Diminishing the Clergy-Laity Divide

“Do you plan on being ordained before your first ministry begins next month?” As an idealistic, young seminary graduate, I had given this topic a lot of thought. I was unsure. I was—and am still—all about diminishing the clergy-laity divide.

Frankly, I was leaning away from ordination for three reasons:

Entitlement

I was turned off by several ministers and professors who held themselves in high esteem because they were ordained ministers. To me, it seemed as if they used their ordinations as all-access passes that entitled them to better treatment than others.

Bitterness

I was equally repelled by a handful of ministers and professors who viewed their ordinations as martyrs’ crosses, burdens to be borne. Rather than observing gladness, willingness, and gratitude in them, I saw obligation, sourness, and hesitation.

Other Believers

I had met too many Christian women and men who viewed themselves as second-class because they weren’t ordained. These people were supremely gifted, called by God, deeply involved at the church, and engaged in Christ’s mission at home and at work seven days a week. Yet, many of them felt as if their ministries at home, at work, and in the community were less important than that of their pastors. How tragic!

If I were to be ordained, would I fall into the entitlement trap? Would I be embittered by my calling? And, most sobering to me, what would my ordination communicate to the Christian men and women I respected so much?

In the church, there’s a wide gap between clergy and laity. And, that simply shouldn’t be. An elevated clergy limits the potential influence of the church. It reinforces a consumer mentality we need so badly to eliminate. And, tragically, a diminished laity sends the message that vocational ministers are more holy and useful in the kingdom than those who don’t share the same calling.

So, how do we diminish the clergy-laity divide? Here are three tips. (And, by the way, it’s up to us, fellow ministers, to make sure this happens.)

Teach the Priesthood of All Believers

We stand on firm ground when we help believers realize and live into their priestly identities in Christ. The Bible is clear on this. It has always been God’s will to make his people into a kingdom of priests, people who perform sacred duties designed to usher people into the presence of God.

If we wish to diminish the clergy-laity divide, we simply must help Christians understand that we are all priests.

Equip God’s People for Ministry

It feels good to be needed. It gives our egos a boost when people reach out to us to do ministry stuff. And, we like to be the ones who help. However, when ministers hoard the work of ministry to themselves instead of equipping God’s people to do the work of the church, we place a governor on the ministry of the church. We can’t do it all alone. Nor should we.

Ministers, it is our responsibility to equip God’s people. Not only will this diminish the clergy-laity divide, it will engage Christians in mission and help the church to be healthy, growing, and full of love.

Embody Kingdom Leadership

As nice as it is to have people call us pastor, to enjoy being ushered to the front of the line, to appreciate the view from the head of the table, and to be the one given the final say, we must remember that Kingdom leadership—as embodied by our Savior—is not top-down. Kingdom leadership is bottom-up. So, ministers, the higher you ascend and the more responsibility you are given, the more earnestly you must serve others and the more willing you should be not to be exalted but to do the dirty work.

We’ll diminish the clergy-laity divide when we begin to embody Kingdom leadership.

So, I ended up being ordained

Doesn’t that sound contradictory? I’ll admit, on the surface, it does. However, when I thought of all the wonderful Christian men and women at my home church who had poured into my family, the people who discipled me, and the sweet saints who had prayed for and molded me over the years, I decided submitting to ordination was the perfect way to serve and honor them. I got to stand before them and pledge to serve others as they had served me. I got to thank them for investing in me and to encourage them to keep it up with the next generation.

Now, 17 years later, I still regularly glance up at the signatures on the ordination certificate that hangs in my office and I picture all the former Sunday-school teachers, youth sponsors, elders, and friends who taught me, by their ministries to me, how to be a minister. I’m so glad for their ministries to me.

If you’re a Christian, you’re a minister

No matter whether you’re sitting in a church office, a bulldozer, a corporate boardroom, a classroom, a cubicle, or a barn, God has ministry prepared for you in advance. Let’s not make much of the clergy-laity divide. Let’s link arms and do ministry together.

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