Clergy/Laity Distinction?

question markClergy/laity distinction… It’s a phrase that gets kicked around a lot, especially in the world of equipping leaders. But what does it really mean? Is there a clergy/laity distinction? Should there be? I think that it depends on who you ask and in what context you are asking.

I recently referenced the clergy/laity distinction in a sermon. Actually, I threw down my soapbox, climbed upon it, and proceeded to inform my parish that this distinction is a lie that divides the church and causes no small amount of confusion and misunderstanding. Apparently I was actually quite “feisty” about it, according to one listener! That’s not surprising, since for years I have been on a mini-crusade to promote equality of ministry. But another listener pointed out the irony that I would insist that there should be no distinction between clergy and laity, all the while appearing distinctly different from the rest of the parish as I stood before them in my white alb and deacon’s stole. Ouch!

I was preaching from Ephesians 4:1-16, pointing out that the role of the apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers is to equip the saints for the work of ministry, not to do all the ministry themselves. The purpose of this is to create unity out of the variety of spiritual gifts and diversity of responsibilities so that we all grow up together as one body, into Christ who is the head. I referenced the apostle Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians 12, using the body as a metaphor to help his readers understand that all the “working parts” are necessary and equal in their value to the body as a whole. I spoke at length on the way we are interdependent and how this creates unity in the church as we each recognize our part–our ministry–and serve accordingly. In this context, I believe there should be no distinction between the value of the ministry of the clergy and that of the laity.

On the other hand… Both the senior pastor and I are ordained. We wear vestments for worship. Doesn’t that distinguish us from everyone else? And our denomination has an episcopal structure; we are governed by bishops. Doesn’t that represent a hierarchy of power? The answer to both questions is, of course, yes. There is definitely a clergy/laity distinction in this context, that of creating order in the church. It is a system of authority that is intended to guard the integrity of scripture and the sacraments. As an Anglican, I value the distinction between clergy and laity in this ordering of our church.

My point? As equipping leaders, we need to be careful about how we throw that “clergy/laity distinction” phrase around. We might actually contribute to the misunderstanding and confusion, missing the opportunity to restore the worth of each and every minister and the ministry they perform.

I love my church!

Driving past a local church yesterday, the message on their sign seized my attention.love my church

I didn’t quite know why it hit me the way it did, this seemingly innocuous message. After all, I’ve often said that I love my church! But something just didn’t set well. As I pondered, I realized that it was the little two-letter word, the possessive adjective “my,”  that bothered me.

You see, the church doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to God. It’s not my church. It’s God’s church.

What’s the point? Why pay so much attention to such a small word? Because the more we think in terms of my church, the more we risk inviting a consumerist mentality. When something belongs to me, I can treat it however I please. I can insist that it meet certain needs, fulfill a particular function the way I see fit. I can ignore it, or I can jealously guard it. If something belongs to me, I can control it.

But the church doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to God. The church doesn’t exist to serve me. I exist to bless God as I serve in and through his church. To think of it any other way is to risk loving the church more than I love God.

The role of the church member is to listen to the Head, responding obediently to His direction. She is to do her part, which is to work properly within the body, in order that the body–the church–grows and builds itself up in love in response to the Head’s–Jesus Christ’s–direction. (Ephesians 4:15-16)

As a pastor, I am a steward of God’s church. But that does not grant me ownership of it! I am called to equip the people to do the ministry of God’s church, working alongside them, guiding us all towards unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God. (Ephesians 4:12-13) I love God first, then I love His church!

I hope the folks in that church had a wonderful time celebrating yesterday! I think it’s wonderful to be part of a church that I love, and I’m sure they do, to0. But I always want to remember to whom the church really belongs. “My” church is really not mine at all. It belongs to God!

Small Church Equipping Values

big-or-smallHow do equipping values differ between the large church and the small church? They don’t; there is no difference! The values are the same:

  • Prayer–Developing an equipping culture requires Holy Spirit power. The path to that power is through prayer.
  • Vision of the church as contained in Ephesians 4–The role of the leadership is to equip the people for the ministry of the Church.
  • Servant leadership–The leaders and the laity are partners in ministry. Leaders set the example by serving others.
  • Team ministry–No one does ministry alone.
  • Intentionality–Equipping doesn’t happen on its own. It requires intentional preaching, teaching, discovery, and connecting people to meaningful serving opportunities
  • Proactive towards change–Change is inevitable; resistance is futile! Learn to evaluate and respond to change as it comes.

The values may be lived out differently in the smaller church, however, because the challenges are different. For example, smaller churches are often more inclined to view the pastor as the one who performs all the ministry of the church. Their reasoning may be that the church is small so there’s not that much to do. But that completely misses the point in 1 Corinthians 12 that every member of the body has a function and a role, as well as the pesky mandate in Ephesians 4 that the pastor is to equip the people to do the ministry!

Another common scenario in the small church is the person who has served in a particular ministry for so long that she and the ministry have become synonymous. So whereas the small church may only need one adult Sunday school teacher for their one adult class, there may be others with teaching gifts to be employed as well. Creating a teaching team–even if it’s only two–says that shared ministry is valued.

In larger churches, there is usually a variety of classes and programs offered. Keeping those classes and programs running smoothly requires many volunteers. On the other hand, the smaller church doesn’t offer such a wide variety because they don’t have the multitude of people wanting or needing it. So it may be tempting to “fill the slots,” get the ministry essentials covered with a few willing volunteers, and let the rest of the people off the serving hook. It requires a different kind of intentionality in the small church to connect people with ministry because it becomes necessary to look outside the walls of the church for places and ways to connect your people to serving opportunities. And that means it is all the more necessary to preach and teach about following the example of Jesus as servant because serving outside the walls of the church can be less convenient than serving inside the walls!

The values are the same no matter the size of the church; it’s the way those values are recognized and executed that is different. The challenge for the equipping leader in the small church, then, is to adopt the equipping values which apply to all churches, but adapt the processes that are designed for a large church to something more applicable in the small church context.

Are you an equippingleader in a small church? How have you adapted “big church” methods to fit your church? I invite you to share what has worked…or what hasn’t!