularly painful firing by some Elder Board, because the clergy are expert at the manipulation of language.

Brother Blowers, please reconsider the biblical data to which I call your attention, the strategic ramifications of your situation and your example to young men. Your Timothy.