Pastor's Pastor

Let's abolish the laity

The Scriptures call for the working body of Christians-all Christians, whether so-called laity or so-called clergy-together to spread the good news of salvation.

James A. Cress is the Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

That's right! When the goals of Global Mission are fully understood, the only possible hope that we have for accomplishing this great challenge is to abolish the laity altogether. Before you dismiss this idea as radical ramblings or an attempt to grasp attention, consider the fact that in the New Testament the concept of dichotomy between "clergy and laity" is foreign. Instead, the Scriptures call for the working body of Christians—all Christians, whether so-called laity or so-called clergy—together to spread the good news of salvation.

For far too long we have stumbled along under a vague yet definitely mistaken impression that somehow God's work would be completed by professional clergy and that the role of the laypersons lies somewhere between a sanctified cheering section and a beneficent banker whose financial backing demonstrates a nebulous commitment to the overall objectives of reaching people with the message of Jesus' soon return without requiring too much individual participation. On the basis of the sheer force of what is happening about us, we cannot afford this illusion any longer.

Everyone a minister

The real goal of abolishing the laity is clear: to elevate all the people of God—both clergy and laity alike—to their true dignity as ministers of Jesus Christ. Martin Luther noted, "All believers are ministers, some ministers are clergy." The so-called minister or pastor is not called primarily to do the work of the ministry but to equip the saints for ministry. In other words, the liberation of the laity into the full role of ministry is not a side issue. Thus it is the primary task of church leadership as well as the concern of every member that all the saints be equipped for their ministry. There is no more important work to be accomplished.

The work of the pastor is to devise a ministry that lives to express itself through helping others to find and express theirs. "That which is needed now for the upbuilding of the churches is ... to discern and develop talent in the church—talent that can be educated for the Master's use."1 The pastor cannot wait around until someone volunteers. The pastor must seek out and recruit members to become involved with ministry. Laity need to understand that if their pastor is designing and implementing ways to train members and put them to work in ministry for others, this is the most important pastoral work. If conference officers are holding pastors accountable for training the laity and for fulfilling the ministry of all believers, then they are doing their most important work.

Needed: explosion of ministry

You regularly read thrilling stories of lay ministry in this place or that, and I am thankful for these outstanding reports. But what we need now is an explosion of these ministries. As Charles Bradford says: "We have prayed for the latter rain; we at least need a cloudburst!"

This is not a call for one more program in lay training. It is a call for a radical transformation of the whole people of God into a ministering people. Nothing short of this will restore the church to its divinely appointed role as a movement of destiny to "prepare a people ready to meet the Lord." Furthermore, nothing short of this will prepare us as individual church members to be ready personally to meet our soon-coming Saviour.

In his book Liberating the Laity, Paul Stevens says that in his study of Ephesians 4 he discovered the primary purpose of church leadership—pastors and teachers—to "equip the saints for the work of ministry." He says, "In certain older translations of Ephesians 4:12 a fatal comma had been introduced which made it seem that the work of the pastor-teacher was to do the work of the ministry rather than to equip all the saints to do this work. According to this translation, God gave 'some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the equipment of the saints, [there's the fatal comma] for the work of ministry.' Thus it is not the saints but the leading equippers who do the ministry. However, there should be no comma between the last two phrases." 2

Newer translations correctly state the goal—"God gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers 'for the equipment of the saints for the work of ministry.' "3 That is the New Testament idea of the church. God's people—the whole church—are a priestly people. The grace of God in a life empowered by the Holy Spirit makes the weakest, most in adequate person competent to minister for the King of the universe!

1. Ellen G. White, Testimonies (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), vol. 9, p. 117.

2. Paul Stevens, Liberating the Laity (Downers Grove, 111.: InterVarsity Press, 1985), p. 14.

3. Ibid.

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James A. Cress is the Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

June 1996

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