Entry 4: Priesthood of all Believers

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people,[a] in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
1 Peter 2:9

“Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
Revelation 1:5-6

Martin Luther wrote, “a priest, especially in the New Testament, was not made but was born.  He was created, not ordained. He was born not indeed of flesh, but through a birth of the Spirit, by water and the Spirit in the washing of regeneration (John 3:6f.; Titus 3:5f.). Indeed, all Christians are priests and all priests are Christian” (AE 40:19). Luther went onto convey the sacredness of all work, “Every occupation has its own honor before God. Ordinary work is a divine vocation or calling. In our daily work no matter how important or mundane we serve God by serving the neighbor and we also participate in God’s on-going providence for the human race.”

Aside from the well-known accusations of “enthusiasm,” a focus on personal testimonies of conversion, and the boisterous nature of the early “shouting Methodists,” John Wesley assembled, trained, deployed, and oversaw a small army of lay preachers. These itinerant Methodist circuit riders and local leaders did not have the proper Anglican credentials, and they often invaded the parish territory of the ordained priests. One key in early Methodism’s success was the unflinching tenacity of these “lay preachers.” This was an awakening of the “priesthood of all believers” (apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, teachers)—the whole people of God.

Frankly, the professionalization of the clergy and a paid lay Christian work force is one of the greatest contributors to church decline.

One of the major shifts in Western society has been the movement into a “gig economy,” which can be defined as a labor market characterized by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs.

If we live in a gig economy, where most people work multiple jobs, side hustles, and have to generate multiple revenue streams, what makes Christians exempt? Furthermore, this idea that we are entitled to benefits, retirement, and tax breaks from the Empire does not necessarily have a warrant in the life and teachings of Jesus. Clergy my age and younger will not retire from “full time ministry.” Personally, I have no expectation that my denomination will be able to provide for me in retirement (if Jesus doesn’t return or I actually live long enough to retire).

You may be asking “but don’t you get a paycheck from the church?” Well, yes, we do but we also have several other sources of employment. As many of you serving revitalization appointments well know, you probably tithe more to your church than they pay you. Yes, we get a paycheck, but Jill and I also have five other “full time jobs for part time pay” as we often jest.

In short, the idea that someone will draw a full income serving revitalization congregations is not realistic.

There are advantages here. The expectations of sitting in an office, making every hospital call, doing every home visit, will have to be reconsidered. The only way the ministry can go forward is in a strategically team-based, every-person-a-priest kind of way. The expectation at St. Marks is that we together are a priesthood of all believers. We share the work of ministry together. And we share in the joy of the harvest together.

If you’re an entrepreneur this is a greatly freeing scenario. Starting a business in the community. Getting a local part-time job where you can connect with people in the community. Teaching at the local school or college. Or commuting to work in a nearby town. These are all life-giving possibilities, that can bear missional fruit for the congregation.

Many times, all our time becomes consumed sustaining all the programs of the inherited system. This makes planting fresh expressions of church throughout the community challenging. A good and simple practice I propose in Deep Roots, Wild Branches: Revitalizing the Church in the Blended Ecology is the 50/50 rule. Fifty percent of our time needs to be structured towards taking care of the congregation. Fifty percent of our time needs to be spent as missionaries in the community. That means for whatever number of hours our church is active, we need to divide our time in this way.

In a true “priesthood of all believers” posture:
The whole church must restructure itself to focus half our energy on caring for the congregation, and half our energy planting fresh expressions in the community.

Again, this is a creative way to deal with the growing inability for many congregations to support full-time clergy. Full-time pastors are becoming a luxury to most congregations. In the future, there will be more and more co-vocational and bi-vocational clergy—tent-makers like Paul the Apostle (Acts 18:1-4).

Bi-vocational, with the prefix “bi-” as twice, double, or dual, literally “two voices” or callings, describes persons who serve a local church and maintain employment at another job. Co-vocational, with the prefix “co-” as with, or together, literally as “with voice” or a “with-ness” calling, describes persons who turn their work place into church.

For example, my friend Shawn Mickschl, a self-described “seminary fail-out” who works as a server in a local Kentucky restaurant, pastors a fresh expression of church for fellow servers and patrons of that space. His focus is not to get them to attend a church service, but to be church with them there. Cultivating fresh expressions can transform the inherited congregation into a training hub for co-vocational persons, releasing every Christian to become a minister and priest to their everyday spaces and relationships.

Again, we all know “there’s no such thing as a part-time pastor.” Congregations have expectations on their ministers, some that stream back for many decades to the “golden age” of Christendom. There is an expectation that the pastor is always on call.

