Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts

Practical Instruction on the Use of Spiritual Gifts, Part 3

Part 10 of series: Spiritual Gifts in the Body of Christ
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According to biblical teaching on spiritual gifts, each and every Christian should expect to be gifted by the Spirit for ministry. This should be true every time the church gathers together. But, as I mentioned in my previous post, the large size of many churches inhibits the ministry of the Spirit. If you have even a couple of hundred people in your Sunday worship service, odds are that you aren’t going to make time for each person to exercise one or more spiritual gifts. Therefore, as I said in my last post, most of us will exercise spiritual gifts in other contexts, in small groups, classes, or when we’re out in the world.
Yet it’s not just the size of today’s churches that gets in the way of the work of the Spirit. We are also saddled by assumptions about ministry that keep “ordinary” Christians from ministering in the power of the Spirit. I’m thinking of clericalism and professionalism.
The Problem of Clericalism
Clericalism is the idea that certain people, the clergy, are specially gifted and empowered to do ministry. Those we call priests or pastors or reverends or ministers or fathers or preachers are the real ministers who are gifted by the Spirit. The rest of the people–just the lay people–are the receivers of ministry, but not the ministers. Clericalism reigned in the established church for centuries, though it was less prominent in independent or free churches. Even Protestants, who rejected the Roman Catholic version of priestly clericalism, developed their own brand before too long.
In the last century fifty years, however, the church has begun to rediscover the ministry of all of God’s people. We have seen in Scripture the truth that all of God’s people are called into and gifted for ministry. Though churches might still have ordained clergy, their role isn’t to do all the ministry, but to encourage and empower the laity to do the ministry. As most of you know, I’m now the Senior Director of Laity Lodge, a ministry devoted to helping lay people discover who they are as ministers of Christ, both in the church and in the world. (Photo: Laity Lodge on the Frio River in the Hill Country of Texas, an autumn photo. We do a lot outside of the retreat center, including our website, The High Calling of our Daily Work –
Nevertheless, clericalism continues to haunt the church, keeping non-ordained Christians from living their lives as ministers of Christ. It is fueled, in part, but the emotional needs of the clergy, who like to be in control of ministries and who often have a strong emotional need to be needed as “the minister.” Clericalism also draws strength from the fact that many lay people would just as soon not be involved in ministry. They’re too busy, or sometimes even too lazy, to be bothered with the call of Christ to serve him. It’s so much easier to assign ministry to a member of the clergy and pay that person to do the ministry.
The Problem of Professionalism
In my experience, as clericalism loses its choking grip on the church, it is being replaced by a similar syndrome: professionalism. In this perspective, the church isn’t divided up into the divinely-called clerics and the non-called laity. Rather, the division falls between the professionals and the non-professionals. Professional ministers are trained, educated, experienced, and paid. They do the ministry, not because they have cornered the market on calling and gifting, but because they are the resident experts.
This reflects my own experience as a Christian “professional.” I am a seminary-educated, trained, ordained Presbyterian “minister.” When I was in parish ministry, many people deferred to me because I was “the pro.” In some ways I was happy to play this role. I liked being “the minister.” I enjoyed being appreciated. And I was happy to be the recipient of people’s deference.
But, a church’s professionalism can inhibit believers from getting involved in ministry, and therefore from exercising spiritual gifts. If churches pay the “experts” to do ministry, and if these professionals do it with flair, how can we expect “normal” Christians to get involved?
Many faithful churchgoing folk remind me of myself during my first few games of little league. I wasn’t an especially talented player, so I quickly found myself warming the bench. Soon I just didn’t expect to play and my expectations usually were fulfilled. One night I took my usual spot on the bench. Before too long, the darkness of the dugout and the lateness of the hour lured me to sleep. Toward the end of the game as I was snoozing away, I heard my name being called as if in a dream: “Mark! Mark!” As I began to stir, I realized that I wasn’t dreaming. The coach was calling me. I was being put into the game as a pinch-hitter. It would b my first official appearance in little league! But sleepiness didn’t help my batting much. Three quick strikes later, I returned to my spot in the dugout, mortified with shame and swearing that I would again never be unprepared to play.
If you are not expecting to get into the game, you will probably not be ready when the Holy Spirit calls you up to bat. So let me give you advance warning. God has not put you on his team so that you can warm the bench and watch the pros play. He has called you into the game. He will empower you to play with effectiveness. But first you have to get off the bench. You need to commit yourself to a ministry or to a fellowship in which you will be free to minister. As you become more accustomed to functioning in spiritual gifts, you will realize that the Holy Spirit wants to use you, not just in official church gatherings, but in all times and all places.

  • Tom

    “Clericalism is the idea that certain people, the clergy, are specially gifted and empowered to do ministry.”
    The Catholic Church has never taught that all ministry is proper to priests only. However, She has always taught, as Scripture attests (1 Tim 4:14, 1 Tim 5:22, 2 Tim 1:6, Heb. 6:2, Acts 6:5-6, Acts 8:14-20, Acts 13:1-3, Acts 19:1-7), that certain gifts were conferred on the apostles alone, and that these gifts remain only with those men who have received it from them and their successors through the laying on of hands.
    To give one example, only some men have been given the power to forgive sins (John 20:21-23).

  • David Ormand

    I might point out that this argument about clericalism and professional ministers has been made by Frank Viola in his Pagan Christianity book. Highly recommended!

  • Tom

    Meh. After reading the reviews and the sample chapter on the website I have to say I’m not very impressed.
    But I haven’t read all of ‘Pagan Christianity.’
    What am I missing? Why is it not true that only certain men have been given the authority to forgive sins?

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