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Posts Tagged ‘Clergy-Laity System

How the Clergy/Laity System Hurts the Church

I once worked in a church.  I know the pressures that come from being in “full-time ministry” and I also know the liberation when you leave “full-time ministry.”  I now work a “secular” job and I love it.  I don’t always enjoy the work nor the time away from my family but I enjoy not being in “the ministry.”  I enjoy serving Jesus where I am.  I actually love to study my Bible now more than when I was a pastor and I love to pray now more than when I had prayer meetings at the church I served at.  I actually get to talk to lost people on a regular basis instead of always talking to “Christians.”  I get to take the monies that God gives me and give to whatever I want to give it to (missions, the poor, other disciples, etc.) instead of giving to a local church so they can their bills and support their staffs.

In 2001, while studying a book on house churches, I came to the conclusion that the clergy/laity system is wrong.  It is not biblically based.  It is based on human traditions but not upon the Word of God.  I noticed the lack of leadership in the New Testament.  There are elders mentioned (Acts 20:17; 1 Timothy 3:1-7) and deacons (1 Timothy 3:8-13) but other than the Apostles, few leaders are mentioned.  Out of the Epistles, only one begins with an address to the leaders (Philippians 1:1) and even Jesus, in Revelation 2-3, never addresses the leaders but the entire church.  In fact, Matthew 20:20-28 gives a very low view of leadership from Jesus as compared to the worldly leadership system that the Jews had known.  This is not to demean leadership but to simply point out that the idea of a single pastor leading a church is not found in the New Testament.  While elder-led churches are seen, the elders are to serve “among” the people of God and not over them as so often found among clergy-led churches (1 Peter 5:1-4).

To me, the clergy-laity system hurts the Church.  How so?

1.  The Clergy-Laity System Divides the People of God

Galatians 3:26-28 mentions the people of God being one.  Jesus prayed for the Church to be one in John 17:20-23.  Ephesians 4:4 says there is only one body.  Not many.  1 Corinthians 12:27 says that the body of Christ is one even with many members being apart of it.  Yet the clergy-laity system makes a few people “professional” Christians while the rest work in the secular realm.  This makes the Church focused on what the professionals want and not what the Spirit wants (Acts 13:1-4).  The clergy are “paid” to study the Bible and to do the work of the ministry despite Ephesians 4:11-16 being poorly applied here.  The clergy are separate from the people and even some wear special garments to show that they are clergymen.  The laity show up to the building, listen to the professional Christians, give money to the professional Christians, and then go back home to their secular worlds.  This is a division not found in the New Testament.

2.  The Clergy-Laity System Nullifies the Priesthood of All Saints of God

It has been said, “We are equal at the cross.”  Not so with the clergy-laity system.  The clergy are closer to God since they are professional Christians and they pray, read their Bibles, teach us the Bible, etc.  Often the clergy are the ones who do all the “ministry” such as baptisms, marriages, prayer, etc.  The laity, perhaps once in a while, get to do stuff but nothing on the level of the professional Christians.

Yet 1 Peter 2:5, 9 and Revelation 1:6 and 5:10 all mention that disciples are priests unto God.  With the death of Jesus came a new way to God (Hebrews 10:19-20) and the old Jewish ways were gone (Hebrews 8:13).  This included the high priests and the whole priesthood.  Jesus fulfilled the Law completely (John 19:30) and now we all are equal before God.  We all have access through Him into God’s holy presence (Ephesians 2:11-22).  We don’t need priests because we have one in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 9:14).  Through Jesus we can come into the presence of God (Hebrews 4:14-16).  Every disciple of Jesus is a priest.  There is no special priesthood.

The clergy-laity system pays only some homage to that doctrine.  How many people in the Church are exhorted to pray and do the work of the ministry because they are priests?  How many are taught that God hears them just as He hears the pastor of the church?  How many are taught that the Holy Spirit will teach them the Scriptures just as well as He teaches the pastor and they too can hear from God through His Word on a regular basis?  We are taught instead to listen to sermons that the pastor gets from his study of Scripture.  To a degree the priesthood of the saints is honored but not to the point that the New Testament places on it.  Instead we are taught that some people are called to be special priests unto God while others are only laity priests unto God.

3. The Clergy-Laity System Never Fulfills Ephesians 4:11-16

Read Ephesians 4:11-16 and notice that the point of gifted people given to the Church is not to do the work themselves but to train others to do the work of the ministry.  This happens not by going off to seminary and learning how to parse the Greek text but from actually showing people by our examples how to serve Christ (Hebrews 13:7, 17).  Timothy was to teach others (2 Timothy 2:2).  That is biblical discipleship at its best (Matthew 28:20) where disciples are teaching disciples and showing them how to serve Jesus through faithful prayer, evangelism, etc.

