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Office: Take 2

Continuing to think out loud for my Ministry Formation essay, here’s the question of how office fits into calling, again, continuing discussions started here. This section is quite a bit of theory but it was both new and helpful to me once I found it. Your thoughts? (Lots of footnotes in this one. Just ignore them – they imported from Word.)

We would do well to keep the experiences of wanting to do ministry and being gifted for it distinct from the call from a church to a particular office, for office is not a mandatory element of calling. To adequately understand calling and its relation to office, we must first understand the missional structures of the church.

Since the Reformation, protestants have largely considered the local church to be the primary missional structure of the body of Christ.[1] Indeed, the local church has a primary place in the worldwide church. Every Christian should belong to one. However, a second missional structure exists that is distinct from the local church in its task and yet also enriches the local church. Peter Adam outlines the complementary characteristics of this second structure in contrast to the first in the following way: [2]

Local church / modality:

  • theological diverse
  • multicultural
  • welcome all, gifted or not
  • breadth of theology and ministry
  • variety of actions

Missions / sodality / para-church

  • promotes a particular perspective of Christian faith
  • rightly monocultural (e.g. the elderly, students, nurses)
  • value those who contribute to a specific aim (e.g. reach this campus for Christ)
  • specialist theology and ministry
  • specialise in one activity, skills and expertise

The sodality is a specialised branch of the worldwide church, a taskforce in which membership is dependent on orientation to a particular goal. The first biblical case study of this is Paul’s missionary band in Acts.[3] Ralph Winter sees Paul’s team as a group of “committed, experienced workers who affiliated themselves as a second decision beyond membership in the first structure” (i.e. the local church).[4] What must be noted here is that this team was more than an extension of the Antioch church from which they came.[5] Certainly, Paul and his team are sent out from Antioch, at least on the first and second, though he appears to have started the third on his own (see Acts 18:23, 21:15, 17). Yet, once Paul sets out on the journey, he neither answers to Antioch now appears to need that church’s governance. Thus he adds and subtracts people from his group, chooses where to go and makes various decisions independently from Antioch.[6]

This is not to say that Paul and his team are unrelated to the local church, for they do report back to Antioch for their encouragement, but there is a sense in which they are unhinged, that their authority is not derived from the local church. Rather, their authority is grounded in the mission they are undertaking. As Peter Wagner says, “the organization is more important than the people and the people can be and are fired for incompetence without trial by jury… They are not governed by consensus, but management is by objective.”[7] In this sense, the sodality is autonomous from the local church. However, this ought to be a great source of joy and renewal for the local church. From a theological perspective, the tendency of institutions towards control, particularly of sodalities runs the risk of quenching the Spirit.[8] From a historical perspective, Winter argues that the sodality, “as it was recreated again and again by different leaders, was almost always the structural prime mover, the source of inspiration and renewal which overflowed into the papacy and created the reform movements which blessed diocesan Christianity from time to time.”[9]

Indeed, sodalities are missional are prime feeders for the local church, for as they convert unbelievers, they send them into local churches. The sodality also contributes to the life of believers. Jerry White notes how many local church ministers chose that path because of their discipleship experiences in sodalities who encouraged them to greater participation in the modality.[10] The sodality that does not perform this function has normally slipped into modality and thus no longer fulfils its purpose.[11] Not only is the modality enriched by the sodality, but the latter is also complements the former, for it is modalities that are the primary carers and growers of people and it is from local churches that sodalities derive their taskforce.[12] Nevertheless, the sodality is an arm of the universal church, not the ministry of a particular local church.[13]

This understanding is important for understanding calling for a number of reasons. Firstly, if opens up the possibility that one may be called to ministry which is outside of the modality, that is, not a ministry of the local church. Secondly, if this is the case, if means that discussion of office may be largely irrelevant, for offices, particularly as they exist in today’s church, are largely institutionalised, while sodalities by their nature are to be unhinged from the institution.[14]

What does that mean for pastoral identity? One more post to come!


[1] Ralph Winter attributes this to Luther, who, despairing of the lack of spiritual vitality in the church, as compared with his monastic order, reacted against the latter, attempting to inject its values, tasks and goals into the local church. This only started to be reversed with the world mission movements of the nineteenth century and continues to raise questions about the validity of para-church work. See Ralph Winter, ‘The Two Structures of God’s Redemptive Mission’. Pages 227-235 in Ralph D Winter and Steven C Hawthorne, eds. Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A reader, Pasadena: William Carey, 1999, 232.

[2] Peter Adam, ‘The Church and the ECU’, Salt Spring 1986, 4-6, 5.

[3] Campus Crusade for Christ provided a detailed list of all the missionary teams in Acts. http://resources.campusforchrist.org/index.php/Ministry_Philosophy

[4] Winter, ‘Two Structures’, 228.

[5] I am not attempted here to take Paul’s missionary band as a precedent or normative structure for the church, but rather to see here a proto-type which, if it does not mandate mission task forces, at least legitimises them.

[6] See discussion in AW Swamidoss, ‘The Biblical Basis for Para-Church Movements’ Evangelical Review of Theology 7 1983, 192-206.

[7] Peter Wagner, Church Growth and the Whole Gospel, San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1981, 186-187. Perhaps the most blatant of examples here is the dispute between Barnabas, the encourager, and Paul, the leader of the missionary task force, over John Mark in Acts 15:36-40. While Barnabas seeks to care for John Mark, a feature of modality, Paul’s focus is the task and he rejects taking John Mark at that time. Although Mark continues to do ministry (cf. Col 4:10, Philm 23; 2 Tim 4:11) at that time, he does not serve the interests of the sodality. See also Swamidoss, ‘Biblical Basis’, 195.

[8] John Stott argues that the modality emphasises the Body while the sodality emphasises the Spirit. He warns against elevating one over the other and encourages honouring of both by the mutual co-operation of modality and sodality. See Keith Price, ed. Co-operating in World Evangelization: A handbook on church/para-church relationships, Wheaton: Lausanne Committee for World Evangelisation, 1983, 82.

[9] Winter, ‘Two Structures’, 231.

[10] Jerry White, The Church and the Parachurch: An Uneasy Marriage, Portland: Multnomah, 1983, 29.

[11] White, The Church and the Parachurch, 81.

[12] Winter in Keith Price ed., Co-operating, 83; Wilson, Ron, ‘Parachurch: Becoming part of the body’, Christianity Today, 24 18-20.

[13] Swamidoss, ‘Biblical Basis’, 205; Adam, ‘The Church and the ECU’, 5.

[14] While it could be argued that a person is called to an office by God and thus office is not necessarily institutional, one aspect of ordination to office is laying on of hands by the church authorities. Thus it is difficult to argue for an office which is separate from the institutional church. It may be that the office of sodality is ‘apostle’ if this continues past the New Testament period. This would make sense of Paul’s ministry, as well as the ministry he hands on to Timothy that appears broader than that of ‘local church pastor’.

Categories: Church God Ministry & mission RRoundup Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.

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