Earlier this week, I wrote about a dream of mine, namely the insourcing of the local church. Before I delve into an extended discussion on insourcing, I want to draw attention to the consequences outsourcing in the local church. I think the philosophy of outsourcing has long been the default thinking of the local church with little attention given to the dangerous consequences it produces. If we are going to see any real Great Commission advance in North America, we must begin with the way we think that determines how we operate.
Reflecting on this in recent months, I believe there are four main components at play here: philosophy, process, assessment, and outcome (leading to result). The philosophy determines the process; the process governs the assessment; the assessment shapes the outcome; the outcome leads to consequences that define the culture of the church. For visual learners, here’s a simple flow of these components [please excuse my limited graphic skills!].
The tangible outworking of the Great Commission is expressed in disciple-making, leadership development, and church planting. If disciple-making is outsourced, then so will leadership development (which is simply an intensified version of disciple-making). If leadership development is outsourced, then church planting will never become a reality for local churches. Churches will not be able to plant churches, and the Great Commission will continue to be marginalized and left to denominations, parachurch organizations, and networks. As much as we want to see movement happen, I don’t believe movement is possible with the current system of outsourcing due to the following consequences.
What happens when disciple-making is not the norm and leadership development does not exist? The answer is that leadership must be resourced outside the local church, from the process of recruiting. There are numerous systems for recruiting, including the following numerous feeders: seminaries, Bible colleges, denominational offices, church staffing websites, state paper classifieds, etc. Because outsourcing is predominant, the primary (if not exclusive) place we look for new leadership is recruiting from without, not farming from within. Churches are committed to the process of recruiting because they have bought into the philosophy of outsourcing.
When it comes to a recruitment process, there has to be some criteria to assess the best qualified candidate. Sometimes it is a personnel committee, “pastor search” task force, or appointed elders. Those who are being recruited from without are “candidates” who are “candidating” for the leadership position. The filters of assessment in the recruitment usually begin with the resume and educational qualifications (diplomas) and proceeds to other things like personality profiling, previous experience, references, etc. These filters are necessary because the recruitment process is based on the assumption that you know virtually nothing about the person you are looking to assimilate. To go from strangers to leaders, the sense of respect and trust must be earned through being exceptional, at least on paper. In the end, the best and most qualified candidate is chosen for the new leadership position in the church.
The outcome from the assessment process is the professionalization of the ministry. The outsourcing that led to looking for leadership outside the church has now led to an outsourcing from within the church. In other words, the ministry is for every member in the church; ministry is for the professionals. It is the job of the church to leave it to those most qualified to do the work. The leaders are exceptionally gifted and eminently qualified according to the assessment put in place through the recruitment process. The disconnect between the Ph.D on the platform and the new believer in the pew is not simply positional; it is philosophical and practical. This is the unintended consequence of recruiting the most qualified in order to engender respect and trust for the position they will hold–the position will undermine the practice of the people to fulfill the purpose of the church.
MARGINALIZATION OF MISSION
The consequence of outsourcing is that folks within the church with neither discover pathways of greater usefulness nor be able to relate to their leaders without similarly following course according to this philosophy (training and equipping outside the church, degrees and diplomas, etc.). The consensus driving the culture is, “Aren’t our pastors great? I could never do what they are doing, but I am so glad they are doing it!” On the one hand, there is genuine appreciation for the exceptional nature of their giftedness. On the other hand, there is a strong conviction they could never do what they are doing. The result is that the mission of the church is marginalized, and imitation is replaced with adoration. Over time, the culture that is created demands more from the leadership and less from the membership because the competency to do the work is measured by an assessment process that requires training and equipping not available through the local church. Pathways are not necessary and member aspirations are redirected to outsourcing channels already in place to perpetuate the process.
Now, there’s obvious other factors involved here, but for the most part, this is what I see happening (and has been happening for as long as I’ve been alive). To see a significant shift from the philosophy of outsourcing to insourcing would require profound rethinking of the systems and structures in evangelical life that have long been established and normative. Honestly, I think it will take years, perhaps decades to see such a change.
But we have to start somewhere.
I want to do what I can to spread a vision for insourcing the local church because it provides the philosophical framework to facilitate the expressions of the Great Commission of which the local church is solely responsible. In a later post, I will explain why I believe bottom half of the diagram is the course correction we need to take, in implementing insourcing for the ultimate outcome of maximizing mission in the local church. Let me hear your thoughts, and join me in wrestling through these issues for cause of Great Commission advance in our generation!