In this series I am addressing a number of things that I believe are big problems in the church. Before I go much further I must just say that I do believe that many church people and leaders are in fact good-natured. The people in the church are trying to do the right thing, they are trying to do God's thing, and many of them are warm, wonderful and loving people. They are just caught up in a system that is very, very messed up.
What I would like to address in this post is an issue that is probably gonna piss off some of my friends. I would like to talk about the idea of clergy laity distinction, and particularly the idea of paid ministers.
In the church of today we have a structure that operates like either a business or a government. There are experts and professionals at the top, and there are the rabble on the bottom. Like I showed in my previous post we have adopted a system that allows and encourages this kind of structure, and the values that come along with it. We in most cases require our leaders to have degrees of some sort, to have aptitude in "running things" or incredible charisma. The greater your schooling and gifting, the higher you rise in the chain of command.
It is sad to me that in much of the "emerging" church, we have not really dealt with this issue at all. We might have different things that "qualify" the person at the top of the heap, but we still have heaps. We talk about how many people come to our church, how many books we have read, how many conferences we have been invited to speak at, or how many cool innovative worship ideas we have incorporated into our church. We have traded one hierarchy for another. We have made church "cooler" but not actually emerged into something that is different. For all the talk of a new reformation that addresses more than just doctrine, we have not really addressed much more than doctrine, and tried to make church culturally more fun for ourselves. This is simply not good enough.
At the heart of this hierarchy is this idea that certain people should be paid to be the ministers, while others are only volunteers. We like to talk about the priesthood of all believers, but like the saying goes, "money talks, bullshit walks" If we truly believe that we are all equally called to share our gifts within the body, that in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female then why are some paid and some not? If we truly believe that every joint in the body is of equal importance, then why do some people get paid for it? Why are those people expected to have degrees and qualifications that allow them to hold these positions?
Now I know that once again I am the minority position here, but let me just list a number of reasons why our system is broken, and needs to be torn down and rebuilt not patched up:
In a consumerist culture, paying for experts, keeps us from learning and growing ourselves
In a consumerist culture we must resist the current of our culture and not cater to a consumer mindset that com-modifies religious experience
When your degree and income are based on "religious" studies what happens when you need to step down or leave the ministry?
How do you relate to your neighbors when they work "real jobs" and you get paid to read the bible and pray for people?
How do you relate to the people in your congregation when you get paid to do devotions and bible study, and have a good marriage, and kids under control ect.
How much of church budget that could go towards helping the poor and marginalized goes towards paying salaries?
Now are their scriptures that back certain people getting paid? yes, but I believe they are the exceptions, not the rule. Paul, a far more accomplished church man than many today, worked making tents so that he wouldn't be a financial burden. He said Peter did get supported by the church, but Peter was not the pastor of a church in a city, but rather the traveling apostle, providing leadership (I will talk about leadership without hierarchy later) over an entire movement. There is an excellent resource by Frank Viola called straight talk to pastors (free online) that goes into the scriptural support for what I am talking about.
When Christ was walking along and hears the disciples
arguing about who will be the greatest in the kingdom, he stops them and
explains, "if you want to really be great in my kingdom, you will be a
slave to everyone:" We have twisted that to this abomination, "well to
be a servant to everyone, I need to be more able to care for the needs
of the sheep, and paying me a salary, and making me their leader, and
giving me authority over them will help me serve them better". And I
know why we do this, it is more expedient, it makes more sense the only
problem is, it isn't the way of Christ.
Ultimately, the gathering of God's people for a new politic should not follow the paradigms of business, or government, or even religion. The gathering of God's church should be one of unparalleled equality,, anarchic in its nature, and radically communal in its economy. The church practiced much like this for three hundred years, until it became married to the government, and Rome needed priests and bishops of the stature and quality worthy of their great empire. And the leadership of the humble laborer, who though being God says later in his ministry, "I call you all now my friends" gets forgotten, as we grab a hold of an ideology that is far from that of Christ.
So we must do away with titles, and salaries, and hierarchy, we are a kingdom of priests.
ps. reverend is an ironic nickname, not an official title, please feel free to call me john, or friend, or brother, or asshole, I answer to all of those