Personally I am satisfied about you, my brethren, that you yourselves are rich in goodness, amply filled with all [spiritual] knowledge and competent to admonish and counsel and instruct one another also. Romans 15:14 AMP
Gardeners, pool cleaners, housekeepers, nannys, dog groomers, and a host of other jobs that used to be done by the average middle class American are now being done by a special cadre of professionals. We rationalize this situation by saying we don't have the time, but more often than not we are filling that time with other activities.
I know, because I was one of those club and school sport's parents. My daughter's sport of choice, water polo, was an 11-month long activity -- if you added up the summer training, school pre-season, school season, club season and special water polo camps. With our weekends all scheduled up with tournaments and camps and competitions, who had time to cut the grass, wash the dog or keep the house clean...right?
Unfortunately for authentic community, we have the same disposition with regard to the work of the Lord and 'church.' We are just too busy to do the work, so we hire someone. And then we further rationalize this decision by telling ourselves we are just not competent to teach, mentor, preach the gospel or serve into the lives of others. We just weren't 'called' to do that...
And so we engage a professional hierarchy that has been trained and ordained to deliver the religious goods and services we feel we need. And then we sit in the pews and become the audience and 'ATMs' that this system needs to perpetuate itself.
I want to say it plainly at this point...I believe that this system of professional clergy and ministry leadership is crippling authentic community.
George Barna, in his book The Power of Team Leadership, puts it this way...
...by excluding lay leaders from exercising their gifts, the church becomes just another example of professional service delivery: trained and certified professionals (clergy) providing the goods and services (worship events, classes, etc.) needed or desired by consumers (congregants). The ministry's potential is therefore limited by the capacity of the professionals on the payroll.
Those who criticize the church for the consumer mentality of Christians often miss the boat...Many churchgoers have no choice but to consume ministry because they are not invited and prepared to do ministry. The desire to somehow engage in spiritual activity moves millions of individuals, many of whom may indeed be gifted as potential leaders, to settle for watching ministry rather than engaging in ministry.
Sadly, this means that the whole body suffers, and in some cases dies, as a result.
In fact, if we look out over the religious landscape in this country, we find church membership in decline, participation by younger people diminishing at an alarming rate, the overall spiritual health and biblical intelligence of God's people at a shockingly low ebb and every year more churches closing than starting (estimates are each year 4,000 close compared to 1,000 that start). We are paying lip service to a faith we have practically and essentially disengaged from.
It is inconceivable to me that anyone would think that we can: spend our life passively sitting in a church pew (if we go at all), mindlessly following a program for 'worship', not engaged in daily reading of the word and prayer, disconnected from fervent, adoring involvement with God, dispassionate about using our gifts and talents to further his kingdom interests in our community, and living as functional atheists; and then imagine that we are going to be bright and shining stars in eternity.
It just doesn't work that way!
If we don't wake up and embrace a biblical model for community, we will continue to atrophy into the spiritually incapacitated, instead of "attaining to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ."
Right now, right here, God is saying that each one of us are competent to, and called to, engage fully in the work of ministry - admonishing, instructing, counseling, teaching, preaching, praying, serving, upholding, supporting, protecting, prospering, etc., each other.
He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. Eph 4:16 NLT
God's intention is that we all contribute to the building up of the body, not just a select few that we employ to do that work. In fact, those that are particularly gifted, the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (these are not job descriptions by the way!) are charged with equipping all the members of the body to contribute...
His intention was the perfecting and the full equipping of the saints (His consecrated people), [that they should do] the work of ministering toward building up Christ’s body (the church), Ephesians 4:12 (AMP)
In his insightful article Church Without Clergy, Christian Smith has this to say about God's plan and model for community:
God intends church to be a community of believers in which each member contributes their special gift, talent, or ability to the whole, so that, through the active participation and contribution of all, the needs of the community are met. In other words, what we ought to see in our churches is "the ministry of the people," not "the ministry of the professional." In this way, the church is to act like a body, with each unique, necessary part working for the good of the whole body. And, Paul argues clearly that each member's gift is indispensable, that the body needs each part to contribute or else it will be lame (1 Corinthians 12:20-25).
At its heart, authentic community is a community of many hands. As such, we all have our contribution to make if the body is going to be healthy and vital, Isn't it time that we awoke out of sleep and stepped into God's full intention for us?