Occasionally, I like to write something that reminds me what a total radical I am. Today is one of those days. I believe that the modern church, particularly in the west, is generally a failure. The problem, I believe is fundamental and structural.
The western Christian church is based on a clergy/lay, paid/unpaid, full-time/part-time model. Under this structure, full-time, paid clergy do the bulk of the ministry, make the decisions, and structure the church. The job of everyone else is to provide financial support and herd the lost toward the clergy who will then minister as they have been trained. Churches are designed so that the clergy sits up front and leads the service while the rest sit in straight rows and essentially watch.
The lay Christians are often preached at and told they need to be more involved, but the real opportunities to do more than write a check are minimal. This model has forces that focus on getting the lost into church and not bringing them to Jesus. It requires adherence to a tithe plus mentality to provide a continuing flow of dollars in support of paid staff and substantial buildings. It results in exhausted ministers and frustrated laity.
My experience with this is not merely theoretical. For a few years, I pastored a church which had no building or paid staff. It was perhaps the best church I was ever a part of. We met in a nursing home and ministered to the staff and residents there at no cost to anyone. The church didn’t last forever because the membership just couldn’t get used to the idea that ministry was up to everyone. The western Christian church model was just too deeply ingrained and the unpaid pastor, me, eventually collapsed under the weight of responsibility and work while trying to continue to be a tent maker to support my family. Even dedicated Christians are used to going to church to be ministered to and no to minister.
You would think this position makes me an enemy of paid pastors. This is not so. I love my pastors. I provide tons of unpaid support. I don’t blame them for the model we are used to. I also believe that if we are going to have paid staff they should be well paid because we are asking them to do the impossible and should expect to attract the best to this task.
I think they also know deep inside their dedicated but exhausted hearts that there is something basically wrong with the way we do things. “He has made us a Kingdom of priests for God his Father. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.” Revelation 1:6 That’s a glorious vision that doesn’t match up with current reality.
It is extremely difficult to change a system that has developed over two thousand years. It will require “lay” ministry in arenas in which many are paid. It will require paid staff releasing much of what they do and are responsible for to those who are called and willing to minister without compensation. It will require recognition that “tithing” was a system designed to support a priestly class which is no longer the preferred model in a “kingdom of priests.”
Look around, Jesus is most glorified where the church is non-traditional, “lay” led, persecuted and generally under ground. As followers, we can respond best by being will to “do” as well as give, to recognize that what we expect of paid staff is unrealistic, to work to provide ministry opportunity to everyone, to look to ministry that glorifies God and not those paid to do his work.