On Professional Preaching (and Other Ministry Careers)

Allow me to address this thing we Western Christians refer to as our “calling.”

Am I wrong, or (in truly American fashion) are there many ways we’ve found to make careers out of the ministries which technically ALL Christians are called to do?

Think of teaching and counseling and caring for the poor…etc.

Long ago, these weren’t simply options for youth when selecting a college major. Yet, now, it’s standard procedure to ask graduating seniors, “Well, what do you LIKE to do? Where is your passion?”

And, if they’re passionate about serving God, we ask, “Where will you go to seminary?”

I think there should be another question, all of us are asking each other:  Who hasn’t been called to teach, counsel, and care? Aren’t all of us expected to do those things?

Well, okay, Amanda, we see what you’re saying. Yes, all of us should be prepared to use those skills, on special occasions (like at the store or bus stop), if the Holy Spirit prompts. But not everybody is called to PROFESSIONAL preaching, teaching, counseling, evangelizing…

I knew you’d say that.  (*wink*)

So, let’s discuss more about lay-ministry vs. the “professional” side of ministry with which we’re very familiar.

Just what is the difference–and is the separation good?

(God, grant me the wisdom to be helpful and clear–not just argumentative–while I tackle yet another sensitive topic.)

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It’s no surprise Americans have made a business out of ministry.  We’ve been raised on a steady diet of Capitalism since our very first lemonade stands–and that’s not totally a bad thing.  Let me repeat:  I am not anti-capitalism or anti-profit. 

Generally, if you can make money doing something you’re good at doing, it’s kind of silly to refuse.

But, I can see several downsides to constantly using the word “calling” as a synonym for “paying job.”  It starts with idolization of “education” (and the College Degree Machine) then ends with clear lines being placed between degree-holding spiritual people and everybody else.

It’s important to note, this hasn’t been done intentionally by God-fearing individuals who went to school for ministry. By and large, most of them have pure motives because–as I described above–they’re genuinely passionate about God.

Teachers/preachers and social workers just want to help people; it’s our culture which pushes them toward the career.

What am I saying?

I’m trying to avoid sounding angry or confrontational. (I’m neither.) Plus, having grown up in the church, I know lots of people who fall in the category of “professional” minister (in one category or another). I need to stress it’s not always WRONG for Christians to use their spiritual gifts to make a living.

I just think it has gone too far.

We’re to a point where we’ve forgotten that “teaching” doesn’t require a Teaching License. Counseling isn’t just for church-payroll counselors.  And–most shockingly–the head-of-the-church, weekly-sermon-delivering role of “Preacher” can’t be found in the Bible at all. (I’ll get to this.)

Instead, ALL of us are priests. We ALL received the gift of the Holy Spirit. And we ALL are “called” to minister to each other, whether we’re paid or not.

I know we say we believe these things.  We hear our preacher explain something along these lines quite often. But then, wouldn’t we operate a little differently if we really agreed that ALL of us are called to ministry?

Why, if we’re ALL priests, do we continue belonging to a system where only some of us are paid to do the work of one?

We come to church on Sunday (or for counseling on Thursday) while one staff member or another says, “I’m no different from you. We’re all ministers of the Holy Spirit.” But then we go back to our other jobs at home or the factory or the office building, while the Speaker spends the rest of the week studying his/her Bible and calling on the sick.

Why should only some of us do “full-time” Christian work?

Or, let me ask it this way. If only some of us do full-time ministry, what are the rest of us doing? By definition, we’re PART-timers. We contribute on Community Outreach Day, and maybe take a missions trip now and then. (Or, sure, we “witness” at work–or at the store or bus-stop–whenever the Spirit prompts.)

But, does the Spirit prompt professional ministers more than the lay-person? If not, then what IS the difference? What is the role/purpose of the modern pastor?

Let’s think about why we’ve been training and hiring and electing specialized ministers for so long…

And where does the system stop?

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As a reminder, I’m not upset.  🙂

I’m not trying to be scandalous or confrontational here.

But there are some very real problems that come from setting apart 24/7 “professional” ministers, from the rest of the Body.  It’s important that the Worldwide Church address some of those.

If you’ve ever thought “the Church needs to do things differently,” you simply must read Pagan Christianity by Viola and Barna.

You’ll never see the traditional church service the same way again.

Here are some of Frank Viola’s Explanations of why the professional preaching system actually hinders the Body of Christ. (And, I would add, the systems we’ve attached to professional teaching, counseling, and poor-caring (i.e. social-work) apply as well.)

1. “The Charismatics and the Third-Wavers have a copious supply of apostles, prophets, and teachers in their movement. However, to my mind, a first-century teacher, prophet, and apostle is a far cry from what typically carries that label today. These terms have been invested with hierarchical power and ‘official’ authority. In the Bible, apostles, prophets, and teachers are terms to describe a spiritual function. They were never used as offices or titles… aside from the apostle, who was itinerant, prophets and teachers were local people who had regular jobs. None were clergy in any sense of the word.” (from Tentmaker.org)

2. “The Sermon makes the preacher the virtuoso performer of the regular church gathering… There is no room for interrupting or questioning the preacher while he’s discoursing… It fosters a docile priesthood by allowing pulpiteers to dominate the church gathering week after week.”  –from Pagan Christianity.

3. “The sermon preserves the unbiblical clergy mentality. It creates an excessive and pathological dependence on the clergy. The sermon makes the preacher the religious specialist–the only one having anything worthy to say.  (While this is not usually voiced, it is the unspoken reality.)”  –from Pagan Christianity.

4. “Today’s sermon is often impractical. Countless preachers speak as experts on that which they have never experienced…” –from Pagan Christianity.

5. “The church needs fewer pulpiteers [professional teachers/counselors/spokes-people] and more spiritual facilitators… the Christian family needs a restoration of the biblical practice of mutual exhortation and mutual ministry…”  (from Pagan Christianity. Emphasis mine.)

I know this is a lot to throw at you, especially if it’s your first introduction to the core problems with Institutional Church System.  But I hope it’s not TOO much to chew…gag on just a little…and chew some more.

There is a LOT more in Pagan Christianity about the subtle ways we’ve systematized the Gospel over the centuries, but let’s start the dialog here.  What are the pros/cons of “professional” ministry?

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