Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Repost: Clericalism and the Welfare State

I was reading a few pages of Dave Black's The Jesus Paradigm last night and something he said reminded me of a post I wrote two years ago. Dave wrote about the similarities between the welfare state and the church, i.e. one is a transfer of wealth and one is a transfer of responsibility. That sounded familiar and sure enough I wrote something similar based on Frank Viola's book Reimagining Church. Here is what I wrote...


"In this connection, the modern clergy system is a religious artifact that has no biblical basis. This system has allowed the body of Christ to lapse into an audience due to it's heavy reliance on a single leader. It has turned church into the place where Christians watch professionals perform. It has transformed the holy assembly into a center for professional pulpiteerism supported by lay-spectators

Perhaps the most daunting feauture of the clergy system is that it keeps the people it claims to serve in spiritual infancy. Because the clergy system usurps the Christian's right to minister in a spiritual way during corporate gatherings, it ends up debilitating God's people. It keeps them weak and insecure.

Without question, many - if not most - of the people who are part of the clergy profession love God's people and desire to serve them. Many of them sincerely want to see their fellow brethren take spiritual responsibility (Numerous clergy have expressed their frustration with not seeing their congregations take more responsibility. But few of them have traced the problem to their own profession)

Yet the clergy profession ends up disempowering and pacifying the believing preisthood. This is the case regardless of how uncontrolling the person who fills the clergy position may be.

Here's how it works. Since clergy carries the spiritual workload, the majority of the church becomes passive, lazy, self-seeking ("feed me"), and arrested in the spiritual development.

Just as serious, the clergy system warps many who occupy clerical positions. The reason? God never calls anyone to beear the heavy burden of ministering to the needs of the church by himself. Yet regardless of the spiritual tragedies the clergy profession engenders, the masses continue to rely on, defend, and insist upon it. For this reason the so-called laity is just as responsible for the problem of clericalism as is the clergy.

If the truth be told, many Christians prefer the convenience of paying someone to shoulder the responsibilty for ministering and shepherding. In their minds, it's better to hire a religious specialist to tend to the needs of God's people than to bother themselves with the self-emptying demands of servanthood and pastoral care"

Frank Viola, Reimagining Church, pp. 160-161 (emphasis added)

That was a powerful statement, perhaps the best I have come across yet in his book. Like so much of the institutional church the clergy system, while well-meaning and intended to be helpful in most cases, has actually hurt the people it is supposed to help. So why is the title of this post a linkage between the clergy system and the welfare system? Because clericalism, like the welfare system, has led to dependence and weakness.

I think Frank Viola really hits a proper qualifier in pointing out that this is not because people in vocational ministry are power hungry and greedy, but in many ways it is a result of "laity" who are dependent and spiritually lazy. I am concerned that people look at statements like this and see it as an attack on people in vocational ministry. That is not at all my intent nor is it in my opinion the intent of this book. There are a few megalomaniacs in pastoral ministry, I have met a couple, but for the most part the men who labor as pastors make less money and take more grief than they could in a number of other professions, and they do it out of love and in service to Christ. What other profession requires an expensive Masters degree that will lead to you making less money than you would with just a Bachelors degree?

Ultimately, the system is unhealthy for the “laity” and unhealthy for the clergy and their families. In thumbing through Frank Viola’s other book I just got from the library, Pagan Christianity, he cites a poll with some pretty unpleasant numbers from pastors who are overworked, stressed and seeing an enormous strain on their families. I agree with Frank Viola and George Barna when they assert that it was never God’s intention to lay all of the responsibility for a local assembly on the shoulders of one man, but in almost every church we have attended or visited that is the reality. Lots of people have noted this “burn-out” among pastors and how many men leave the ministry every year, but no one seems to connect the dots and realize that the problem is in the system itself.

As I thought about what Frank Viola wrote, I saw an analogy between the clerical system and the modern welfare system. Why is the welfare system dehumanizing and an utter failure? Because it provides for people while asking very little from them in return and actually discourages them from seeking to support themselves. The very people who are supposed to be helped by the welfare system are actually hurt by it and the dependence it causes becomes generational. Passivity begets passivity.

The clergy-laity distinction does the same thing. How else can you explain the vast numbers of people who have been in church all of their lives, people in their later years with decades in the pew, who are sincere, prayerful Christians and yet are spiritually immature and doctrinally deficient? The solution for this problem among my Reformed brethren is more and longer preaching. The problem is that more and more preaching adds to the already heavy burden of ministry because one guy has to do it all and I am increasingly unconvinced that passively listening to a sermon week after week, no matter how good the sermon, is really the key to bringing people to spiritual maturity. Trying to replicate a Together for the Gospel talk every week from the pulpit is doomed to failure. Most men don’t have the same oratory skills as a John Piper or C.J. Mahaney and most church congregations are not as motivated as the T4G audience. The result is frustrated pastors and laity with glazed over eyes. That is not a knock on preaching, it is a knock on passivity.

Let me say again that my goal is not to see how we can tear down the clerical system and throw pastors out on the street. It is to discover how we can get the Body of Christ to all work together for the glory of God, to edify and instruct one another, to love and support one another rather than the unhealthy system of subcontracting out the “one anothers” to “just one”. How can we get men who are motivated and skilled in teaching to help others to grow, not merely spoon feed them while they passively sit in the pew? The Body of Christ is not healthy when we have a small cadre of highly motivated and heavily burdened men doing the work of ministry for a majority who are spectators. The church is a community, not an event, but we treat like a theatrical presentation instead of a living, loving gathering of the redeemed sheep of the Great Shepherd.

Ronald Reagan famously stood in West Berlin in 1987 and said “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” It was one of the seminal moments in the Cold War and came shortly before that wall was torn down. Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, the Berlin Wall and the Cold War were just facts of life. They were on their side and we were on our side and that is just how it was. What we found out was that the Berlin Wall was not a permanent fixture. It was just a barrier thrown up by some people and once it started to crumble, the whole thing fell. It was not without trouble and some chaos, but real reformation is rarely neat and tidy.

Let’s get people up out of the pews and pastors down from the pulpit. Let’s love the elders not by paying them to do it all for us but by supporting them and shouldering our share of the load. Let’s have real Biblical leadership, with men serving from within the Body as elders instead of directing from above the Body as CEO’s. Let’s get back to “one another” instead of “one and all the others”.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I really get what your saying.....the load is thick for one person. We don't see the spirit of god come down to only one person in comes to us all.....great post