Reasons why the church would be better off without clergy
Interesting title, isn’t it? I ran across an obscure article entitled Church Without Clergy by Christian Smith. He lists four problems with the clergy as a profession in the church:
- God doesn’t intend such a profession to exist. There is simply and unequivocally no biblical mandate or justification for the profession of clergy as we know it. In fact, the New Testament points to a very different way of doing church and pastoral ministry.
- It crushes “body life.” We can see in the New Testament that God doesn’t intend church to be a formal association to which a rank-and-file membership belongs by virtue of paying dues and attending meetings, an association which is organized, guided, and governed by a professional leader (and, in larger organizations, by an administrative bureaucracy). Yet that is exactly what most churches are.
- It is fundamentally self-defeating. Its stated purpose is to nurture spiritual maturity in the church-a valuable goal. In actuality, however, it accomplishes the opposite by nurturing a permanent dependence of the laity on the clergy. Clergy become to their congregations like parents whose children never grow up, like therapists whose clients never become healed, like teachers whose students never graduate. The existence of a full-time, professional minister makes it too easy for church members not to take responsibility for the on-going life of the church. And why should they? That’s the job of the pastor (so the thinking goes). But the result is that the laity remain in a state of passive dependence.
- What it does to the people in that profession. Being a member of the clergy as we know it is difficult. Doing it very well is almost impossible. Yet good-hearted men and women, convinced that they are serving God in this way, admirably pour their lives into this task. What they encounter as professional clergy, however, is stress, frustration, and burn-out.
Through a bit of research, I discovered that the article was published in 1993 as a chapter in a book, Going to the Root: Nine Proposals for Radical Church Renewal. Unfortunately, it’s out of print, but you may be able to find a used copy through AbeBooks or some other source. Here’s an excerpt from Mr. Smith’s closing words of this article:
The problem with clergy, we’ve seen, is not the actual people who are of the clergy-who are typically sincere and committed-but the social role of the profession to which they belong. Ministers often hope to re-shape that role in ways that are more realistic and biblical. But they eventually discover that, for the most part, they can’t reshape the role at will because their congregations and denominations expect the standard things from them. Of course, that’s the nature of social roles: they shape people more than people shape them.
A problem even more basic and serious than the clergy role, however, is that most Christians have completely redefined what a healthy church looks like in the first place. For most church-goers, a solid, healthy church is one which is growing numerically, has a fabulous pastor, and offers many activities and programs. That may be what a vibrant voluntary association-such as the YMCA-looks like. But if the Bible is our authority, those factors are irrelevant when it comes to church.
What’s important in church, according to the Bible, is that each member actively contributes to the good of the whole body through responsible participation and the exercise of their gifts. What’s important in church, according to the Bible, is that believers become strong and mature in their faith through the edification of one another. A biblical church is a “people’s church” with a decentralized ministry.