..or “why the way we traditionally ‘do church’ hurts us in ways we can’t even begin to fathom.”
A random stranger recently asked:
Myself and many others find mutual edification every Sunday. If all you ever did to worship in a regular, organized church setting is passively listen to one man then I’m sorry for you.
How do you know that people aren’t using their God given gifts at any organized church setting?
How would you substantiate the claim that ~98% (my number) of pastors in America are damaging and detrimental to their churches for standing and preaching a sermon?
I wouldn’t place a number on the number of detrimental pastors nor would I claim that some pastors weren’t gifted and able to be used in spite of the flawed system they find themselves in. However I would point to three lines of evidence to substantiate my claim that the system we have come up with of clergy ruling over the laity is harmful.
In the first place, a hierarchical system where non-preachers are viewed as less spiritual, where the gift of preaching is exalted above all other gifts is plainly against many passages found in scripture including Jesus’s own admonition that his own disciples not follow the pattern of the world in setting up hierarchical “power over” systems.
Secondly I would point to the perpetual spiritual immaturity that is fostered and festering in most churches (particularly Southern Baptist and Methodist churches as those are the ones I have the most experience in). When people are told that rigorous study of the word of God is limited to an elite few “chosen” men the end result is a logical abdication of serious study on the part of the “average” churchgoer. This is one of the reasons I believe areas such as apologetics have historically had such a hard time making inroads into the local church because most pastors feel threatened by the prospect of their congregation actually being educated and able (empowered?) to ask serious questions. Sadly it doesn’t have to be like this and I’ll explain in my third line of reasoning below.
Finally, I believe that the system we’ve manufactured (sure, as early as 300AD, but early errors are still errors) and have come to accept as an unquestionable fact is harmful to the Body of Christ is because it leads directly to pastors either being burned out or becoming dictators (I believe in some cases merely for self-preservation). Nowhere in Scripture are we presented with a description of a man who is supposed to shoulder the load that we expect the average “professional” pastor to carry. Nowhere in Scripture are we told that one man in a local group of believers is in charge of visiting the sick, ministering to all the members, responsible for the bulk of spiritual instruction, etc.
Sadly, it doesn’t have to be this way as what we find, instead, portrayed in Scripture is a community where each member of the Body of Christ helps shoulder the responsibility of mutually edifying one another.
Now I’m not claiming that such communities don’t exist within institutional church settings. On the contrary, I believe that the church is a living organism and as Dr. Ian Malcolm said in Jurassic Park, “life finds a way.” such that there are many pockets of small intimately connected believers that are found in many churches. However what I’m claiming is that those pockets of organic communities that exist within the confines of an institutional church often happen in spite of the system we’ve come to accept and not because of it.
When the main period of “worship” in most churches is seen as being the Sunday morning service (often referred to as “the big show”) the question is not whether members are allowed to employ their gifts at another time but whether they are encouraged to employ their gifts in the meeting on Sunday morning. Since most believers are not encouraged to participate openly I submit that the resulting system where only a few members of the body of Christ are allowed to speak or otherwise monopolize the meeting implicitly implies that the members who are not allowed to participate (think about what would happen if someone were to have a “word of prophecy” and decide to share it in the average Southern Baptist Church) are somehow inferior.
Until we come to terms with the lack of open participation and mutual edification found in most of our churches I do not think we will see anything other than more of the same when it comes to the church’s impact on the world around us.
One must also wonder why we are so reluctant to change as well considering that we regularly hear tales from missionaries and brethren in churches overseas which lack the streamlined hierarchical leadership structure we see here (think Korea, China, South America, etc.) exploding with new believers and a spiritual maturity that ought to make us hang our heads in shame.
So, the clergy/laity split is detrimental in at least 2 ways: 1.) it harms the spiritual growth of the “average” Christian and 2.) it leads to clergy burnout. And the opposite to the clergy/laity split I’ll call the open participatory format is supported by 1.) Scripture as well as 2.) our own experience of demonstrable spiritual vitality in places that do not cling to a clergy/laity distinction/split.