It is sometimes said the world operates with secular standards but the church has spiritual standards, and this can lead to a neat division of the secular and the sacred. But nearly every pastor, within the first week, realizes pastoring involves pragmatics, and more often than not the pragmatics bear striking resemblance to how things work in the “world.”
Those same pastors also face another issue: how to create a church that is not just pragmatics. The temptation to do things in a way that “works” is a constant.
Where do you see pragmatism in the church? in ministry? Where does it concern you? What do you see that has helped the church?
Graham Buxton, in his book Dancing in the Dark, takes his many years of experience in the business world and explores those leadership pragmatics through a theological grid. I’m sure anyone interested in church leadership will find this chp — and book — stimulating.
If we are all made in God’s image, and if God’s Spirit is always at work in people, it follows that common grace (or something like it) can be seen in the pragmatics of enterprises and businesses — in other words, since the church corresponds in some ways with an “organization,” some similar pragmatics are at work. Buxton’s theory is “spoil the Egyptians.”
He examines the Church Growth Movement (ICG) with McGavran and Wagner, seeing both their pragmatics and the value of their work — but he wonders if elements of church ministry are neglected in their approach. The entire movement, and not just these two, led to pastors to be “success-oriented and growth-conscious, and a pragmatic ‘what-works’ mentality began its subtle invasion of the pastoral ministry of the church” (244). Thus, we have to face up to the “seduction of pragmatic methodology” (245).
I want to explore one element of pragmatics and preaching, something not discussed in Buxton. How do you get your sermons? Is it pragmatics? Ideas: some “use” the sermons of others, sometimes plagiarizing and sometimes barely giving credit; some want the sermon to hang from the ah-ha moments — that is, they want stories to hold the thing up and to give it value; some rely on the cute and the clever and the never-heard-of-that idea. Others, and here we turn our backs on pragmatism, and say that the best sermons are found on the anvil of prayer, meditation, Scripture study, theological reading over time, and attentiveness to context and congregation.
Back to Buxton: There is a difference between relying upon and plundering. The former assumes pragmatics are right; the latter lays pragmatics into a gospel bed. The focus needs to be Christ; the aim is to participate in what God is doing.
Graham Buxton is a fan of Ray Anderson’s “futurum” vs. “adventus” approach:
1. Some see the past and the present and find a method to get them to their future.
2. Others know the past and the present and are prepared for adventus — the arrival of God’s work in the present in light of where God is taking us.
The first is management and pragmatics; the second is charismatic form of leadership and attentiveness.
Finally, Graham Buxton is keen on learning to keep the “people” factor central in ministry: people aren’t tools (more along Peter Drucker’s theory) but people in whom God is at work and we are called to participate in what God is doing. (He likes the story of Ricardo Semler.) This means three elements rise to the surface:
3. Size: he’s sensitive to this issue but does not disparage the larger church.
Ultimately, we ask if the method serves the eschatological new creation work of God in our midst. Not if it works.