Rejecting the priesthood of the staff

And Reaffirming the priesthood of all believers.

That the pope or bishop anoints, makes tonsures, ordains, consecrates, or dresses differently from the laity, may make a hypocrite or an idolatrous oil-painted icon, but it in no way makes a Christian or spiritual human being. In fact, we are all consecrated priests through Baptism, as St. Peter in 1 Peter 2[:9] says, “You are a royal priesthood and a priestly kingdom,” and Revelation [5:10], “Through your blood you have made us into priests and kings.”

Martin Luther, To the Christian Nobility of the German Nobility, 1520

Most people on church staff have no idea how to turn the reigns of their ministry over to the church. It seems counter-productive to lead without holding the reigns. The attitude is generally that church staff are the experts, seminary trained, denominationally ordained and battle-experienced to do the work. And the people in the pews won’t do anything even if you asked them to. On most church staff’s the concept of the priesthood of all believers is taken figuratively, dismissed as impossible in the literal sense.


There is an inverse relationship in the church today between the increase in church staffing/overall spending and the decrease in the number of people we reach per capita.

The Vortex We Created

Somewhere along the line we, as church staff, started to think that we could do ministry better than people who don’t work at the church. We bought the lie that because people are busy that they can’t be functional body parts described in 1 Corinthians 12. Instead of leaning on Scripture to correct, rebuke, and train in righteousness to call believers to their responsibilities– we assigned them books on Christian leadership which affirmed that we were the ones called to do the work and they were called to write checks.

Worse yet, we started to believe that being a pastor was a vocation of leadership and not a holy calling.

We turned saints into spectators. Then we handed them literature that told them to pursue excellence in leadership and got mad when they left our hard-working church of 500 for a megachurch of 10,000.

Many Luthers Wanted!

We need brave men and women to publicly state the obvious– the current strategy isn’t working. It’s not a liberal thing. It’s not a conservative thing. It’s not an emergent thing. It’s not an old-fashioned thing. It’s no modern. It’s not post-modern.

It is the church, universally failing to reach more than 10% of the population on any given Sunday.

There is no hope that a staff-led church can reach your community much less the world. (My pastor has only been to my house once, he doesn’t know the names of any of my neighbors.) It is not mathematically possible because it is outside of the design. The hope of the world is not that we flock to bigger and bigger megachurches with more refined experts. It is the opposite.

The hope of the world lies in individuals and families embracing a simple strategy of neighbors loving neighbors. As we, the body of Christ– messy, broken, and dependent– embrace our role as the God-ordained priests on our block, the church can get back to the designed multiplication strategy.

Thought questions

  1. How is the identity of your pastoral calling tied to the responsibilities of being church staff? If you weren’t on staff would you still feel like a pastor?
  2. I make the argument that there is an inverse relationship between increased spending/staffing/programs and reaching people. Looking back at the last 30 years of history in your congregation, do you find that to be the case? Why or why not?
  3. Read 1 Corinthians 12. What are spiritual gifts lacking on your staff team? What are ways your current staff structure may be handicapping your church?
  4. What are ways that your staff’s ecclesiology or even church polity are getting in the way of the priesthood of all believers?
  5. What are practical ways you and your staff team can reaffirm the priesthood of all believers in 2011?
  6. Do you know the names of all the neighbors whose property touches or is adjacent to your own residence? What are ways you can love your neighbors better in the next 14 days?

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in Ahwahnee, California.


  1. Really good stuff, I have had to fight through this a lot and through my thoughts of having to have things done MY way because I “get” it and you don’t. A lot of humility goes into this concept, but what fruit can come from this as well…Thanks Adam, this is really good stuff that more of us need to hear and put into practice!

  2. This is a great post bro! I’ll be writing about this some this spring as we as a church role into our new 5 year vision!

    Great thoughts and insights…Love it!

  3. The timing of this post was incredible… I was talking about this with a volunteer about five minutes before I opened Google Reader and saw this post – she totally “gets” the concept but had never heard the term “priesthood of all believers.” I wasn’t sure if this was a Lutheran term or not (I work at a Lutheran church), and it’s use here didn’t clarify that for me at all, since it’s on a not-Lutheran blog but quotes Luther! 🙂

    I think you are right when you say most staff people don’t know HOW to turn over the reins. I am totally willing and believe it’s the right thing to do… but I can’t figure out how to go about actually doing it. I think the answer in the past has been, “raise up great volunteer leaders to run your church programs” but that’s falling short, I think. I don’t think “priests” need an event happening and a written volunteer job description in their back pocket to be ministers… so how do we raise up people (or, how do we step out of the way so GOD can raise them up?) who will reach their neighbors (and their coworkers, and friends, and classmates, too) with the hope of Jesus Christ, even if the church isn’t sponsoring an event or a campaign focused on that?

    When someone figures that out, let me know. 🙂

  4. Really good stuff, I have had to fight through this a lot and through my thoughts of having to have things done MY way because I “get” it and you don’t. A lot of humility goes into this concept, but what fruit can come from this as well…Thanks Adam, this is really good stuff that more of us need to hear and put into practice!

  5. Great Stuff, Adam.

    Thanks! I’ve been turning more and more of the Student MInistry I shepherd over to my leaders now maybe its time to get more intentional about letting the students do some of the work too!

  6. We have so raised the level of what it takes to “have church,” that it often requires a team of professionals to pull it off. We are in a vicious cycle of feeding this machine. I believe it will take 2 movements to break that cycle: 1) “professionals” clergy who take the risk of leaving secure jobs to do something either bi-vocational or totally on their own; 2) “laity” becoming church planters in their world – basically what you’ve described as loving your neighbors.

  7. Good perspective. The NT Church flowchart shows that pastors equip THE SAINTS to do the work of the ministry.

    Instead of obeying this model, and shouldering the yoke of Jesus Christ, cultural christians decided to hire a bunch of guys and pay them money so they can shirk their obligation and go do other things. The shirking of personal responsibility is one of the oldest, most subtle, and deadly of iniquities – the grandfather of a multitude of sins. See Genesis.

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