Tag Archives: laity

A note about senior pastors

Recently I Tweeted

“Senior pastor” is found in the Bible, its 1 Peter 5:4 and it refers to Jesus, not the CEO of your local church business.

Based off of this post on Alan Knox’s blog.

Here’s my extended take on the issue.

Senior pastors, indeed all professional pastors, bear a burden they were never meant to carry nor called to carry according to Scripture.

Nowhere in Scripture do we find one man saddled with the load the average church pastor is expected to carry. Contrary to John Piper, pastors today are, by and large, professionals. When you have a staff, budget, building, etc. you are a professional. In fact you are a business owner. A CEO.

Contrast this situation with what we find in Scripture where all believers are called to lift eachother up in mutual edification. Where no one man or elite group of men are commanded to lord over the flock from a position of authority.

To the contrary, the only form of leadership known in Scripture is servant leadership. Real servant leadership. Not the kind where the pastor takes home a nice check from his customers every month. Not the kind where the senior pastor gets to call all the shots (or influence the committees who give the appearance of calling the shots in most cases).

Real servant leadership where their leading is done through persuasive argument and not positional or credentialed authority lorded over “their” sheep.

I pity senior pastors, their existence harms everyone.

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Life finds a way

..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.

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The unbiblical clergy/laity division

Daniel,
Thanks for taking the time to ask to clairify my words from earlier, and I trust that you understand that because my statement was made to the general clergy/laity split it was not directed at you personally. At the outset I want to acknowledge that there are clergy like yourself and Christ Wyatt who
There are three main reasons why I say that a clergy/laity split is unbiblical and harmful to the body of Christ.
1.) Jesus told his Disciples (the apostles) in Matthew 20:25 not to be like the rulers of this world and lord their positions over others. Even if clergy are very careful and use all the right self-deprecating language, I don’t see how they can escape the holier-than-thou impression. I also think the constant “we will be judged more harshly than you” is a misnomer because it doesn’t acknowledge the “unordained” masses of SS teachers, “parachurch” teachers, etc. that are all, well, teachers.
In short, the clergy/laity split inherently violates the “do not Lord it over” mentality taught by Jesus and followed by the Disciples. You might object by citing their leadership status but I would point out that their method of leading was not a top-down approach practiced by clergy today but a bottom-up serving which didn’t result in their being seen very much. Clergy are not like that at all.
2.) We are all priests according to the new covenant according to I Peter 2:9. What does this mean, if not that there is to be no more priest/commoner distinction? Was it a meaningless statement? In most prodestant churches we give lip service to this doctrine but rarely live it out. I think the reason for the suppression of this doctrine is the clergy/laity split in a manner not unlike the Roman Catholic Church’s desire to maintain control over it’s “subjects”.
You mentioned there were some who were paid for their ministry and that is true. However there were many, like Paul, who made a big deal of not accepting money from those they ministered to. Combined with the Jewish idea that rabbi’s ought to maintain a marketable skill and what you end up with are bi-vocational pastors at best.
No where do you see the modern pastor, that is a man who has all the responsibilities and duties expected of a modern pastor, described in the text. I believe that is because of…
3.) (I’m hurrying because I need to get going for work.) Every Christiain is said to be a member of the body of Christ and every member is said to be of equal value (except the head, which of course is Christ). How can every member be equal or function properly if there is a clergy/laity distinction in place?
How can we avoid the favoritism James preached against if we claim that missionaries (as wonderful as they are), clergy, children’s teachers, etc. are exalted as somehow more special than everyone else?
How can we avoid the command to not cause divisions (sects, parties, etc.) within the body if we exalt an entire group of people?
In short, every member ought to function as it was designed and ought to be respected and revered as much as all the other members without either thinking itself special or more lowly. The clergy/laity split fundamentally undermines this, placing unnatural burdon on one member (the clergy) and not expecting anything of other members (presumably because they are too stupid or unreliable or untrained).
There is much more to say on this subject, and I fully hope we have time to explore it even more. However I feel it necessary to close my letter on another note by saying that I hope you don’t take my words as a personal attack. I love you and respect the sacrifices you’ve made and the commitment you have to our Lord. I’m not sure what an amicable resolution would be to our present dilemma but I do hope you bear in mind the fact that we are brothers under the same Lord regardless of our ecclesiological differences.

Recently, I was asked by a friend of mine about my position on the common practice of dividing the body of Christ between two distinct classes (castes?) of members, namely the clergy and the laity1. Since this is one of the most notable differences between a simple church and a legacy church I felt it worthy of a somewhat detailed treatment here.

There are three main reasons why I say that a clergy/laity split is unbiblical and harmful to the body of Christ.

1.) Jesus told his Disciples (the apostles) in Matthew 20:25 not to be like the rulers of this world and lord their positions over others. Even if clergy are very careful and use all the right self-deprecating language, I don’t see how they can escape the holier-than-thou impression. I also think the constant “we will be judged more harshly than you” is a misnomer because it doesn’t acknowledge the “unordained” masses of SS teachers, “parachurch” teachers, etc. that are all, well, teachers.

In short, the clergy/laity split inherently violates the “do not Lord it over” mentality taught by Jesus and followed by the Disciples. You might object by citing their leadership status but I would point out that their method of leading was not a top-down approach practiced by clergy today but a bottom-up serving which didn’t result in their being seen very much. Clergy are not like that at all.

2.) We are all priests according to the new covenant according to I Peter 2:9. What does this mean, if not that there is to be no more priest/commoner distinction? Was it a meaningless statement? In most prodestant churches we give lip service to this doctrine but rarely live it out. I think the reason for the suppression of this doctrine is the clergy/laity split in a manner not unlike the Roman Catholic Church’s desire to maintain control over it’s “subjects”.

You mentioned there were some who were paid for their ministry and that is true. However there were many, like Paul, who made a big deal of not accepting money from those they ministered to. Combined with the Jewish idea that rabbi’s ought to maintain a marketable skill and what you end up with are bi-vocational pastors at best.

No where do you see the modern pastor, that is a man who has all the responsibilities and duties expected of a modern pastor, described in the text. I believe that is because of…

3.) Every Christiain is said to be a member of the body of Christ and every member is said to be of equal value (except the head, which of course is Christ). How can every member be equal or function properly if there is a clergy/laity distinction in place?

How can we avoid the favoritism James preached against if we claim that missionaries (as wonderful as they are), clergy, children’s teachers, etc. are exalted as somehow more special than everyone else?

How can we avoid the command to not cause divisions (sects, parties, etc.) within the body if we exalt an entire group of people?

In short, every member ought to function as it was designed and ought to be respected and revered as much as all the other members without either thinking itself special or more lowly. The clergy/laity split fundamentally undermines this, placing unnatural burdon on one member (the clergy) and not expecting anything of other members (presumably because they are too stupid or unreliable or untrained).

There is much more to say on this subject, and I fully hope we have time to explore it even more. However I feel it necessary to close this post on another note by saying that I hope pastors don’t take my words as a personal attack. I love you and respect the sacrifices you’ve made and the commitment you have to our Lord. I’m not sure what an amicable resolution would be to our present dilemma but I do hope you bear in mind the fact that we are brothers under the same Lord regardless of our ecclesiological differences.

For anyone seeking a more in-depth treatment of this subject I highly recommend and of Frank Viola‘s works, particularly Pagan Christianity and Reimagining Church. Also, if you have any questions or comments, I encourage you to leave them below!

  1. Helpfully defined by Wikipedia as “anyone who is not in the clergy“ []
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