Methodism and the Mistake of the Solo Pastor

This may seem a tad out of the blue over here. I've actually been developing some of this thinking in the context of conversations with members and friends of the Order of Saint Luke.

(Those "high church" liturgical folks missional? You bet! Or at least there are enough of us who bring that kind of missional virus to the mix that OSL is being thoroughly infected with it-- the Order is even doing its 2007 Fall Retreat on Emerging Church and Emerging Worship-- see for more info).

So this is from my conversations "over there"... It kind of takes off from three other strains of thinking I've been working through:

a) the both-andedness of the pre-1784 Methodist experience, which was deeply missional
b) the sense that that both-andedness is still in Methodist DNA, but has become recessive for the most part
c) Alan Hirsch's proposal that missional leadership (whether as congregations or organic groups) requires a variety of different gift sets that can't possibly be found in one person, not even Jesus! (Heck, he's part of a Trinity right?) Hirsch uses the acronym "APEST" to describe these constellations of gifts-- Apostolic, Prophetic, Evangelistic, Shepherding, and Teaching. For more on that, read his book (if you haven't already) or go to the blog of the same name--
d) Okay, four-- FOUR strains of thought-- Ori Brafman's description of distributed leadership in "The Starfish and the Spider" (did YOU expect the Spanish Inquisition?)

So, there's the background. Here's the proposal.

It occurs to me that early Methodism may well point the way to the reality that the idea of a solo pastor is a mistake.

How? Well, every Methodist, pre-1784, would have had actually several pastors. There would have been the local parish priest, and perhaps other staff there as well. There would have been a class leader. If one were a class leader, there would have been a leader of the band to which that class leader may belong. There would have been the leader of the society. A good number of the societies had exhorters and lay preachers. And there was also a lot of input from John and Charles-- both in terms of theology and in terms of congregational singing. That's a lot of pastors, and none of them is doing the same thing or functioning in the same relationship as any other to any given Methodist.

Distributed leadership everywhere--- no solo pastors anywhere. But ALL of them performing essential and non-duplicated roles.

Unless, that is, you were NOT a Methodist-- in which case, in some of the smaller parishes in the Church of England (and likely a dying parish!) you may have had a solo rector or vicar-- and maybe even a fairly absent one because he was covering a multi-point charge.

So, why, tell me, do we think it a good idea to be forming solo pastors or hierarchal models of senior pastor/staff? Our recessive DNA reminds us we know better.

Thoughts? Comments?

Peace in Christ,

Taylor Burton-Edwards