What happened to the Priesthood of the Believer? Recently I taught church planting to a group of seminary students. Historically, the tradition of the denomination that founded the seminary strongly defended the doctrine of the Priesthood of the Believer. This is a doctrine that teaches that each Believer has direct access to God, can represent others to God, and can represent God to others. In short, any Believer can function as a priest and minister in the name of Jesus. “In Christ” means “in ministry.”
The doctrine of the Priesthood of all Believers is incredibly important to church planting. It affirms the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of all Believers; it affirms the ministry potential and responsibility of all Believers; it empowers all Believers to function as needed for the church to minister to the people who are not a part of the Body of Christ as well as the Body of Christ.
This one doctrine opens the door and fuels the passion for any Believer to be an apostle, prophet, evangelist (church planter), and pastor/teacher. It moves Christianity from a profession to a lifestyle. It empowers the ordinary to do the extraordinary. It makes the church relevant and essential to healthy community. And it appears that much of the modern church is throwing this doctrine out the door.
In place of the doctrine of the Priesthood of all Believers, we now see a strengthening of the priesthood of the Pastor only. Somehow, all the ministry of the church has been focused in one position, even though the Bible is clear that there are multiple leadership roles, and the role of pastor is not the greatest of these roles, but one among many leadership roles in the church local and the church global.
The very teachings that attempt to strengthen the role of the pastor and promote it to a superior or exclusive leadership role are detrimental to the mandate to reach the nations for Christ. In an attempt to strengthen the authority of pastoral leadership, the church has weakened the responsibility of all Believers to function as priests. Professional leadership in the church has resulted in a reduction of those who feel qualified to minister. The net result is a weaker church, and a church that does not have the infrastructure to multiply, expand, or grow. Instead of the protecting the church, these teachings that focus on the exclusive leadership role of the pastor have damaged the church.
Scripture makes it clear that the role of leadership in the church is to equip the Saints (Believers) for the works of ministry. Leaders are to be servants, not rulers. Leaders are to be examples in public and private, not authority figures. Only the leaders who serve and who fulfill their commitments to equip the Saints are worthy of honor, worthy of the responsibility to lead, and worthy to be the ones we follow. Position is a result of fulfilling the servant leader role, not a result of going to school, having a degree, being ordained, or being called “pastor”.
By promoting and insisting on a professional clergy, the church has limited its ability and capacity to reach the world for Christ. We have made it impossible to rapidly expand the church because we cannot produce enough “qualified” leaders to meet the expansion needs. We find so-called leaders who object to new Bible Study Groups, emerging leaders, and new churches in their areas because they feel threatened, instead of being excited that the lost are being engaged. The more the role of pastor is highlighted and strengthened by mandate rather than service, the less effective the role will become, and the less relevant it will be in reaching the world for Christ. The very act of promoting the supremacy of the pastor is destroying the churches’ ability to fulfill the Great Commission.
We must never forget that Jesus died for the lost. He told us to leave behind the 99 sheep in the pen to find the one that is lost. We have become so concerned with protecting the pens that we forget that a primary role is to find the lost. It is the job of the leadership of the Church to equip church members to fulfill this role.
The role of pastor should be to equip the Saints to obey all the commands of Christ. The pastor should be a champion of evangelism and church planting. The pastor needs to encourage people to start and facilitate new groups, teach, witness, baptize new believers, serve the Lord’s Supper, and minister to the needs of the community and the Body of Christ. The pastor should be pushing his people out into the lost world to make a difference, rather than locking them behind the doors of contrived doctrines designed to weaken the Believer rather than equip them for every ministry in life.
Those who should be leading our churches are the men and women who have demonstrated their love and service, and have established a ministry of equipping the Saints for the works of ministry. When we find men and women doing this, we should call them out, equip them further, and pay them not to work non-ministry jobs so that they can devote themselves to the ministry of the Gospel and the equipping of the Saints. The qualification to become a pastor or any other leader is the life of servant leader. Unless one is serving, he or she should not be given the opportunity to train and lead. To call men and women to be our leaders should be a response to their service, their equipping of others, and their success in personal and corporate ministry.
Herein lays the problem. Our current system of leadership does not promote obedient leaders who serve, are identified as servant leaders, and then requested to give up their non-ministry lives to adopt a life of equipping the Saints. We have a broken system of discovering who is truly a called and gifted leader. Leaders grow by reproducing leaders. Our current systems are not designed to produce leaders and part of the result of these systems is that few leaders excel, that is, produce more leaders for Kingdom work by equipping the Saints for ministry.
In our current system, those who can break this chain of ignorance and failure are the local pastor and other responsible leaders. When the local pastor moves from being a ruler to a servant, from being an office holder to being an active servant leader, from being the holder of knowledge to the trainer of Believers, from being the protector of orthodoxy to the motivator of obedient Followers of Christ, and from the focal point of all the church does to the projector of who Christ is within communities – we will see a change in the church and the impact a church has on individuals, communities, nations, and world.
Pastors and their staffs must stop keeping their congregations as infants in the Word and ministry by doing everything for their congregations. For congregations to mature and leaders to emerge, the pastor must treat his congregation as capable to serve and train them to serve. When pastors exhort and help their people to become successful in obeying the commands of Christ, their authority will grow, their honor will increase, and the Kingdom will benefit.
We will not see the world reached for Christ in any generation as long as leaders are protecting their fiefdoms instead of being about the King’s business. We have been commanded to teach them to obey. We have been commanded to equip the Saints. We have been commanded to offer ourselves as living sacrifices. We have been commanded to be an example to the saved and lost alike. When we, who call ourselves pastors and leaders, start obeying, our churches will change, our communities will be transformed, and just maybe, we will see the world come to Christ in our generation.
From Beirut, Lebanon
PS – I am a seminary trained, ordained minister of the Gospel, and have been serving the church since 1972. I have served on church staffs. I have pastored churches around the world. I am a church planter and a missionary. I love the church, but I am disturbed by the trends I am seeing in the church, especially as expressed in the West and projected to the church throughout the world. I love the Word of God, but I am disturbed by the lack of obedience to its teachings, and the failure of leaders in the church to teach obedience to the Word as well as knowledge about the Word. I am a leader, but I am disturbed by leaders who demand respect and position instead of being servants. I love people and I am committed to giving my life so that all may have the opportunity to hear and receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ.