As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4-5)
In the quote above, to whom is Peter speaking?
“Hold on! Tread lightly! You are on holy ground here!” exclaimed my clergy friend. I had asked him how he could be a priest in a “high church” denomination and still believe in the New Testament Scriptures, which clearly teach that all who have faith in Christ have equal access to the Father and that everyone who believes is included in the priesthood of believers.
“All believers in Christ have the responsibility to represent God to those around them and to intercede for their friends and loved ones!” I declared. “You and me and other clergy are not the only ones who have been chosen by God and set apart to serve Him – all who come to Christ become a part of the Body of Christ, a member of a royal priesthood, a citizen of a holy nation, a subject in the kingdom of God, ministers of reconciliation, the light of the world and the salt of the earth! We all become children of God who have direct access to the Father!”
My friend was also my host. I was staying at a monastery in an attempt to draw near to the Lord and learn more about other church traditions. He was patient with me as he replied, “I understand that. I believe those Scriptures the same way you do. I used to be a Methodist. But I have found that church traditions and rituals are beautiful and meaningful; they provide the structure that I needed in my relationship with God and portray Christ in ways I didn’t understand before.”
We parted ways amicably after spending several hours talking about our different viewpoints and gaining understanding regarding our diverse ways of “doing church.” He defended his point of view using Old Testament examples, New Testament verses on church leadership, and church tradition. He was obviously more well-educated than I was and, this is what hit me the hardest, more honest with himself.
"Somehow I got it in my head that I had to do everything and the church couldn’t survive without me."
For when it got right down to it, even though I argued passionately for the priesthood of all believers and declared that every member ought to be a minister, the way I “did church” in our Pentecostal church wasn’t that much different than what my friend did in the monastery. True, we didn’t have the rituals and robes, but when it got right down to it I was the one who spoke at every Sunday service, led every Bible study, and prayed for those who came forward for prayer. Somehow I got it in my head that I had to do everything and the church couldn’t survive without me. I worked hard, loved God and loved people. I would not have intentionally hurt anyone or disobeyed the Lord, but by doing everything myself I was sending a not-so-subtle message that it was my church and that God had called me but not you and that I had a connection to God that others just didn’t have.
So I preached, I taught, I prayed, I served, I agonized over why my church was so small and why I was so tired and why God seemed so far away. I was discouraged and a friend recommended a retreat, some time alone with God. He told me about a monastery where a person could go and rent a room for a dollar or two while seeking God in the natural beauty of the area. So I went, met with God and found the new friend I wrote about above, and came to terms with the error of my ways. I gave the church back to God, began to release others to minister, and started changing the culture of the church by not only teaching the priesthood of all believers but also living it out. And, would you believe it, miracle of miracles, the church actually started to grow and even to thrive.
As we go to prayer today, think about your church. Are the meetings led by one person or does the Holy Spirit move through a variety of people? Does one person do all the teaching or is there a team of teachers? Do people pray for one another or does one person do all the praying? Do people think the pastor’s prayers will be heard by God more than a layperson’s prayers? Is the whole Body active and involved in ministering to one another and to the community or is it up to a handful of people to do the work that was designed for the whole Body of Christ to do?
Reflect a little further and think about some action points. Is there anyone that the Holy Spirit is leading you to invite onto your leadership team? Who are the people in your church who need to be affirmed and released to minister? What changes can be made to the structure of your services and meetings that would allow the Holy Spirit to move through a number of different people? How can you begin to teach people that they are able to teach and minister just as you do?
Let’s Pray Together: Lord, You are Lord of the Church. I give You my church and I pray that Your will would be done in our local congregation. Help our whole congregation, every member of Your Body, to be actively involved in ministering to others. Help us all to see that we are all called to be priests who offer ourselves as spiritual sacrifices and tell people about God and intercede for them. I pray for the following people to be released into everything that You have for them… (Continue praying as you feel led…)
Real Life Testimonies and Examples: Why I Left the Megachurch I Created -- video by Francis Chan What is Simple Church -- Video by Charles Kridiotis that explains how the Simple Church model empowers people to live out the priesthood of all believers concept and makes missional objectives such as multiplying disciples more obtainable. The growth of the Simple Church movement in Europe is discussed as well.
Related Resources: Check out these stats provided by The Fuller Institute and Barna Research via theforgottenway.com:
90% of church leaders work 55-75 hours per week.
50% feel so discouraged they would leave ministry if they could.
80% say ministry has negatively affected their families.
70% of church leaders constantly fight depression.
94% of leaders' families feel the pressures of ministry.
Over 1,700 leaders left the ministry every month last year.
Over 3,500 people a day left the church last year.
Something is wrong here! The weight of the church – the responsibilities of shepherding God’s people, representing Him to the community, teaching God’s Word, interceding for the nations, hearing from God and casting vision for the future – is too much for one man! Leadership must be spread across the shoulders of many and the whole body of Christ must be empowered to minister, not just a select few. What Others Are Saying: Author Wayne Jacobsen, in his book Finding Church, wrote about his struggle to find the right church structure: "When our structures fail us, someone devises yet another one for us to try. My shelves are filled with books offering a variety of fixes to cure what ails the church. None of them work, which is why new ones are published every year. What if the church of Jesus Christ isn't built on human systems at all, but with "living stones" (1 Peter 2:5) -- those people who are learning to live by the breath of the Spirit instead of human ingenuity?"