Monday, September 01, 2008

Why Pastors Are Still Necessary

One of the blogs I've added to my regular reading in recent times is Tribal Church. Carol Howard Merritt has had some interesting insights into the goings-on in the PC(USA), and I've been especially interested in some of her comments on the ordination process, including the exams that one must pass in order to achieve ordination in our denomination. As I've previously shared, I've had my own struggles in this regard, although I've been taking the first few steps toward possibly having another go at these exams in the hopefully not-too-distant future.

On this Labor Day, perhaps it's appropriate to consider the question of whether pastoral ministry, as an occupation, is even an important one for the church to have (and pay for!). There have been more than a few well-meaning Christians who--noting that congregations often use the paid staff as the "ministry-giving" arm of the congregation, thereby alleviating the need of non-paid members of the congregation to do any such work themselves--argue that churches might well be better off if they did away with paid pastors, and instead made it clear by a "flat hierarchy" that the work of God is the work of all members of the congregation. (Another common way of referring to this problem in our churches is "the 20-80 problem." 20% of the people in a church do 80% of the work. I won't argue here that those numbers are scientific, but I doubt they're too far off.)

In yesterday's post on this subject, Carol notes that seminarians often find themselves with not-insubstantial debt by the end of their education, and even if they find a job, struggle to earn enough to pay these debts off, especially when taxes are considered (which are more complicated for ordained clergy than for most people because the IRS makes clergy report their income as though they are self-employed). In the comments this thread, a few people have brought up the Presbyterian-affirmed concept of "the priesthood of all believers." Here is my response, originally posted in the comments section to that thread, but revised here.
There are some interesting comments here re: whether or not we should have ordained leadership. For what it’s worth, I know some seminary professors (at least one who’s been worshiping in a PC(USA) congregation for a few years now, at least) who would argue that more and more churches will move to a “flatter” hierarchy in the coming years. Less “official” (read: “ordained”) leadership, and more work shared by all.
This isn’t entirely a bad thing. As has already been said, too many laypersons have allowed the minister to be the “person who does all the work” in our churches. This hasn’t always been intentional, but it’s certainly a widespread problem. If something needs doing, ask the pastor....
But I do think that to argue for doing without ordained leaders on the basis of “the priesthood of all believers” stems at least in part from a misunderstanding of that particular doctrine, and more specifically on the role of the priest in the first place. A priest is not the same thing as a minister or a pastor (i.e., just a different name for the same position, as used by another denomination). The role of priest specifically has to do with having access to God, most often through the use of sacrifice (including, in the church era, the Lord’s Supper). The priest provides the laity with access to God through these rites.
Presbyterians affirm that ALL Christians have equal access to God. We don’t need a specific go-between (the priest) to provide this access for us. Thus, we believe in “the priesthood of all believers.” However, this in no way diminishes the need for solid teaching and administrative leadership. These roles are provided by pastors and ministers (and elders, certainly), and if the church does away with these roles, they must (obviously) find some other way of meeting those needs.
My concern is that, if churches decide to stop hiring (and therefore stop treating as a paid vocation) pastors and ministers, fewer people will go through the time and expense of a seminary education. This, in turn, would mean that fewer people are trained for the teaching and administrative leadership that congregations will continue to need.
I mean, sure, no one SHOULD be going into this vocation for the money, but if one cannot expect to earn a decent livelihood (not to mention pay for the expense of the education in the first place) in a paid church leadership position, WHY would one go through all that time and cost?

1 comment:

  1. I wrote a Labor Day devotional which has been published today on the Presbyterian Church of Canada devotional webpage. Work is our vocation and ministry is how we missionalize our work.



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