The clergy-laity system tells us that the professional Christians are there to fulfill Ephesians 4:11-16 but it never does.  It the premise was of this statement were true then the reason for the clergy would be to work themselves out of a job.  They never do.  The larger the church gets, the more it needs the lead clergy and even adds more clergy.  The church sits back and watches the show called church.  It never does anything.  The old 80/20 principle is very much true in the clergy-laity church.  80% of the work is done by 20% of the church which is largely clergy.  The clergy do all the preaching, all the teaching, all the discipling, all the singing, all the praying, all the baptizing, etc.  They can say that they are seeking to fulfill Ephesians 4:11-16 but they never do.  It’s an ongoing thing that never changes.

4.  The Clergy-Laity System Forces the Church To Water Down the Gospel

I know that some Bible teachers are bold in preaching the gospel.  Carter Conlon, for example at Times Square Church, preaches the true gospel.  John MacArthur preaches a hard gospel.  But sadly, the clergy-laity system causes many Bible teachers to teach for one purpose: church growth which in turn equals, for them, more money.  Some Bible teachers, perhaps, even despise doing goofy series preaching on watered down subjects but they know that they must fill the seats and to preach doctrine or repentance or prayer would not fill the seats.  A few know that they need to preach the hard gospel of Jesus (Luke 9:23-25; 14:25-35) but they can’t because they would drive out their biggest givers and supporters.  The clergy also fear their board of deacons who often control the clergy like a puppet on a string.

How thankful I was when I was pastoring a church and had to get a job because the church had dwindled down to the point that I needed to get a real job.  I remember the liberation of standing up and preaching the hard gospel of Jesus Christ and not fearing what anyone thought because Coca-Cola was paying my bills and not the board of deacons.  I preached with passion those last few months that I pastored a church because I was not controlled by money.  I was driven by the gospel.  I wanted people to repent of their sins.  I wanted people to be holy as God was holy.  I wanted to preach the entire Word of God faithfully and I did so those last few months that I pastored all because I didn’t receive a dime from the church.

Most clergymen are not in that state.  In most cases their income and the income of the church and their staff is based on keeping people happy in the seats.  This means preaching goofy series sermons that are lifeless and lack the power of God.  The church grows because of transfer growth from other more boring churches or even true churches where repentance is preached (people will run from true preaching).  The clergy-laity system makes the church focused on filling the seats for money instead of seeking make disciples of Jesus through faithful preaching of the gospel.  How many clergymen live in fear of losing their jobs or losing their key givers by what they say?  Not me!

5.  The Clergy-Laity System Misuses Money

I reject tithing.  I find nothing in the New Testament to suggest that disciples should tithe.  Tithing is biblical but it is biblical because the Jews in the Old Testament did tithe not just money but even their crops to support the Levitical priesthood system.  That is now gone with the coming of Jesus.  Not once in the New Testament are we told to tithe to a priest or to give to a local church.  1 Corinthians 16:1-2 must be read in the context of 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 where Paul was saying that the Corinthians were giving not to support a clergymen but to give to saints in Jerusalem.  They were helping hurting saints and not tithing!

How many times have I heard pastors exhorting people to give to the local church, to tithe 10% of their income?  Why?  Because the clergymen need money to live and to pay the bills of the church building.  The average salary of the lead pastor of a mega-church is $147,000 and as high as $400,000 per year.  85% of money that the American church receives goes toward buildings and salaries and less than 2% goes toward world evangelism according to K.P. Yohannan.  I remember in Bible college the boys would say that they would not take a church job unless they made more than $35,000 per year and that was the mid 1990’s.

Time doesn’t permit me to talk about what the Bible specifically tells us give to.  We are to give (Matthew 6:2) but what are we to give to?  In the Book of Acts we find the Church giving to the poor, hurting disciples, and church planters (Apostles).  That is it.  They didn’t tithe.  They didn’t support a full-time professional Christian system.  They gave to what they wanted to give to (2 Corinthians 8-9).  If I am required to give the tithe of my income, how could 2 Corinthians 9:7 make sense?  If Jesus delivers me from the curse of the Law (Galatians 3:13) then how could I fall under the curse of Malachi 3:8-10?  By the way, I have not tithed in almost ten years and am making more money today than when I was tithing.  How do you like those apples?


I know that some of what I have said could be perceived as harsh and that I am just angry as a former pastor but I am not.  I love my life outside of “the ministry.”  I do more for the glory of God today than when I was working full-time in a church.  What do I miss about “the ministry?”  The time to spend in studying and I do miss being able to sleep a lot.  Other than that, I don’t miss “the ministry” at all.  I am thankful to God for allowing that house church book to come my way ten years ago.  A great book to read is Jon Zens’ book, The Pastor Has No Clothes.  Zens’ articles about the clergy-laity system are right on.

My prayer is that God would help the Church to return to the New Testament and seek to be faithful to obey all that it teaches (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

10/09/2011 at 10:00 AM

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