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.

Do You Live to Work or Work to Live?

Do you live to work or work to live? We live in a world in which people typically err on one of two extremes when it comes to the elusive work-life balance.

Some live to work

It’s not uncommon for people—whether they wear a white collar, a blue collar, no collar, or even in a pastor’s collar—to work 60, 70, or 80 hours a week. When I was in college, I worked as a courier at a law firm. Several partners and associates had couches, blankets, pillows, and spare suits in their offices because they regularly spent the night. Last week, I spoke to a medical student who easily clocks 70 hours each week and rarely gets to see her husband and child. Some are required to spend many hours at work. For the majority, obsessive work—and the success, status, wealth, and accolades it brings—is a choice.

Some work to live

We tend to think that this is the holier of the two extremes. However, sometimes it is simply an excuse for laziness or the result of a time-consuming hobby or a commitment to maintain the façade of a life of wealth and leisure. I worked at a nonprofit organization in Indy several years ago. I was amazed by how anxiously my coworkers watched the clock each afternoon, waiting for happy hour to begin, and by how much they talked about the weekend they just completed or the weekend they were planning. They didn’t want to be there. And, their attitude was reflected in their work.

I’ve reflected upon this question a lot of times: Should I live to work or work to live? I have come to believe the answer is “Yes!” We live to work and we work to live.

Three essential truths apply.

God shaped us to work and create

God formed us in his own image and placed us within an intricate system that requires our care, cultivation, and stewardship. He also placed us in a lush paradise full of inspiration and with plenty of space in which to dream, create, build, and express ourselves. God’s creation mandate charges us with the responsibility to rule over the earth as his representatives, to fill the earth, to subdue it by bringing it into order, and to make it a place in which humanity can flourish. It is a good, right, and holy thing to give oneself to honest work that provides for people, creates excellent products, and contributes to the common good. We are being faithful to God when we work well.

God shaped us to require rest

God established a rhythm for life when, after creating the heavens and the earth, he rested on the seventh day and made it holy. Did God rest because he was exhausted? Absolutely not! He possesses immeasurable, inexhaustible strength. The Creator did not require rest. But, because he knew that his creation and the creatures therein would require regular relaxation, reflection, and recreation, he set aside one day a week and commanded those who worship him to honor it. We are human beings, not machines. And, as such, we require a regular routine to remember that we depend upon God, to enjoy time with the people he has put in our lives, to enjoy the world he created for us, to re-calibrate our hearts and souls, and to worship him.

We must resist making work or leisure an idol

Our sinful bent toward idolatry—giving the honor, praise, and priority to anything that is not God—is really at the heart of this whole issue. Work is a false god. Free time is a lousy lord. Neither deserves to reside on the throne of our hearts. That place is reserved for God alone. If we’re serving either the god of work or the lord of leisure, we’ll never experience the peace, purpose, and wholeness we can only find in Christ.

So, as a stranger and alien, how do you spend your work time and free time? When you’re at work, work with all your heart as if you’re serving the Lord and not just your boss or your board (see Colossians 3:23-24). When you have free time, let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, be thankful, reflect on God’s great love, and do it all in the name of Jesus (see Colossians 3:12-17).

Christian friends, we live to work. We also work to live. And we do it all to the glory of God.

[This post originally appeared on the PCC staff blog.]

Mutual Submission and Marriage

mutual-submission-and-marriage

I knew it was going to happen sooner or later. I had been hoping for later. But it took place right out of the gate. On the very first week of a six-week marriage class, someone asked me about the dreaded S-word.

How do we understand submission given the social norms we see today?

So much for starting off with an easy question. This question gets right at the heart of the biblical understanding of marriage. Even though it’s a tough question, it makes sense to begin here.

You have to read and understand [biblegateway passage=”Ephesians 5:21-33″ display=”Ephesians 5:21-33″]. In these 13 verses, Paul paints a picture of the mystery, beauty, and meaning of Christian marriage. And, yes, submission is a big factor. Before we answer the question, let’s examine this text. I’m going to do something a little unorthodox, however, and I’m going to work backward. You’ll understand why in a bit.

A husband’s self-sacrificing love

The foundation of Christian marriage, and the ultimate reality to which Christian marriage points, is Jesus’ self-sacrificing love for the Church, his bride. Paul says that Jesus’ love for the Church is the model.

