Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.
If one of the objectives of the Reformation was to blur the line between the two “classes” of church members (clergy and laymen) which existed at the time, then I think Martin Luther would be terribly disappointed in the traditional American church of today. We talk a lot about the “priesthood of the believer” and Spiritual gifts in every Christian and how we are all ministers, but the ministerial structure of our traditional protestant churches betrays us. We still have two classes of members: professional Christians (ministerial staff) and the rest of us. And, unfortunately, the rest of us are most often content to sit back and wait to be entertained and fed and ministered to by the professional Christians. Any attempts by Luther and friends to truly mobilize the laity of the church seem to have failed pretty miserably by most standards.
Okay, okay. Maybe it’s not quite that bad. But even among our healthiest churches, there is often this understanding, this “norm” that has the professional Christians doing the work (and getting paid for it) and the rest of us just coming up under them and supporting that work however we can. Our church offices and support staff are often geared toward that same paradigm. Our budgets, our programming, our communications strategies, virtually our entire infrastructure in the traditional evangelical church is bent toward this same attitude of paying our ministers to do ministry so that we don’t have to.
Because of this, my heart aches for the traditional church. I know there are plenty of non-traditional churches out there who are experimenting with other models…churches filled with people who have fled the traditional church in order to pursue the excitement of those experiments. But that is not my desire. I love the church too much to leave it behind. What I want is to change it from within. Am I dreaming? Is that even possible?
If I am currently in a traditional church, is it naive of me to dream of becoming a church where every layman is encouraged to find a ministry which can use his/her Spiritual gifts and training? Is it pie-in-the-sky thinking to envision a church which is specifically structured to support hundreds, even thousands of lay-led ministries? Is it so silly to think of the church as an “open system”, structured to continuously embrace new ministries born in the hearts of laymen who love the Lord so much they simply cannot help but find ways to make a difference in eternity? Or must we remain a “closed system” where a person must be a member 5-10 years before he/she is finally given enough “leash” to actually be supported in ministry?
I want to say to every staff member I know, “How many things will you do today which could be done as well or better by a knowledgeable layman in your church? Instead of doing it yourself, why not recruit someone to do it, so that you can do the things that you are called to do?” What if, rather than pay professional Christians to do ministry, we pay them to help US do ministry? How much more ministry might happen then?
I’m not given to rants, not very often, but I am growing weary of the country club mentality I find in so many of our otherwise good, traditional churches. These are good, Godly people. They can make a difference in this world. But their expectations have been so diluted by a non-responsive institutional structure, it will take something truly extraordinary to shift their thinking. It will take a revolution…one similar, no, one exactly like the one Jesus intended when He spoke of his church. I think it can happen, not only outside the church but from within the church as well. Am I so wrong about that?
© Blake Coffee
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