We need to set clergy free from those Christendom expectations for revitalization to occur. 50 percent of their time could be spent cultivating the inherited congregation, and the other 50 percent could be spent out in the community at large. This is time to simply be in third places, to pray, observe, and encounter. Consistent presence in those spaces can open all kinds of opportunities.  

This is not just a rule of thumb for the appointed leader. The leader is modeling the behavior we want to see manifest in all volunteers, staff (if you have any), and the congregation at large. Everyone in the church must divide their time in the 50/50 way. The leaders of the congregation are establishing behavioral patterns in the congregation through modeling.

Don’t have all your meetings at the church compound! Meet in a restaurant, park, or coffee shop. If you encounter people in those spaces, engage them. Always ask staff of establishments if they need anything. Ask your servers if there is anything you can pray for them as you bless the food (but make sure you tip well if you do!)

Do you have Wednesday night Bible study meeting at the church facility? Why not move out into a public venue, either analog or digital? Need to visit with potential new members? Go to their homes or Zoom. Cancel church functions on ground to encourage the congregation to attend community gatherings. Meet with people at their jobs when possible. Do staff meetings have to take place in the office? Do you already have a connection with a local business owner who would welcome you to gather in their space? Everything you can do out in the community or in someone’s home, do it!

I know this is simple but not easy. In this every person a priest approach to ministry, there is no pastor appreciation month, there are rarely raises, Christmas bonuses, or paid vacations. And you will be hated and reviled (Matt 5:11), mostly by Christians. People who have packed in pews to be spoon fed their religious goods and services by the professional minister will not understand. They were formed in a mental model from a previous age when the churches were packed full and the pastor was paid to be their personal spiritual butler. They will make harsh comments, yell at your kids, threaten to leave, and many will try to control you with their walking shoes and check books.

No revitalization congregation ever grows before it gets smaller first. Don’t worry, they will find another church that will fulfill their needs and aligns with their politics. We have grown the other Methodist churches around us more than our own by sending droves of disgruntled Methodists their way.

The pandemic has given us a tremendous gift as the church… a massive reset. Don’t squander it!

Finally, if you embrace these ideas of shared leadership, team-based ministry, and a priesthood of all believers, you may want to start with some questions to prayerfully talk through with God.

  1. Am I willing to grow fruit on other people’s trees rather than my own? Am I willing to equip, empower, and celebrate others, rather than be the center of celebration? 
  2. Revitalizations are not an overnight gig. They take years. Am I willing to take a missional posture of permanence? Am I willing to give years of my life to these people and this community?  
  3. Do I genuinely love these people? Do I love this place? Do I feel God calling me to this work?
  4. Do I weep over this zip code? Does my heart break for the things that break God’s heart here? Do I see the fragmentation and am I willing to give my life serving in the gaps?

If you can answer these questions in the affirmative, you may be called to be a revitalization innovator. If you need a support network of others, connect with us here… https://www.facebook.com/RevitalizationPractitionersNetwork  

Please post comments below. What challenges you here, what excites you, what messes with your ideas of what the church is?

2 thoughts on “Entry 4: Priesthood of all Believers

  1. As always, you provide a goldmine of scripturally-based wisdom, prophesy and practicality. Paragraphs 11 & 17 are where it’s at: every follower spending 50% of life being church in everyday relationships, interactions and spaces, outside of the building.

    Your warning to pastors, and I believe all church leaders – even those of us who are lay leaders, is “ouchy” but on-point.

    Appreciate the simple and easy ideas for moving church “stuff” out into the community.

    And, your final questions are thought-provoking, poignant and necessary for leaders and the church, in true Jesus Movement fashion, to be relevant and real in the communities we are called to serve.

    My only wonderment is your definition of the revitalization “pastor” invited to the network…I think some of us are called as vital lay leaders in this movement. Just wonder if “pastor” needs an overhaul in most Christian’s definition and understanding.

    Ps. (I know you…and I know I am and others like me are invited. Just want to challenge the traditional pastor-centric language we use in the church…)

    1. Sherry, this is great insight, you exposed what we call in contextual intelligence a “blind spot” in my perception. I’m typically writing like my audience is clergy, which is true in many cases, but what I’m advocating is actually for the whole people of God. Actually, I’m more and more convinced that if congregations are going to experience revitalization, it won’t be the pastors who are instrumental. I revised the post based on your feedback, and you inspired me to think through some big ideas and a new reflection. Thank you friend!

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