I recently visited the building where a local church regularly gathers. In the lobby outside of their awkwardly named “sanctuary” was a plaque which read — “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’ (Ps. 122:1).” Did I miss something? This room with pews and hymnals (remember those?) is the temple of God?! I hear this kind of language consistently infiltrating Protestant churches.
What about the New Testament? The promise of the new covenant is that God will be among us (Ez. 37:27) — we are the temple (2 Cor. 6:16, Eph. 2:21)!
Not only have we equated the physical meeting place of the church with the Hebrew temple we have equated the leadership of the local church with the Levitical priesthood! The Israelites had their professional ministers, so we must have ours. Just like the Israelites we pay them to do the ministry. As such, most of our Protestant churches are functionally Catholic. The paid staff are the professional Christians.
We need to reclaim the priesthood of the believers. As the book of Hebrews reminds us, we have one high priest — Christ. Under that great high priest, all Christians are a part of the priesthood (1 Pt. 2:9-10). As such, every person who has been united to God through faith in Christ should fulfill their ministry duties to “declare the praises of Him who called [them] out of darkness (1 Pt. 2:9).”
As I write this I am looking at my “Certificate of Ordination.” The ordination process was meaningful and memorable in my life. As the church prayed for me (1 Tim. 4:11-14, 2 Tim. 1:3-7), it was an encouragement and affirmation of my gifts. They recognized and supported my desire to teach the gospel and provide leadership to the church.
As I read the “Certificate of Ordination,” however, I am baffled. It indicates that I, as a pastor, have received a “special calling” to the “gospel ministry.” Ridiculous! Every Christian is a minister of the gospel (2 Cor. 5:11-21). There is no unique calling to “gospel ministry” for someone in a pastoral position.
There is not one NT reference in which the language of calling is used of anyone other than the apostles unless the calling is to salvation. Not one pastor is referred to as having been called by God to ministry. One should not therefore assume an analogy to exist between apostolic calling and ministerial office.
– Paul Harrison, “Pastoral Turnover and the Call to Preach”
It is disingenuous for pastors to complain that other church members do not do their share of ministry. Congregants have been taught through the language and polity of most churches that they are not qualified, called, or capable for ministry, so they leave “gospel ministry” to the “professionals.”
Pastoral leadership must not be confused with gospel ministry. There are no “professional Christians.” As has been said, “every member is a minister.” Dr. Black often reminded me that he was not trying to abolish the clergy, but rather the laity!
“Every member ministry” is a wonderful catch-phrase, but the implications of genuinely embracing this sort of mentality will require shifts in leadership structure, allocation of church funds, and expectations of every church member. Is my church ready to treat every member as a fully capable and called minister of the gospel of Christ?