Here is the second lesson Scott Manetsch gleaned from his study of the pastors in Geneva from 1536-1609. The first lesson is in this post.
Second, my study of Calvin and the Company of Pastors has highlighted the importance of accountability and collegiality in pastoral work. Woven into the DNA of Geneva’s reformed church were Calvin’s convictions that ministers of the gosple stood beneath the authority of Christ, that no Christian minister should hold preeminence in the church, and that ministers must be held accountable to the collective judgment of their colleagues. As we have seen, the Company of Pastors-to which each minister belonged as an equal partner-supervised the pastoral work and monitored the personal conduct of all of Geneva’s pastors. Likewise, in the weekly meetings of the Congregation, ministers studied Scripture together, evaluated one another’s sermons, and forged a common theological outlook. Christian understanding, Calvin believed, was achieved in community. The Ordinary Censure also promoted collegiality in providing a regular venue for Geneva’s ministers to air doctrinal disagreements and address interpersonal conflicts behind closed doors. Finally, when members of the Company committed serious moral failure, they were subject to the judgment and correction of their peers on the Consistory. Though this collegial model of ministry did not foster bold innovation, nor allow for strong dissent, it did create a pastoral culture in Geneva where ministers depended on one another, learned from one another, were subject to one another, and forgave one another. Contemporary Protestantism, with its infatuation for robust individualism, celebrity preachers, and ministry empires, has much to learn from the example of Geneva’s church.
Of the four lessons Manetsch draws from his study, this one might the most neglected and hardest to implement in our current cultural climate, especially for small church pastors. What Geneva had was several ordained pastors who had weekly interaction, critiqued one another’s sermons, kept each other accountable, and learned from each other. Even in a church with multiple staff members often these men are not all ordained pastors. In other words, I know of very few situations where this type of weekly pastoral interaction is a reality.
I think most pastors would love to have this type of collegial relationship with other pastors. I know I would. But how can we do it in a culture where there is so much going on at our individual churches, there are not only denominational differences, but differences of vision and ministry style, and we are often so spread out? For now we will have to use the tools at our disposal, such as the Internet, as well pastoral prayer meetings and other face to fact meetings to fill the void. But it seems we need more work in this area so that pastors have regular face to face relationships with other pastors where they are learning from and accountable to one another.