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We don't believe in the priesthood of all believers

Does the Bible teach every believer is a member of a holy priesthood?

In his book, Center Church (and sermons like this one), Tim Keller explains how every believer is a prophet, priest, and king. Ephesians 2 describes how each believer reigns in heaven with Christ. In Acts 2:16-19, Peter declares Joel's prediction fulfilled concerning the Holy Spirit's enabling of all of God's sons and daughters to prophesy. And the verse below explicitly states every believer in Christ is a member of a royal priesthood - granted the privilege of announcing God's majesty to a broken world.
1 Peter 2:9  But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Thus, the question isn't whether the Bible teaches all believers are priests, it's whether we actually believe it. And the truth of our belief is indicated by our behavior.

1) We hold pastors to a higher ethical standard

During my visit to the UK, I talked with a friend about how pastors handle having their kids' sports participation. The pastor at my friend's church has a teenage son who plays high-level competitive soccer. Many of the tournaments and games occur on Sunday mornings. However, the pastor's family has a household rule that their kids will not compete on Sunday mornings. The thinking goes something like this: His son is a role model for the rest of the congregation. If the pastor's son attends a soccer game instead of worship service, what message does that convey to the rest of congregation?*

I've wrestled with this question as our oldest son, Caleb, also plays competitive soccer. He was recently promoted to the gold level of his team. Before moving him up, the coach asked Judy and me if we were willing to let Caleb play more on Sundays. The coach knows I'm a pastor and perceives a lack of commitment because Caleb has missed a handful of Sunday games (not all church-related absences). Judy and I struggled with this decision. 

What irks me though is that I'm expected to behave differently from other people because I bear a title. I don't mind that we place higher expectations on church leaders. We are certainly role models. But I am concerned when higher expectations are placed on pastors versus other church leaders - as if pastors are a different class of leader. The expectation is since they get money from the church, they should behave better. 

I also find Christians are consistently shocked and angered when high-profile pastors are caught in church scandals. I've certainly experienced surprise and disappointment when I've expressed to others my struggles with lust, pride, anger, etc. It's as if I'm somehow in a different category of person because of where my money comes from. Because I made a decision to receive a (lesser) paycheck for religious work, I bear the burden of increased expectations. I wonder if this is why most Christians are reluctant to go into vocational ministry - the pressure of expectations is suffocating.

In the end, we decided to let Caleb play in tournaments on Sundays. For individual games, we would allow him the freedom to choose - with Judy and me having veto power. In instances he misses church, we'll listen to a sermon together on the Saturday drive. The principle here is freedom of choice. We obviously value our church involvement and up to a certain age, all of our kids are required to attend church with us - because it is a family thing, not because they're role models. In that respect, I am modeling as a parent and leader how I would encourage other people to raise their kids in freedom - not because I'm a pastor but because I am learning how to be a godly father.

* There's also the related question concerning the sacredness of a Sunday worship service - is it gospel-centric to consider one day/time of the week more "holy" than others?

2) We expect pastors to do work we are called to do ourselves

I often hear Christians who are shopping for a church complain "I'm not getting fed". The image of a dining room with adult men and women sitting in over-sized high chairs, wearing Sesame Street bibs, and crying out "I'm hungry! I want food!" pops into my head. And in this picture, the pastor runs around frantically with a large spoon, scooping beef stew, and plunging it into the mouth of each overgrown child - anything to get the incessant whining to stop.

Certainly, a pastor's calling is to feed God's sheep. But if we are truly the priesthood of believers, then that responsibility does not fall upon the pastor alone. If we are indeed priests then we bear the mutual responsibility to FEED EACH OTHER. That's what it means to be the body of Christ. 

