I often use the picture of the young/ old woman illusion as an example of the work needed for us to change our old, handed-down paradigms of church so we can embrace a more Biblical model. This is important to me as my ministry plants unique expressions of church that often look different than the more traditional model. In a sense, we are trying to shift the view in the picture from old to young, outdated to relevant, Christendom to Biblical church.
One of the common toxic paradigms we face is the separation of clergy and laity. I saw this clearly while watching a pastor on television seated on a large throne on the podium of his church. Why wouldn’t he? After all, he is the called one, the pastor of the flock and God’s anointed to lead his people. Seeing this reminded me of my younger years when the pastor of my church sat on a large, ornately carved wooden chair plush with soft cushions. Surrounding him were smaller but similar chairs for associate staff while the rest of us sat on hard wooden pews. Though most churches no longer have thrones for their pastor, the clergy-laity divide still exists and this toxic paradigm harms the spread of the gospel in our culture today.
The Early Church understood Christ is the head of the church, the Good Shepherd (Pastor) who leads the flock. They didn’t need paid pastors with seminary degrees to lead them. In fact, they didn’t even need cool worship bands and church buildings. All they needed was Jesus and a house to gather together to worship and be empowered to be Christ in their world.
The Early Church had no clergy-laity divide. They lived out the priesthood of all believers;
“You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” – 1 Peter 2:5,9
This is the New Testament paradigm, and it works. All one has to do is go to China or India to see this principle in action. Christianity is growing profusely through little underground house churches with no professional seminary educated clergy doing all the work. These churches are royal priesthoods. In fact, I heard recently that the majority of underground churches in China are led by teenage girls! Good for them as they live out their priesthood to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”
Please do not misconstrue what I’m saying. I love paid pastors that can focus on preparing solid sermons. I am grateful for seminaries. I love church buildings with a great sound system and worship band. I love various ministries that a good building can facilitate. None of these are wrong.
We are blessed to have these wonderful tools at our disposal. But never forget that this is exactly what they are — tools to help us in our priestly duties to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”
Stop seeing yourself as a spectator and join your pastor in serving the church. Instead of seeing your work as a 9–5 job, be your company’s pastor and minister as a priest to those around you. Who knows what might happen — you could eventually have a church form right there in your office! I have seen this happen before in stores, prisons, office towers, etc. It just took one Christian to understand their priestly calling and in time a church was birthed in their place of work. No separation of clergy and laity — all a royal priesthood serving our one true Shepherd.