Notice the preposition as in [biblegateway passage=”Ephesians 5:25″ display=”verse 25″]. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the church: in the same way, with the same persistence, with the same purity, with the same affection, with the same patience, and with the same fidelity. Christian husbands ought to love their wives to the extent that they’d be willing to sacrifice even their own lives for their wives’ protection, purity, holiness, and salvation.

Christian husbands are to love their wives and to give themselves up for them in the same way Christ loved the Church. Let that sink in.

A wife’s respectful love

So many people are tripped up by Paul’s command to women in [biblegateway passage=”Ephesians 5:22-24″ display=”verses 22-24″]. Yes, he does require Christian wives to submit to their husbands in the same way they submit to the Lord. But, that’s not all. Buried at the end of this text, in the second half of [biblegateway passage=”Ephesians 5:33″ display=”verse 33″], Paul summarizes his thoughts by saying that Christian wives ought to respect their husbands.

The fact that Christian wives respect and submit to their husbands’ Christ-like, self-sacrificing love and leadership does not mean that they are silent, that they sacrifice their opinions, that they negate their own rights, that they don’t bring every strength they possesses into the relationships, or that they are a weak, fragile, or lesser people. On the contrary, they demonstrate their ultimate faith in Christ by actively supporting, respecting, and loving the husbands God gave them.

Christian wives who have mastered the art of respecting their husbands will find that they are active partners with God in helping their husbands become the type of men they ought to be.

Understanding submission

Now that we understand the type of love Christian husbands and wives are to have for one another we can talk some more about submission. Here’s the most important thing to understand:

In marriage, submission is not a one-way street.

Paul begins this text with the [biblegateway passage=”Ephesians 5:21″ display=”clear command”] for husbands and wives to submit to one another. Why? What’s the motivation? Reverence for Christ.

The fact that Paul, after commanding husbands and wives to submit to one another, pivots toward wives and tells them to submit to their husbands does not negate the man’s responsibility to submit himself to his wife through self-sacrificing acts of love. It illustrates the woman’s responsibility to edify her husband through acts of respectful love.

The willingness to submit to one another—out of reverence and following the example of Christ—is a sign that a husband and wife are humble, deeply bonded, affectionate, kind, and growing in godly character. It is an essential element of a lasting marriage.

As a side note: don’t forget, Jesus submitted himself to the will of his Father. Did his submission diminish his worth as a member of the Trinity? Did the fact that he dedicated himself to the will of the Father somehow make him less, decrease his divine identity, or make him weak? Absolutely not!

Standing out from the crowd

I haven’t forgotten. An important part of the original question dealt with social norms. I haven’t mentioned social norms yet simply because, first and foremost, we have to clearly understand how to believe and behave as Christians. That means we must be transformed by the Spirit’s working through the Word before we are conformed to the whims and will of our culture.

Don’t miss this: Mutual submission, respectful, and self-sacrifice are deeply counter-cultural. They run against the grain of both the society around us and the sin within us.

And, that shouldn’t be a surprise.

God is calling us deeper. He wants to transform us. In his wisdom, he gave us the gift of the institution of marriage to be a primary driver in that life-long transformation process.

Lest we gaze too longingly at society, wondering if we’d be better off if we more closely resembled culture’s norms, remember that the world has yet to offer a better, less damaging, more honoring alternative to life-long, monogamous, respectful, self-sacrificing, mutually submissive, Christian marriage.

Discussion questions

Take a few minutes to reflect on these questions. And, feel free to leave a comment or continue the discussion below.

  1. What are some ways the biblical ideal of Christian marriage are superior to the typical way our world views marriage?
  2. Husbands, how are you impacted by Paul’s command to love your wives as Christ loved the Church, showing self-sacrificing love? What do you need to do in order to grow in this?
  3. Wives, how are you impacted by Paul’s command to submit to your husbands in the same way you submit to the Lord, showing respectful love? What do you need to do in order to grow in this?

Have You Prayed for a Terrorist Lately?

how-to-pray-for-terrorists

My family got into an interesting conversation on Thanksgiving in the light of the terrorist attacks in Paris. Yesterday’s San Bernardino massacre brought that conversation back to mind. The topic: What should the US do about the Islamic State?

I mostly listened during that conversation. When I did speak up (as ministers are wont to do) I shared about a provocative article I had recently read.

My point was that, as Christians, we ought to think carefully about the stance we take and that we ought to dedicate ourselves first to prayer. My sweet wife, who after nearly 20 years together has learned to call my bluff when I get a little too preachy, asked me if I had been praying for terrorists or if I was just being sanctimonious.