Like so many things in life, this comes down to how we see money. We have an anti-biblical attitude because how we view money colors our perceptions of vocational Christians. We want the biggest bang for our buck. Because we pay the pastor, we want to extract the maximum value out of him. Therefore he should do evangelism, visit the sick, counsel people, cast vision, train leaders, preach every week, confront sin, study the Bible, organize events, get along with everyone, welcome newcomers, tuck his shirt in (or not), spearhead outreaches, lead bible studies, pray for people, take care of the church building, be nice to puppies, set up chairs, and host potlucks. 

A kingdom-centered view of money means viewing the pastor's income as a gift to him just as all sources of income are gifts and expression of God's provision. Just as in the Old Testament, no priest earns his paycheck. His income is a gift. He relies upon the generosity of the community. No matter your occupation, you rely upon the generosity of a community. This community (organization, company, etc.), whether spiritual or secular, was ultimately set up by the Creator. The specific community may not operate by these principles but God is the mover behind the entire system.

Thus, the focus of a pastor is to preach the word and pray in order to equip others for ministry (Ephesians 4:11-1). His job is to make himself dispensable. And that's what Jesus did - He equipped his disciples and then left the building, leaving the Holy Spirit behind to carry on His work through His body, the church. My job as a pastor is to equip people to fulfill their calling as priests. 

3) We look at the pastoral vocation as a higher calling

I never experienced the calling to be a pastor. The closest thing was when I was a high school senior, James Taylor (Hudson Taylor's great grandson) spoke at our winter retreat and challenged us to reach China with the gospel. From that point forward, I felt convinced I was supposed to be a missionary. I still do - just not necessarily overseas. I don't doubt being a pastor, missionary, or full-time Christian worker is a unique calling but is it a superior calling? Is everyone else second-class Christians? 

I hear people tell me frequently, "Oh, I don't have the calling to be a pastor." Sometimes there is a kind of apologetic, defensive tone to this response. It's often accompanied with some type of explanation of why this person doesn't feel worthy to be a pastor. I don't want to get into an extended discussion of calling but let's say God, at a minimum, calls people according to His will as revealed in His word. So if the Bible teaches all believers are holy priests then we must certainly be called as priests in the places where we spend the most time. Whether you feel worthy of being a priest is not an issue of competence but faith. 

So if you work at McDonald's, you're called to be a McDonald's priest. We need Home Depot priests, Goldman Sachs priests, Starbucks priests, Exxon priests, and Tinder priests. If you're a student, you're a priest at your school. You're a priest to your family. I talked to a young man in Scotland about his job in the oil and gas industry. He bemoaned how difficult it was to live out his faith in an antagonistic environment but recognized his sacred calling to be salt and light in his workplace. We desperately need people who feel a sense of calling as priests to their companies, who recognize their unique role in carrying the gospel into dark places. 

A personal reflection

One of the hardest thing about being a pastor is my actions also don't convey that I believe in the priesthood of all believers. Part of me enjoys being held to a higher ethical standard. Part of me enjoys being placed on a pedestal and feeling superior to others. The fleshly part of my nature wants so badly to feel significant and valued relative to my non-vocational ministry peers. It's also risky to train and equip people to do pastoral tasks because it can feel threatening to my job security. But the truest part of me is learning to embrace this truth. And I do believe it's crucial for all church leaders, pastors included, to live out the truth of the priesthood of all believers. Otherwise how will others see this reality as legitimate?

At a recent high school reunion, a friend asked me what it was like being a pastor. I told her my work has its highs and lows and it's sometimes not quite as fulfilling as I imagined. She responded, Yeah, well, it's just a job isn't it? 

I thought to myself: How dare she refer to my holy calling 'just a job'?

When I believe vocational ministry is a superior calling, I'm defining my value according to the source of my income. But if what the Bible teaches is true, it truly is just a job. It is simply one specific location in which I've been placed to express my priestly calling. It is just a job. The greatest calling is to be a disciple, a beloved child of our ultimate intended father, a member of his household of believers, and a holy priest. Because if God has raised you from the kingdom of death to the kingdom of life, your job title and source of income are irrelevant.


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