“We will pray for your recovery as soon as the pastor gets here.” We hear words like that too often. It is indicative of the clergy-laity divide that assumes that clergy have clearer and more direct contact with God, and even more it means that clergy play the most important role in matters of faith and of the church. Spener proposed in the 1600’s what we continue to urge today. It is a proposal that is given lip-service, but in the end too often we continue to say–we need the pastor.
Pastors and other ministry leaders play an important role in the church. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 4: 11 Christ chose some of us to be apostles, prophets, missionaries, pastors, and teachers, 12 so that his people would learn to serve and his body would grow strong (CEV). Pastors and others, serve the church, so that the people might serve and grow strong.
Pastors don’t do all the work of the church! Pastors often like doing all the work; it makes us feel important and indispensable.People in the church like the pastor to do the work; pastors have too often told people that they are “just lay people,” or people in the church like those who are getting paid to do the work!
In reality–all are gifted to serve, and all are called to serve in different ways. All of us are to offer ourselves as a sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2). Peter says in 1 Peter 2:9 But you are God’s chosen and special people. You are a group of royal priests and a holy nation. God has brought you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Now you must tell all the wonderful things that he has done.
One of the greatest impediments to the mission of the church is professionalization of the clergy. Pastors can be a bottleneck to the effective work of ministry. Elsewhere I have written: “Clergy have become professionals and, in the process, mission is thwarted. Because the church is the people of God, the clergy class needs to be de-professionalized. The church must move beyond a guild mentality, both in terms of the practice and the training for ministry (Fredrickson, AN ECCLESIAL ECOLOGY FOR DENOMINATIONAL FUTURES: Nurturing Organic Structures for Missional Engagement.)
Churches that move to new structures, and pastors who become bi-vocational will force the church to break down the clergy-laity divide. People will become less reliant on the pastor and serve as they are called and gifted. By necessity it will happen in new forms of church with a different economic model. It should happen in all churches. Bonhoeffer wrote in Letters and Papers from Prison:
The church is only the church when it exists for others. To make a start, it should give away all its property to those in need. The clergy must live solely on the free-will offerings of their congregations, or possibly engage in some secular calling. The church must share in the secular problems of ordinary human life, not dominating, but helping and serving. It must tell men of every calling what it means to live in Christ, to exist for others.
The role of pastor is important for the life and mission of the church. But as Alan Roxburgh notes: “the Spirit of God is among the people of God.” Not just the clergy, but all of the people of God. I am convinced that pastors play a key role in the leadership and forward movement of the church, but the whole people of God are a vital part of that work.
Spener did not discount the role of pastors, nor of the institutional church. Pastors play an important role. Churches are a key structure. But we must be wary of the professionalization of the clergy and the distancing from the people that comes with that stance. And we must be wary of the institutionalization of the church. Structures are necessary, but cold, fossilized edifices must be abandoned.
Imagine what could happen in our churches if pastors allowed (!), if people were encouraged to exercise their gifts as priests. The sleeping giant may awaken!