It’s happened again. The church has been appropriated by the professionals.

It’s one of the factors that is weakening the American church. The focus within the church has moved to the professional Christians, the people on stage on Sunday morning.

The public now believes that ministry is something that only paid professionals do. Most churchgoers assume it’s their job to go to church, sit passively, and watch the professionals on the stage perform ministry. Being salt and light in the community? That’s the pastor’s job. Introducing children to the God who loves them? That’s the children’s minister’s job. Helping teenagers navigate questions of faith? That’s the youth worker’s job. Out in the world, if the topic of faith comes up, churchgoers often say, “You really ought to talk to my pastor about that.”

Has the Body of Christ become convinced that it is deaf, dumb and deactivated?

An historical phenomenon

Some 2000 years ago the religious elite also controlled the scene. It was Jesus who democratized the faith and made it accessible to all. He encouraged and empowered everyday people to carry out his transformative message of love.

And again, about 500 years ago, the church was bound up in the notion that clerics held the reins to the Kingdom. It took a renegade priest, Martin Luther, to democratize the faith once again, encouraging everyday people to live out their faith.

Since then the church has again abdicated its work and thinking to the professionals. And the people’s lack of ownership is contributing to the current decline of the church. Fewer and fewer people want to be mere spectators to a faith journey articulated and practiced exclusively by paid spokespersons.

Some of these professionals, like those of past millennia, rather like this exclusive setup. They relish thoughts of being in charge, possessing superior knowledge, safeguarding doctrinal purity, controlling the shots, and basking in the admiration of the little people. And, the emergence of the celebrity pastor has also served to distance the people from a sense that “we’re all in this together.”

Perhaps it’s time for another spiritual awakening that re-engages all the faithful. Today’s church leaders could help this along with some intentional actions. Such as:

  • Remind the people that ministry is the work of all the people, not just a select few.
  • Share the microphone. Allow everyday people to tell their stories of faith. Every week.
  • Empower people to run with significant ministries–without “helicopter” professionals hovering over every decision.
  • Go beyond preaching at people to share their faith. Enable them to actually practice it. (This is one of Lifetree Cafe’s most important benefits–allowing members a weekly opportunity to talk about their faith in a safe environment.)
  • Encourage questions, give-and-take, and conversation during times that have been traditionally reserved for professional monologs.
  • At least sometimes, put the professional musicians out of sight. And encourage the people to spontaneously come forward and lead the house in worship.
  • Resist the temptation to always be the one who offers a professional prayer. Encourage everyday people to pray in worship, in meetings, at meals.
  • As a leader, be vulnerable and authentic. Admit–often–that you do not have all the answers. Act more like a fellow disciple than a messiah.

The time has come for another era of the priesthood of all believers.