Now why don’t they?
Fasten your seat-belts: this paragraph will contain some turbulence.
The Devil could not get Jesus to accrue power to himself (Matthew 4:1-11; 16:21-28) so he has tried the same temptations on the shepherds of Jesus’ church. And he has generally succeeded. The church very early in its institutional history developed an ‘official’ ministry which separated ‘ordained’ Christians from others. These ‘priests’ alone had sacramental prerogatives.
The Protestant Reformers rejected Roman Catholic and Orthodox theology at this point – the whole church is pastoral, priestly, prophetic – but may not have taken their reformation far enough. Protestant pastors generally feel that they too, control certain prerogatives in the life of the church (presiding at most sacramental observances, preaching most of the sermons, chairing most of the meetings, visiting most of the sick etc.), and are often reluctant to share these ministries with others.
They have perhaps forgotten that their key role is equipping (Ephesians 4:12), empowering others for ministry, not doing it all themselves as paid ‘professional employees’ of the Church.
Frankly, it’s nice having these privileges: all the clergy surveys tell us they enjoy these public roles in most cases. Taking power to ourselves is the devil’s primal trick however.
Justice is essentially about power. When we deny others their empowering, that’s unjust. So pastor-teachers ought to spend more time with fewer people, training them for leadership and ministry on the job.
The main point we are making here about ordination for ministry is that everyone’s in it! Every Christian is ordained for ministry (at baptism). So if the Protestant Reformation at least put the Bible into the hands of ordinary Christians, we need another Reformation to put ministry there as well.
Today all branches of the Church are facing this question with renewed urgency. The 1989 Lausanne II conference of Evangelicals may be remembered most for its strident attack on clericalism.
The progressive Catholic theologian Edward Schillebeeckx similarly writes: ‘There is no mention in the New Testament of an essential distinction between “laity” and “ministers”… the ministry is not a status, but a function. For the New Testament, the essential apostolic structure of the community and therefore of the ministry of its leaders has nothing to do with what is called the “hierarchical” structure of the church. [The coming community of the church] is a community in which the power structures which prevail in the world are gradually broken down. All have responsibility, though there are functional differences…’  (9) , 1981:21,135).
When his was published five years later his thinking had moved even further: ‘The early eucharist was structured after the pattern of Jewish grace at meals… at which just anyone could preside… The general conception is that anyone who is competent to lead the community [emphasis mine] in one way or another is ipso facto also president at the eucharist (and in this sense presiding at the eucharist does not need any separate authorisation). [again, emphasis mine]’  (10) 1985:119-120.
So pastors are nurturers, not primarily performing tasks but growing people. They nurture by example and exhortation (in that order, 1 Peter 5:3; 1 Timothy 4:11,12; Titus 2:7). They produce co-leaders, and once the community has recognised them such persons ought to be commissioned for their ministries. This can be done at a special service, by the ‘laying on of hands’ (hands belonging to representatives from the congregation, not necessarily those of the ‘heavies’ present!).
Let us encourage the commissioning, from time to time, of everyone who has a recognised ministry within the church body. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if more pastors aimed to do what Paul and Barnabas did in the church at Antioch: reproduce themselves in other leaders within a year!
How will they do that? Essentially:
* Let us get our theology of ordination and ministry straight: what we generally call ‘ordination’ is really accreditation, a necessary step where a church-as-institution agrees with God’s prior calling to a ministerial vocation. So all Christian men and women are ordained already!
* We need to train a generation of professional clergy who are not threatened by others with proven skills in people management.
* Managers/pastors train others best by modelling: it’s a master-apprentice relationship.
* A redemptive teaching model involves reciprocal learning, rather than a powerful all-knowing teacher pouring information into pupil’s heads.
* But this requires openness, humility, ego-strength, and teachability on the part of the teacher.
* It also requires lots of time – doing ministry with others, then analysing, praying, de-briefing and encouraging the trainee.
* 70% of the average pastor’s visitation is non-confidential, another 20% may require the consent of the counselee: the pastor ought to be accompanied by another on most of these occasions.
* Allow those with the requisite gifts to help lead worship, Bible studies, small groups etc. (but public ministries should to be exercised only after training and proven competence).
* Your church ought to be a miniature theological seminary: run courses on everything to do with ministry, and have lots of resources (books – paper- and e-books, audio- and video-tapes - and computerised resources) available.
* Pastors: share any and every ministry except pastoral leadership.
The buck ends with you: you cannot evade that responsibility.
In an American basketball stadium hangs a large banner: ‘IT CAN HAPPEN HERE!’
It can happen in your life, in your church!
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children. Dr Tronson writes a daily article for Christian Today Australia (since 2008) and in November 2016 established Christian Today New Zealand. Dr Mark Tronson’s Press Service International in 2019 was awarded the Australasian Religious Press Association’s premier award, The Gutenberg.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at