One of my biggest wrestlings in life is with the call I have felt to ministry without the call to full-time ministry. I have always identified with the model of the Apostles who went about building the church yet having a marketplace trade or skill they regularly used and practiced.
Though I was never able to articulate it, I was always perturbed with the unspoken statement at youth camps, retreats and conventions that the really anointed or gifted people were destined to go to bible college and be pastors. The only youth you saw on the stage or esteemed by leaders were those who were clearly on the track to attending bible college. It was like if you weren't like them, you didn't matter as much and that you intrinsically had less to offer in building Jesus' church.
This same feeling hits me when I see how little space there is within the church to hear and learn from people whose calling isn't to full time ministry yet have a clear anointing and impact on the church, especially within their local church community. I admit that I shake my head whenever I look at brochures or publicity for church conferences and see that the only voices and perspectives represented are paid clergy.
My Dad is a minister, and being a minister is the only thing I have ever seen him do in terms of vocation in my life. I have a profound respect for those that give their lives in full-time service, so the issue isn't that clergy don't really have something valuable to say, because they clearly do.
What I fight with is that it seems the only voices Christianity is willing to provide air time to are paid clergy. We spend all of our time hearing from the temple and next to none hearing from those building the church in the market. Check the list of speakers at your favourite conference next time and see if there are any lay people or anyone who isn't the pastor of some large church or highly visible ministry.
It leaves me in a position wondering where the room is in ministry for lay people who have a calling to speak to the church, and whose lives and testimonies are lined with riches bestowed by God to be a blessing and source of wealth to the body.
One of my Dad's peeves is how little esteem there is in the public eye for clergy people- they often rank with used car salesmen or politicians in polls when it comes to trustworthiness. I wonder, though, if we haven't created such an insular culture within the church that we have developed a worship of pastors and devalued the voice and lives of laypeople to the place that the body has forgotten to hear the voice of lay leaders and tuned out the only other voice it hears- the clergy.
One of the other consequences of the way we overburden clergy and underburden lay leaders is that clergy burn out far too often and experience much harder falls when they do fall morally or otherwise. Does Jimmy Swaggart's fall from grace do as much damage if the load of leading, shepherding and teaching within that congregation is shared according to the principal of the priesthood of all believers?
This paradigm has also contributed to the delinquency and non-engagement of the rank and file believer. Because the expectations on clergy are so steep and they do so much more than they should be and the expectations on believers who should be growing and maturing and shouldering a much more significant responsibility for the work of the church are so lax, we have generations of believers who are used to doing nothing other than showing up to be entertained on Sundays.
So, what I am seeking? Speaking engagements? A TV ministry? Not at all. Nor am I suggesting that we devalue the role of clergy- we do that at our peril. Somehow there has to come a shift within the church where clergy shift the focus of running the work of the church to empowering believers to carry out their reasonable service with the giftings and talents God has entrusted them with.
I really believe that the western church will not realize the growth and potential it has in our culture until this dynamic tension comes back into calibration. Until that time, losing clergy in churches will have a far more devastating effect than it should and legions of overfed and underengaged believers will languish in immaturity and inaction.
I am believing for a time when conferences in a city or a region will feature homegrown leaders whose life message will carry weight every bit as significant as the most known international church leader, a time where pastors can be relieved of the burden of having to make the whole church move and grow and believers at all stages of growth can mature knowing that they are critical partners in building the church and accomplishing Jesus' dream on earth and that they will find every opportunity to use their God given talents and abilities to maximum fruitfulness to contribute to a kingdom that knows no end.
I believe it's coming, and I will continue to serve and do my part in my local church in partnership with my pastor and fellow believers. I will look for opportunities to use the things God has put in my life and take up my responsbility and call so that no one else carries a weight that God intends for me to shoulder and steward. I'll be at my place on the wall until the gap is closed and the breach repaired. Looking forward to visiting your spot when it's all done...
Loads of love from Halifax...