We tried. I mean we really tried, but it did not work. One of the goals of the RM was to live the ideal of every member ministry or, â€śthe priesthood of all believers.â€ť Some of us tried having no paid ministers. Some of us took with great seriousness the concept of autonomy. Some of us eliminated missionary societies and anything resembling governance at all. Weâ€™ve tried a bunch of things to eliminate the clergy/laity or learned/learning gap. We just never did quite pull it off. I think that there are at least four reasons for this:
1. The leaders (whether elders, ministers, untitled opinion leader or whomever) were invested in keeping power. These leaders had a hard time actually trusting members (followers) with ministry. They became the learned who would impart knowledge upon those who comprised the learning. The learned had a vested interest in keeping the learning learning and letting only a select few become the learned because not everyone can be the learned. Why? What would the learned do if not teach the learning? So, to justify their existence, the learned needed to keep the learning in that same learning status. Whenever a question arose it was the learned who were called upon to resolve the matter. The learning were to learn, but not too much. Too much learning makes one learned and therefore defeats the purpose of having the learned.
2. The followers were invested in avoiding responsibility. Not all the blame can or should fall on the leaders or the learned. Remaining in learning status was sufficient reason for many to avoid ministry. There is an almost limitless power-of-avoidance in the well-planned ignorance of the follower. When is there ever a time when someone knows enough to do anything so as to be ready to make plans allowing of all contingencies? Never.
3. Knowledge obsessed church culture. Combine leaders who want control and mix it with followers who avoid responsibility and cook it in a church context that exalts, empowers, and privileges knowledge and you will get a system comprised of mutually colluding parties forming by default a clergy/laity relationship no matter what names are used to identify these people, if any names are used at all. It all operates just the same no matter what you call it.
4. Church leadership has been reduced to public acts, teaching Sunday school, and organizational decision-making (by men). Letâ€™s consider that leadership was an exclusively male position. Besides teaching children and serving meals (both are noble tasks and needed, but not gender-determined), women were to remain silent. When I grew up and was being trained in the ways of the Lord, it amounted to the following (in appropriate stages of development, naturally after baptism):
1. Be the silent fourth guy at the communion table and help serve the trays.
2. Lead the prayer during the communion for the collection, being sure to say the words, â€śseparate and apart from the Lordâ€™s Supper,â€ť as we got the money right in there with the Lordâ€™s Supper.
3. Lead a prayer for the Bread.
4. Lead a prayer for the wine, oops, fruit of the vine (which reminds me of a storyâ€¦Oh, Iâ€™ll tell it later).
5. Lead a prayer disconnected from the Lordâ€™s Supper (opening prayer, closing prayer, before the sermon prayerâ€¦etc).
6. Lead songs. If the church was short on good male voices, then this position was bumped up in the order of priority.
7. After graduating from college, teaching was then added to my list of ministry actions I could do, since I was getting really mature.
8a.Fast-track - get a ministry degree and become a minister and get hired at a church.
8b. Normal track â€“ Get married, have children and then you can become a deacon (in some churches, a pregnant wife will count as you being a parent). Deacons are considered a pool for future elders to be drawn from. So, when an elderâ€™s lifetime term ends upon his death (or perhaps, but not necessarily, a debilitating illness,) a new elder can take his place.
9. Finally, when your baptized children are in high school and arenâ€™t known to be smoking pot or pregnant, then you qualify for eldership. So, when that coveted elder spot opens, approximately one month after the funeral (sooner if there were only two elders) the elder selection process begins and the best of the deacons who have been nicely groomed to take on that role will be selected.
Some might find this list a little or a lot exaggerated, while others are wondering if I have attended their church. The list above is real and not exaggerated in some churches, I kid you not. Spiritual development and formation was tagged with spiritual titles, public acts in the worship service, and the power to make organizational decisions, and perhaps the status to be considered someone who can perhaps resolve disputes. It all had to do with striving to be a member of the coveted learned in-group. Knowledge and status determines power and control.
When spirituality is stripped down to such little things such as the components of the above list, no wonder so many teenagers ditch the church. I wonder how it is that women stay in the church at all. It is a system that retards the potential growth of both women and men.
First, the typical system for spiritual leadership for Churches of Christ and many RM churches completely rejects that value of women beyond the extremely limited roles of child nurturer and food provider. Yes, again, these are necessary and important roles in the church and many women are exactly suited for these roles. The point is this: theologically intelligent women, articulate women, creative women, motivating women, and women with all kinds of talents are forced to either neglect their God-given gifts or they are to use their God-given gifts for secular means, meaning not to support the ministry of the church. A woman who is the CFO of her company does not need to be singing, â€śthis little light of mine,â€ť in the preschool unless that is actually her desire. She should head the finance committee, head up communications for creative fundraising to support the churchâ€™s ministry efforts, or something even remotely using what she is good at.
No longer should we emphasize the misreading of, â€śwomen keep silent in the church,â€ť to the neglect of a proper reading of, â€śwhen your women prayâ€¦,â€ť and â€śâ€¦there is neither male nor femaleâ€¦,â€ť in order to justify the systematic exclusion of half the talent of the church.
Second, the system mocks and vastly underutilizes men by making them jump the low hurdles and then cheering them like they are Olympic champions. I remember getting the most praise as a kid when I prayed publicly and did a youth group devotional talk. Not bad things, but that was it. That was the pinnacle of my spiritual training. OK, I was praised for enduring a door-knocking campaign I never wanted to go on and that was vastly ineffective, but that was it.
So, not only are our churches not utilizing almost any gifts of women, we are vastly underutilizing the gifts of men. That is just like deciding (for theologically sound reasons, of course) to play basketball with only half of your left leg. I guess you could give it a try, but you are not going to win many games.
Some might think this to be a call for the abolishment of church leadership or a call to ecclesiastical anarchy. It is not. Look at scripture. There are leaders there. Paul, Peter, Priscilla, Lydia, and on and on. Instead, this is a call for leaders to become learners again and for learners to activate their learning for something more than teaching.
If you look at scripture, learning drives ministry, not merely more learning. And to push even further, ministry drives learning. We are called to be the priesthood of all believers in more than merely name only.
It's not the priesthood of smart believers, the priesthood of male believers, the priesthood of savvy believers, but it is ALL BELIEVERS.
My hope is that every member ministry will be the conduit of the post-restoration church loving God by loving the world.