My Dear Brother Minister:
If you are reading this letter, it is either because you subscribe to this paper, or because someone was good enough to share it with you. In any case, I hope it will be of benefit to you and the rest of the church. I write this in the form of a letter because I have gone through many of the experiences you are going through and will go through, and desire to save you from some of the heartaches you will almost certainly suffer along your present course.
I assume you are a 'ministerial' student in a Bible college, or are a young minister fresh out of Bible college, presumably with a young family. You have already become dependent on your income supplied by the church. You might have chosen to study law, medicine, engineering, or business, but you chose to study for 'the ministry' because, hopefully, from an eternal perspective, you felt that a lifetime spent in God's service full-time would be more meaningful and would render a greater service to mankind than one of the secular occupations. Your motive is noble. I sincerely share your devotion to world evangelism.
Now you most likely majored in 'ministry' or 'Christian service' or 'preaching' or 'ministerial science.' The exact phraseology isn't important. The point is that your undergraduate major had as its purpose to prepare you to become a 'pulpit minister' or 'preacher' or 'minister.' In some churches you will be called 'evangelist.'
No doubt, if your experience was like mine, you have been told what a terrific shortage of ministers there is in the 'brotherhood.' Your college administrators will stand in the pulpit during chapel, week after week and tell you that there are empty pulpits all over the country crying for young men like you to fill them. But after you graduate, you find that unless you have political connections, it is exceedingly difficult to find a pulpit, except perhaps in small rural Midwestern or Southern congregations. For every open pulpit, there are 50-100 resumes arriving at the 'pulpit committee' chairman's address, many of which show the minimum 5-10 years experience, the preferred ages of 30-50, and, more recently, the graduate degrees necessary for obtaining these positions.
Aside from the incongruity between the need as cited by your Bible college administrators, and the actual state of affairs which hits you in the face like a ton of bricks in the form of rejection letters (if the pulpit committee shows enough courtesy to even write one) and job descriptions that only Superman could fulfill, there is the deeper problem of whether the role for which you have been trained, is biblical in the first place. How you answer this question for yourself will have significant consequences for the church's evangelistic effectiveness, and enormous consequences for you personally.
Now very likely you are a part of the so-called Restoration Movement, and that the Bible college you attended is a part of this movement. I also assume that you had to take a course in either Acts or early church history, history of the Restoration Movement, and at least a couple of years of Greek. In the process of doing this, you have acquired the tools for understanding the characteristics of the early church and then comparing them with modern cultural expression of the church. If you have done primary-source investigation beyond the selective presentations of your professors, you should be deeply suspicious of the biblical justification of the role for which you have been trained. Now we are ready to get more specific.
Pick up a typical job description of the position for which you have been trained. Your title is probably either 'minister' or 'preacher' (or more rarely, 'evangelist'). Now read the job description very closely and ask yourself whether these are the responsibilities of the New Testament 'preacher/minister' and more fundamentally, whether a prototype of the modern preacher/minister exists in the New Testament. You will see listed, more or less, 1) conducting so-called 'worship services' and similar religious meetings, 2) the 'delivery of sermons' from the pulpit during the Sunday morning worship services, 3) the execution of the church's programs subject to the policies set by the 'Eldership,' 4) pastoral counseling, 5) presenting and executing a program of 'church growth' which builds the size of the local organization, 6) weddings and funerals, and 7) calling on the sick, neglected, etc.
In some church organizations you will be expected, in addition to the above, to do a quantity of personal evangelism that can be reasonably expected to be carried out only by all of God's people (which, of course, was always God's intention). In others you aren't really expected to evangelize outside of the church building, but by means of your ministerial manner and especially through the charisma of your pulpit delivery. The importance placed on such charisma is, ironically, the antithesis of God's intention in the charismata (gifts) of the whole body of Christ. You are also expected to employ an 'invitation' ritual, tacked on at the end of your non-evangelistic sermon, which has become a pale substitute for the evangelistic power of the entire community of saints. This ritual is so uniform across Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, that one would think it was instituted by the Lord Himself. No one else is really expected to evangelize or call on the sick. But you are paid to be sort of the surrogate Christian. Woe to you if you do not make a hospital call to a heavy contributor.
Look up the word 'minister' in Young's Analytical Concordance to the Bible. Under this entry, you will see about eight Greek roots and cognates which the King James translated 'minister.' If you do a careful contextual study of every instance of every one of these Greek roots in Moulton and Geden's Concordance to the Greek Testament (not just the instances corresponding to the entries in Young), you will find that there are about a half-dozen instances of these roots which have been pulled out of context to be translated and interpreted a leadership office of 'minister.' But you should convince yourself that every one of these instances can be more adequately translated 'servant' or 'worker' with no necessary leadership or clerical connotation.