I hadn’t. I was.

In the aftermath of Paris and San Bernardino, I will begin. No more simply knowing what’s right and failing to do what’s right.

Prayer’s precedent

There is, after all, precedent for Christians assuming a prayerful role in the face of great violence. The book of Acts tells of a terrorist who dedicated himself to use whatever means necessary to stamp out the fledgling Church. The persecuted Church certainly knew and applied these words:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven,” (Jesus, in [biblegateway passage=”Matthew 5:43-45″]).

Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Although the Bible doesn’t make this explicit, because they were taking their cues from Jesus, I believe the persecuted Christians prayed fervently for Saul of Tarsus, the terrorist who was gutting the Church in the name of God.

God [biblegateway passage=”1 Timothy 1:12-17″ display=”answered their prayers”] and turned that murderous zealot into the greatest church planter, theologian, and leader the Church has known in the last 2,000 years.

Is it possible that there’s another Saul of Tarsus who needs the prayers of the Church?

Have you prayed for a terrorist lately?

As my thoughts are becoming clearer on this issue, here are a number of the things I will be praying about. Will you join me in praying for these five things?

Pray for your heart

Begin here. It’s way too easy to give in to the anger and fear that terrorist acts have produced. And, if we’re not careful, we can find ourselves becoming hateful and bigoted. Pray for a heart that is sensitive enough to draw in sadness and pain and pump out faith, hope, love, and peace.

Pray for political leaders

We may disagree with our leaders. We might believe they’re too militant or too pacifistic, too interventionist or too isolationist, too sympathetic or not sympathetic enough, too concerned with retaining votes, or completely wrong-headed. No matter how we feel, it’s still our responsibility to pray for them. Pray for wisdom. Resolve. Strength. For wise advisers and for proper support. Pray that the God who gave them their authority would work through them.

Pray for the Gospel to advance

The only thing that can change the heart of a terrorist—of any sinner for that matter—is the transformative power of the Gospel of Jesus. Pray that the Gospel is preached powerfully.  Pray that its messengers are protected by God and favored by their hearers. Pray that the Holy Spirit invades hostile territory and does a work beyond anything we could ask or imagine.

Pray for the Church to shine

Whether it’s the faith of Christians facing persecution, the hospitality shown by Christians welcoming refugees, the ministry of believers in working for the good of their communities, or day-to-day conversations sprinkled with grace and truth, pray that the Church has an opportunity display God’s love in tangible, winsome, and effective ways.

Pray for God to receive glory

No matter how dark the situation, God’s glory has the power to drive it away. Pray for him to be seen, known, honored, and glorified in these dark times. One day, his glory will be known to every soul and every knee will bow.

What about you?

The news is bad. It’s getting worse. There’s only one solution: a massive renovation of the hearts of mankind. And, the road leading to that renovation is—and always has been—paved with the prayers of the saints.

What about you? Will you pray first? Will you keep praying?

The Original Attack on Marriage

the-original-attack-on-marriage

I have always supposed that the great fall of Satan, his wicked rebellion against God, happened in eternity past. I assumed it occurred eons before God created the Earth.

But, what if it didn’t?

When we meet him, [biblegateway passage=”Genesis 3:1-13″ display=”just a few pages into the book of Genesis”], Satan is in full and glad rebellion against the Creator. Did Satan already have a long record of defiance? Or, was this his first offense?

Cyprian, a church father who was born in the year 200, proposed a theory for Satan’s fall: “When he saw human beings made in the image of God, he broke forth into jealousy and malevolent envy” and determined to rebel. In other words, the great sin for which Satan and his demons were banished from God’s presence was the pride that made him intent on dragging Adam and Eve into his insurrection.

Can I say, for sure, that it happened this way. No. The Bible doesn’t specify. But, it sure does make you think.

Why does this matter?

There has been so much upheaval surrounding marriage. Who should be able to marry? Who shouldn’t? And, who gets to decide? The government? The Supreme Court? The States? Who’s agenda wins the day? All the discussion and debate has widened the gap between people who take opposing views. Each side has succeeded in demonizing the other. And, it’s all a mess.

Christians, are we missing the point? Is it possible that we are fighting the wrong enemy?

Marriage has a greater enemy

Who’s the enemy?

