When I was Youth Pastor at Henderson Baptist in Auckland we always had the name of the Pastors on the front of our newsletters. This is not surprising, however we also had the following statement, "Ministers: The whole congregation". Such statements come from this idea of a "Priesthood of all believers" which basically says: no longer must I receive ministry only from the ordained Priest/Pastor; no more do I have to sit back and leave it to the professionals. When I see a person in need I am able to minister to that person; when I myself am in need I can call upon my fellow Christians and not just the Priest/Pastor to minister to me.
This is an amazing concept that has the potential of breaking down barriers and giving freedom and hope to our congregations. It legitimises the gifts that God has given to each of us and in Baptist Churches, historically at least, this idea has been practiced well. However, "the Priesthood of all believers" is under threat in our day and age. If not in theory, certainly in practice, this idea has largely been abandoned by many Christians today.
I have seen this happen in a number of Baptist churches. A church starts to rely heavily on a gifted Pastor and/or one or two other key leaders. These leaders "minister" well, and with great ability run almost every activity of the Church (either directly or in close proximity). Sadly however, this approach breeds a culture of dependance upon those leaders and can dis-empower much of the congregation. If/when these leaders can no longer lead (for a variety of reasons), the Church is thrown into a crisis of leadership and no one is left to minister.
It's not just the "leaders" though. Unfortunately, many Christians have abdicated their role as ministers in deference to a form of "clerical professionalism". Now don't get me wrong, Pastors certainly should be well trained; have strong accountability; and a strong sense of call, however this should be something that adds to the expression of Christian community and faith in our churches, not something that defines it. Fear; a sense of inadequacy; and this growing "professionalism" has stopped many everyday Christians from seeing themselves as ministers.
I don't think that we should ascribe "fault" as such, either to Pastors or congregations where this is the case. However I do think that we can make changes to ensure that it doesn't continue this way. In fact, if we want to see vibrant and growing churches then we need to reclaim this idea of the "Priesthood of all believers" and empower our people to be ministers.
What do you think? Does this ring true to you, or do you have a different understanding or approach to this? Let me know.
Arohanui, Pastor David Auty