Furthermore, Timothy's and Titus' roles can be better explained by calling them evangelists. Timothy is explicitly called an evangelist and since Paul's directive to Titus is nearly identical, (and I am making an inference here) he may also be called an evangelist. As evangelists, they carried out evangelism; that is, persuading individuals to become Christians. They also appointed the elder members of congregations to do the pastoral work for which they were qualified.
Now go to Young's Analytical Concordance again and look up 'preach.' Then use the two main Greek roots translated 'preach' to refer you again to Moulton and Geden. Out of the 114 instances of those two Greek roots, about 3 are secular or common uses, and only one instance may possibly be used to refer to discourses delivered to Christian audiences. But by far the majority of instances of those roots refer to announcing the gospel to unbelievers.
Then look up the words 'elder' 'bishop,' and 'pastor' in Young. And again, look at the words they translate in Moulton and Geden. Convince yourself that the three words refer to the same individuals in congregations, although they refer to different aspect of the same role. You will also find a decided absence of any reference to a structure akin to the modern Board of Elders which functions exactly like the modern board of directors of a corporation. Instead, you will find the emphasis on teaching and example. Now that we have covered the relevant biblical data surrounding the issue at hand, we are ready to draw some conclusions.
First, there exists no office of 'preacher/minister' in the New Testament which is the functional equivalent of the one for which you have been trained. Take the time to convince yourself of this by examining the biblical data. The theology in print which seeks to justify this role is built upon passages taken out of context, a complete absence of supporting evidence, and highly dubious assumptions, This means that in the New Testament, the 'minister' is just the Christian; the 'ministry' is just the whole body of Christ -- the people of God. To use the word minister to refer to a particular church officer who usurps the culturally derived prestige associated with the title 'preacher' while doing little evangelism and who instead performs most of the functions of elder/bishop/pastor with many additional culture-dependent expectations thrown in for good measure, is to distort the biblical data. To accept 'minister' as a title of a leadership office is to commensurately rob that honor and responsibility from the rest of the people of God. It is to create an unbiblical clergy caste in the church.
The price of your ministerial honors and privileges is the expectation that you function as surrogate Christian; as religious representative and cultic custodian. The price of your receiving your title is the expectation that you do nearly all of the elders' teaching for them. The consequence of your being the Pulpit Man is to deprive the elders of much of their scriptural visibility as teachers and examples whether they realize this or not. It is their ignorance which allows them to hire you to perform functions which are their God-given responsibility. When you realize that the role of minister is unbiblical, it should no longer be a surprise to you how ministers can lament the inactivity and lack of participation of the man 'in the pew.' The life of the local congregation is so completely structured around the minister that the body of Christ is reduced to an audience to a pulpit performance; to being a mere spectator to the professional Christian.
These characteristics and features of the local congregation are so much a part of our culture that it may seem to you irreverent if not inconceivable to question their legitimacy. You may be thinking to yourself, "O.K., so there isn't specifically a role of 'minister' in the New Testament. But there isn't anything that forbids the creation of such a role in the local congregation, is there?" The justification or prohibition of practices not strictly authorized in the New Testament is a matter long debated by heirs of the Stone-Campbell heritage. Let me ask you these questions: Why do we not want a Pope? Is it because it is not authorized in the New Testament? Or because we can see no example of it in the primitive church? Or because in addition to the first two, it subverts other features already established, like the pastoral role of the elder members of local congregations; and ascribes a measure of power and centrality to one individual reserved for the Messiah Himself? If you agree with this argument against the legitimacy of an office of Pope, then given the lack of biblical support for an office of minister, how can you participate in such an institution? Is it not merely your ministerial training, which has essentially assumed the legitimacy of this role, and which has conditioned you for the role?
Now if the role of 'minister' is unbiblical, then what does this say of the Bible college movement? It means that, as a conservative force in the church, the Bible college can be reasonably expected to embrace goals which are representative of the culturally conditioned expectations of the modern church. The stated goal of the Bible college is the production of pulpit ministers. It is upon this basis that Bible colleges appeal for and receive money. This means that the primary goal of the Bible college is to produce a creature (or, to put it another way, to reinforce a practice) which not only has no biblical justification, but whose operation in the local congregation subverts the divinely established pastoral role of the elders and robs the designation of 'preacher' from those who actually do spend the majority of their time communicating the gospel to unbelievers, and whose persuasion of unbelievers to repent takes place outside of a building in which unbelievers are rarely found.
In a recent one of its newsletters, the Los Angeles based Mission Advanced Research and Communication Center explains that world evangelization will require the development of the "intentional lay person." Their argument is that the magnitude of the task is far too great for us to depend on the clergy for sufficient manpower. We must encourage the development of greater numbers of intentional lay persons, they say, whose commitment to their Christian vocation is every bit as deep as that of the clergy. Their recommended method for achieving world evangelization is certainly noble. But this seems to me to be a rather pragmatic (or, backdoor) way of approaching the problem.
