The Great Divide


I recently wrote an article on unity for an upcoming issue of Covenant Spotlight. It made me think about unity and division. The church is, in many ways, greatly divided. We have thousands of denominations and differ with each other on many theological points. I don’t think any of that reflects our most serious divide.

I think the Great Divide in Christ’s church is the divide between clergy/laity, full-time/part-time, paid/unpaid, staff/congregation. This divide exists and is a problem in every fellowship. Don’t get me wrong. I love pastors. I especially love my pastors. I even think they, and all of our staff, are grossly underpaid. If we are going to have paid ministers, I think they should be adequately paid.  I just don’t think that was part of the original plan. It’s one of the many man-made elements of modern church.

We are in the era of the priesthood of the believer. We are all called to follow and serve. The great divide does not foster that. When we have paid ministers, the rest of us expect them to do the ministry. After all, isn’t that what they get paid for? The paid feel an obligation to do most of the ministry for the same reason.

The paid/unpaid system makes some of the paid perform duties they are not well suited for and keeps gifted unpaids from serving where they would have the most impact.

I read an article this morning addressed to pastors encouraging them to be willing to preach more discomforting sermons. Is that realistic? Can we expect employees to fuss at those who pay their salaries? I know many good pastors who do, but their discomfort in doing so is clear.

The paid system puts the paid in a place where the only way to better themselves financially is to grow their church or move on to bigger, better paying congregations. They are pushed to play a quantity rather than quality game. It’s a lot easier to grow a church by tickling ears than by challenging life styles.

It’s probably unrealistic to expect a sudden end to the paid/unpaid divide. Perhaps we will have to be satisfied by doing the best we can under the circumstances. Here’s how:

Pay the paid as much as we can, not based on how much they do, but on how much they train the unpaid to do. We should look at church more like a team and the paid more like coaches. A team is judged by how the team performs, not how the coaches perform.

Promote “lay” ministry in the church. This will require the paid to allow the unpaid to serve in all elements of ministry. Most lay ministry now takes place in groups that function outside of individual churches. In my experience, Kairos and Covenant Spotlight are both ministries that are lay led, in which most work is done by the unpaid, with the support of the paid.

Promote “joint outreach” ministry. There are simply not enough places to minister in churches that are inward focused. There is plenty of work on the inside; but plenty more “out there.” What really works are joint efforts by separate congregations in which the world can see Christians united to make a difference.

Pastors, I know it’s often easier to do something yourself and not raise up, train and motivate others to do it.  I believe you know that you are not called to be everything to everyone in your church. You are called to train everyone to minister in their gifts to everyone in your church and beyond in the community, and in the world.

It’s not easy, but it’s why you should be getting the big bucks.


NIck's been an attorney for 34 years, served as a pastor and blogs almost daily.

Nick’s been an attorney for 34 years, served as a pastor and blogs almost daily.

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