On the one hand, the liberal media isn’t the enemy. Gay-rights activists aren’t the enemy. Hollywood isn’t the enemy. Neither the Constitution nor the Supreme Court is the enemy. On the other hand, the religious right isn’t the solution. Evangelical leaders aren’t the solution. A majority of Republicans in Government, the courts, and the White House isn’t the solution. Christian media and movies aren’t the solution.

God help us. We’ve boiled the issue into simple dichotomies. But, it’s not “us” against “them.”

If Satan’s defining rebellion—the cataclysmic act for which he and a third of the angels were eternally expelled from God’s presence—was the original attack on marriage in the Garden, then shouldn’t we focus our energy on opposing him, his accusations, and his schemes?

And, shouldn’t our counter-rebellion begin in our own homes?

Curses and blessings

All sin has [biblegateway passage=”Genesis 3:16-19″ display=”consequences”]. For Eve, painful childbirth and conflict regarding her role. For Adam, ceaseless toil, diminished returns, and death. The struggle continues today. We still experience the result of the Garden’s curses. But, we can also know the blessings of obedience to Christ in our marriages, even in the midst of a fallen world inhabited by a very real enemy.

Satan still does all he can to divide us. He knows that his success in wrecking marriages accomplishes profound collateral damage. But, we have a choice. We can choose not to perpetuate the evil that Satan plots by cultivating [biblegateway passage=”Matthew 19:4-6″ display=”marriages that will last”]. We can build our marriages on [biblegateway passage=”Ephesians 5:21-33″ display=”mutual submission, respect, and sacrificial love”]. And, we can choose to [biblegateway passage=”1 Corinthians 13:4-7″ display=”love unconditionally”]. That is the path that leads to blessing.

Marriage has a greater hero

Satan’s rebellion seals his fate. God makes it unequivocally clear to Satan that [biblegateway passage=”Genesis 3:14-15″ display=”his destiny is Hell”]. Eve’s offspring, Jesus, would one day crush Satan’s head (but not without himself suffering from the Serpent’s poison). Because of Jesus’ victory over Satan, he took the penalty of our rebellion and made it possible for us to again be united to one another and, most importantly, to our heavenly Father.

Satan will do all he can to tempt, accuse, and divide our marriages. It’s his rebellion’s original strategy. But, we have a Savior who has made it possible for us to resist his temptations, deflect his accusations, and remain united.

Let’s fight for our marriages. But, let’s make sure we’re fighting the right enemy.

The Church and the World

the-church-and-the-world

The relationship between the church and the world can be complex, especially for the church.

I’ve always thought and taught that there are essentially three postures that the church—which is to say, both congregations and individuals—can take toward the world around them.

They can insulate. Churches or individual believers who insulate themselves see all of the problems going on “out there” and retreat into their holy huddle. They cloister themselves, privatize their faith, and build high walls to keep the world from invading.

They can integrate. Those who choose to integrate buy into the contemporary cultural ethos hook, line, and sinker. They sell their biblical birthright for a proverbial pot of stew.

Or, they can incarnate. Churches or believers who choose the model of the Messiah, incarnational ministry, partner with the Spirit to transform the world around them.

This little alliterative outline has helped me in my personal attempt to live for Christ in the world. And it has been a real help in encouraging believers as they live out the same mission.

Thanks to an article I read this morning, I have a new outline to use.

The church _____ the world

The preposition you use to fill in the blank—in, against, of, or for—makes all the difference. 

I love the simplicity. Of course, this originated with Tim Keller. There’s a reason that thousands of people will pay to read what people like him write. There are four postures that the church can take toward the world.

The church in the world, like the insulated church I’ve always taught about, is present there but has little or no effect upon it.

The church against the world is like the church in the world in that they’ve grown inward. However, they’ve taken it a step further by fostering and fomenting an adversarial relationship toward the world.

The church of the world is the church that has integrated into the world. They have diluted or discarded the truth of the Bible in effort to appeal to the masses.

The church for the world is making God’s word and ministry incarnate. They want to see God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. So they take action, compelled by a deep conviction of the truth of God’s word, the prompting of the spirit, and a deep love and concern for their neighbors.

The view that you, as an individual, and your church, as an organization, take toward the world reveals itself in a thousand ways: how you talk, what you think, your stance toward sin, the activities with which you busy yourself, the prayers you pray, and the company you keep, just to name a few.

When it comes to our view of the church and the world, let’s make sure we choose the correct preposition.

Let’s talk about it

What about your church? Is your church in, against, of, or for the world?

What about you? Are you in, against, of, or for? The preposition you and I choose makes all the difference.