The New Testament speaks of the laos (people) of God. It never mentions a clergy-class in any context or capacity whatsoever. If the words currently translated 'minister' never refer to a leadership office, then there is no other Christian than the 'lay' Christian. Actually, the very existence of 'laity' and its assumed biblical legitimacy attests to the cultural dominance of the assumed legitimacy of the ministerial caste. It is an insult to the intelligence of the non-salaried Christian who observes the politiking of the celebrated ministerial personalities, to be told from the pulpit or editorial that the choice of the designation 'minister' is a deliberate effort to emphasize that he who wears that title is merely a servant in the church and no more; or worse yet, that it is not meant to be interpreted as a title at all. In the New Testament, some of the elders and evangelists received monies but they did not thereby become a different caste of Christian and cease to be part of the laos (or laity) of God.
Until this world-changing fact is both perceived and practiced, all of the pep-talks in the world by clergymen on the need for more participation by the man in the pew will continue to merely be a self-deceptive part of an overall institution which has locked up the enormous human potential in the church of God. The complete elimination of the clergy caste in the church, with all of its vestiges, is prerequisite to recovering the biblical doctrine of the ministry of all believers in the mind of the worker-priest; and to raise his or her self-perception, sense of responsibility, and redemptive activity in the Kingdom of God back to the biblical ideal, from the mere shadow of the biblical ideal it is at present. The achievement of untold works in God's service -- indeed, the evangelization of the world -- awaits the recovery of this self-understanding of the believer's place in God's plan.
Second, it is no more biblical to merely renounce the title 'minister' and use 'preacher': For your job description is a far cry from that derived from a close study of the instances of the Greek roots for 'preach.' Precious little of your time is spent in persuading unbelievers to embrace Christ. It is a distortion of the Bible to use 'preaching' to denote the sermons you deliver from the pulpit, for they are primarily directed to Christians; New Testament preaching is primarily directed to unbelievers. Therefore it is not biblical to use either 'minister' nor 'preacher' to describe your role.
Third, it is not biblical for you to merely allow yourself to be called 'pastor' or 'elder' while keeping your clerical privileges. It is a practice now for clergymen to receive the 'office' of elder as a part of their contractual agreement, or for them to receive the title 'pastor' while the other non-salaried leaders are called 'elders.' However, in both cases, the lay/clergy distinction and prerogatives are maintained. Part of this practice comes from the desire to receive the respect of the denominational community; part is due to the desire to consolidate power and job security.
Some who read this will no doubt argue that I have been splitting semantic hairs; that the current practices aren't really unbiblical. Then suppose you were to announce to your 'elder board' in the next board meeting that you will do nothing else but win converts and appoint some from among them to do shepherding. How long do you suppose you would continue receiving your paycheck? Yet this is exactly the work of the New Testament evangelist. Suppose on the other hand that you were to announce that you will no longer function in any capacity outside of the domain of teaching, caring, and example, and that the only difference between your pastoral function and theirs would be a difference of time spent (by virtue of your being full-time); but not in the type of services rendered. How long do you suppose you would have your job? Yet these were the functions of the New Testament elder/pastor/bishop. Except for very unusual congregations, you would lose your job in both cases. This fact is evident that, all denials notwithstanding, the problem is more than one of mere semantics. It is unfortunate that the truth of my claim that an office of 'minister' is unbiblical will no doubt go unheeded by most who claim that role. I hope this will not be true for you.
Forgive me, brother, if I have belabored this point too much. But I feel the stakes are too high in terms of the hundreds of millions -- indeed the 4 billion -- whose opportunity just to hear the gospel is contingent upon the unlocking of untold manpower of the disciples (Acts 8:4), which will never happen until we arrive again at the biblical understanding of the people of God.
You will, of course, be the judge of whether what I am saying is true. If I am wrong, then I hope you will educate me. However, if I am correct, then you have a decision to make. You must decide whether practicing what the Bible says is important. And if it is, then you must decide whether it is important enough to prepare yourself to be financially independent of the church institution. For in an age of cultural domination of the distortion of the biblical characteristics of the church, precious few churches will tolerate a close adherence to the Bible. I admonish you to make this decision now while you are young, before the weight of your financial responsibilities forces you to compromise biblical principles. I, like you, pursued a 'ministerial' course of study and received degrees which certified that I had mastered the fundamental areas of knowledge to run a church organization. My decision to renounce all ministerial privileges of office and to sink into the body of Christ at large was difficult at first. I had tasted the thrilling experience of basking in the visibility that comes with being a Pulpit Minister of a local church organization, by virtue of my pulpit performance. Of course, it would be hard to prove that my 'stepping down' (or, pejoratively, 'leaving the ministry') will have freed up others to serve more effectively.
One more important point: Writing as a former preacher/minister; I know that participation in the role tends to reduce your ability to objectively critique the biblical fidelity of the role. I can only hope and pray that, in your rare hours of solitude over the next few months and perhaps years, you will test my words against the New Testament. If your examination of the data of the New Testament begins to trouble you, be glad. It is a good sign. Your brother in Christ, Jeff R. Rada.