In so many Protestant churches today, the expectation is for the work of the ministry to be done by the clergy. The church staff is expected to interpret scriptures, intercede on behalf of the congregation, serve widows and orphans, disciple adults and children alike, reach the lost, and more! After all, it’s your job—what you are paid to do. Isn’t it?

It certainly seems that way. But there will always be more work than you can physically accomplish. Adding staff members doesn’t solve the problem—as the church grows, so does the work. Looking at the issue objectively, reliance on the clergy to accomplish the work of the church places the kind of pressure on church staff that results in burnout. Not only that, it severely limits the scope of your ministry. 

Martin Luther recognized this problem all the way back in 1520, and the solution he put forth stands the test of time for today’s churches. 

The Priesthood of All Believers

priesthood of all believers

One of the main distinctions made at the Protestant reformation is a concept known as “the priesthood of all believers.” It basically means that the veil between clergy and laypeople has been ripped open. Laypeople can communicate with God directly, without the intermediary of a priest. In effect: all believers function as priests, communicating with God. 

Martin Luther is generally credited with this idea. In 1520, he wrote this in “To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation:” 

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 5:1 says, “Through your blood you have made us into priests and kings.”  

The Body of Christ at Work

Martin Luther made this essential reform hundreds of years ago. We are all priests. We can all communicate with God directly and hear from him directly. Every Christian is responsible for undertaking the work of the ministry. Indeed, that is the only way forward to spiritual maturity: 

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13)

As Martin Luther put it in The Babylonian Captivity of the Church: “We are all priests, as many of us are Christians.” So go forth and do the one next right thing, the thing God has told you to do. 

Changing the Expectation

If this issue feels close to home, things need to change in order for your people and your ministry to flourish. Announcing that you are no longer going to do all the work and will instead be delegating ministry out to the congregation is not likely to be well received. 

In order to change the expectation, a great place to start is learning and practicing effective change management. When learning to navigate change myself, I found Managing Transitions by William Bridges especially helpful. For personal application, the Change Management Profile offers an assessment that will identify your strengths and where you need to grow and the Change Management Skills Builder offers solid instruction to help you improve in targeted areas.

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