I believe that one of the five dysfunctions of the church is that of professional ministry where we hire specialists to do the work of ministry rather than to equip others to do ministry. This professionalism is even more interesting in that the movement I am a part of (the EFCA) and sister denominations came out of lay led movements in the eighteen hundreds.

The free church movement came out of an environment in Europe where the state church (non free churches) had become liberal, were not preaching the Gospel and where parishioners were not encouraged to study scripture themselves. Because they were not being fed in church, many started to meet in homes to pray, worship and study scripture resulting in the pietistic movement which brought revival to a number of countries in Europe and with that revival the planting of non-state run churches (free churches) which then spilled over to the United States. It was Europeans out of the free church movement who planted the same kind of churches here in the eighteen and nineteen hundreds.

Fundamental to this movement was the belief that lay people who had not had formal theological education were qualified to teach, preach and lead the church. One did not have to be a "theologian" in the professional sense of the word or have had formal theological education. In fact, many of these lay leaders and pastors had a greater understanding of scripture and the Christian life than their "educated" counterparts. 

Today, however, it is very rare and often difficult for those in the EFCA and fellow free church movements to become ordained without a formal theological degree. The unwritten understanding is that you need to have a Bible school or seminary degree in order to pastor. And the ordination process is designed to enforce this.

As the leader of the EFCA international mission, ReachGlobal, I work in an environment that is much closer to the roots of our movement where it is informally trained leaders who lead and pastor churches internationally. Most of the world cannot afford the luxury of a formal theological education given the poverty of the majority world. That, however, does not keep them from growing churches that are often healthier from a Gospel perspective than many churches in the west with their formally educated clergy. 

I am not anti theological education. I have one of the best and it has informed all my work. What I do object to is the professionalization of ministry that requires a theological degree to be in full or part time ministry or to be ordained in many of our movements. Many large churches in the west are rejecting that paradigm, training their own leaders and releasing them to preach, teach and lead in their settings. 

In basically ruling out ordination for those not professionally trained we perpetuate the clergy/lay distinction and send the message that to really be effective in ministry one must have a theological education (read degree). It is a good thing this was not true in the early church. Or in the majority world. 

Rather than discourage lay people from leading, teaching and preaching we ought to encourage it. It would raise the level of biblical understanding in our churches and release new ministry personnel who are either part time (bi-vocational) or full time. And why would we not encourage these very people who are gifted to plant and pastor churches themselves regardless of whether they have a formal degree or not?

Further, why ordain only people who can give the definition of obscure theological terms rather than ordain those who know the bible, can explain it well and teach it diligently? Knowing what superlapsarianism and infralapsarianism means is far less important than simply knowing good biblical theology that comes from a knowledge of the bible and can be applied to everyday life. We ought to know the biblical terms. Why should one need to know the litany of theological terms dreamed up by two thousand years of theologians in order to be effective in ministry? Or for that matter, Greek and Hebrew in order to preach well? I have a hard time believing that those would be the standards that Jesus would have for those in ministry!

Why cannot we open real ministry up to those who are trained both formally and informally and encourage both to get into ministry either full or part time? The church might actually see significant growth in the United States if we again allowed it to be a movement of lay people, not just those who are professionally trained and can get through an ordination process that is designed to weed out those who are not. I wonder how many lay people were given gifts by Jesus to lead, teach and preach that we do not unleash in meaningful ways because they are lay and not professional clergy?
  • Mar 05, 2012
  • Category: News
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