Laypeople and the Mission of God – Killing the Clergy – Laity Caste System, Part 1

“Laypeople” is a common word we use around churches but I don’t like it. The word actually can be applied to any non-professional population as it relates to any profession (doctors, lawyers, etc.). But most often it is applied to church, including its primary definition. Today I begin a blog series laypeople and the mission of God. I hope at the end of the series you will see and do things differently for His mission.

The image that such terminology creates is of two classes of people inside the church. The first class (emphasis on “first”) is the professional clergy, referred to as “ministers” by some churches. The second class (I meant to say that) is the laypeople. I also see something that is not only unbiblical but I believe it sabotages the mission of God intended for ALL God’s people and teaches “lay people” that they are the ones who do nothing or are worth very little.

A closer look at the origin of the word “laity” reveals an issue at the root of the word itself. The word comes from a French word that comes from a Greek word that is pretty common to some of you. “Laos” was one of the first Greek words we learned, for those of us forced to study such in seminary. You know what it means? . . . “People.” Now, the laity that we have made second class citizens over the years strikes back. So, if we call our non-clergy “people” I guess the clergy would be called . . . not people? You get my point, I hope.

My fear is that we have created a class system in the body of Christ comprised of the “called” and the “not so much called.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The ministry assignment of the laypeople is not to simply “lay” around and tell the called what they should be doing. Laypeople are not to be customers of religious goods and services served by the storekeeper clergy. We are all called although our current assignments may vary dramatically.

Jesus said to an ordinary group of people, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (John 20:21). These were not professionals, with the exception of professional fishermen and a professional tax collector. And if we hope engage and evangelize the world with the gospel, we cannot possibly rely on professionals to do it.

Laypeople often think that this means their job is to pay, pray, get out of the way. To make sure we are not communicating a low, irresponsible view of laypeople one thing is critical. We must create an atmosphere of expectation.

In all of our research on churches, people in transformational churches were taught that they were responsible for the ministry of the church. This was a recurring theme that they perceived, rightfully so, that they were the owners of the ministry.

To do this, we must begin by declaring the two class system of ministry dead– we may even have to kill it. A new level of ownership must be given to the people of God, and the people of God must embrace what they are given. God’s desire is to have a church made up of every day Christians living like missionaries.

The clergy-laity caste system is killing churches and hindering the mission of God. Let’s kill it.

Next time I will talk about why some pastors should resign and become full-time Christians, but in the mean time, how is your church empowering ALL God’s people “for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12 HCSB)?

Read Part 2 of this series here.

Read more from Ed here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

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Recent Comments
In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
 
— Russ Wright
 
"While I understand the intent behind this phrase" Expound please. What do you understand to be the intent behind that phrase?
 
— Ken
 
Thank you for this article! I'm the pastor of a small church. My gifting is in teaching and we are known for aiding Christians in becoming Biblically literate. Visitor's often comment on God's presence being very real in our services. But we just don't seem to be growing. I have some soul-searching, etc. to do and this article provides some solid ground from which to proceed. Thank you again.
 
— Jonathan Schultheis
 

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