The Calvary Chapel Chronicles: The Moses Model
“Let’s look at an example of theocracy in which God was ruling. Under God there was a man called Moses. Moses went to God for guidance and direction. Moses was the earthly leader who was recognized as receiving from God the guidance, direction, laws, and rules for the nation. It was recognized by the people that he was their link to God. They said, “Look we’re afraid to approach Him. He’s awesome. We’ve seen the fire and thunder. You go up and you talk to Him, and then you come down and tell us what He says, and we’ll obey it. But we don’t want to go. You just go.” So they recognized that Moses was being directed by God. He would go up and he would receive from God and he would, in turn, come down and share it with the people.”
“In the church today we see this structure in a modified form. We see that Jesus Christ is the Head over the body of the church. It’s His church. He’s the One in charge. As pastors, we need to be like Moses, in touch with Jesus and receiving His direction and guidance. As pastors we need to be leading the church in such a way that the people know that the Lord is in control. Then, when issues come up, we can say, “Well, let me pray about that.” “Let me seek the wisdom of the Lord on this.” “Let’s look for the Lord’s guidance.” Also, like Moses, within the church we have a Board of Elders who are there to pray with us and support us in seeking the Lord’s leading for the church.”
Much ink has been spilled both decrying and defending the “Moses Model” of leadership in Calvary Chapels.
We’ll do a bit of that in later articles.
I want to come at this from a different angle today based on my experience in writing about the movement for years.
I think the problems in this ecclesiology don’t come just from the rather odd theological defense of the model but from the fact that in reality, it’s a model of entrepreneurial business.
Most Calvary Chapels in the old days were planted by a single person or family with little or no financial support from a sending church or organization.
The planter/pastor carried all the financial responsibility for the church plant.
They started in a home as a Bible study and as (if) they grew the group would change facilities as necessary to handle the growth.
Some of those folks ended up buying buildings and property as the churches thrived.
Many found a way to survive having reached the hundred member threshold to be officially recognized as Calvary Chapel churches.
More than a few went broke and went home.
In any case, the process created a sense of personal ownership of the church because the pastor had borne the weight of building it.
They had made the decisions that led to success and that success proved their anointing from on high was sure.
Thus, their methods and decisions were approved by God and man.
To question them or confront them was an offense against both.
They were the peoples “link to God”…
This model has also led to some issues as the first and second generation of pastors enter their sixties and seventies.
Because most of these pastors couldn’t or didn’t set up viable retirement plans, they were dependent on the church for survival.
Add to that the fact that many Calvary Chapel pastors opted out of Social Security…it became a boundary marker of faith in the group to prove that you believed the Rapture was imminent and you wouldn’t need that safety net in your later years.
As Jesus has tarried, you now have a group of old men facing the future without SSI or Medicare.
Now you know why there are so few succession plans for pastors to retire in Calvary Chapel.
They can’t afford to go.
Because they started and built the church, they believe they are entitled to be supported by the church just as they have always been.
Most churches can’t support two “senior” pastors.
To sum up my thesis, the doctrine of the absolute authority of the pastor in these churches comes as much from the business world as it does the Bible…it’s an entrepreneurial model as much as a theological one.
For many of these pastors it’s not just a matter of a theological distinctive, but a way of survival.