Have you ever have caught yourself thinking “The church really should be doing X..”
John Wimber once encountered such a situation. He recounts a time when he was approached by a member of his congregation who had met somebody in great need. After the service this man told Wimber of his frustration. “This man needed a place to stay, food and support while he gets on his feet and looks for a job,” he said. “I tried phoning the church office, but they couldn’t help at the moment. I finally ended up having to let him stay with me for this week! Don’t you think the church should take care of people like this?”
Wimber thought for a moment and then said, “It looks like the church did!”
The problem with this type of thinking is exactly what Wimber concluded – the church is not an organisation, it is the people. So whether or not the church is doing this or that is actually more about – are you doing it?
The place of structure
Now, we do need to have some organisation in the church, in order to help us. Without structure things would get messy quickly. This organisation supports us, the people, to be the church, helping us to function well. But we mustn’t let the need for organisation distract us into mistaking these structures for the church itself!
For example, without organised LifeGroups, people could quickly start falling through the cracks, not connecting with others, and feeling uncared for. But having a structured system for connecting people into LifeGroups doesn’t in and of itself guarantee that needs are met. It is only as community is built in those LifeGroups and relationships are forged, that people love and serve one another – that’s when our needs are met.
A redefinition of priesthood
“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. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” 1Pet. 2:9
There is a common mistake made when we try to understand modern day priesthood. Priests in the Old Testament were from the tribe of Levi, and they did all the work of serving the people, offering sacrifices on their behalf, as the other eleven tribes looked on.
If we try to bring that analogy into the church, we end up with the idea that the ‘priests’ of modern day churches are the people who are paid to stand at the front and speak to the church in formal gatherings. But this analogy does not match up with what we read about the Church in the New Testament.
A Biblical transition took place, which is of critical importance for us to understand:
- God gave a tribe of Priests to Israel to serve His people. The priests would represent God to His people, and they would represent the people before God in prayer. They would offer worship in the form of sacrifices on the people’s behalf.
- Jesus became the ultimate priest and the ultimate sacrifice. His own body was presented to the Father as a sacrifice for sin, so that a people might be won for grace.
- Jesus brought Father and people together, enabling relationship, and so birthed a nation of priests.
In this way, God’s new people, His Church, is not served by a designated priesthood, not by employed ‘speakers’ or leaders – instead, together we are the priesthood.
It is essential that we reject the idea that only church leaders are priests, while church members simply turn up, receive, and leave again; because this disempowers God’s Church from being all that Christ died for it to be, while reducing ministry to mean only speaking in front of people.
This is not what Jesus died for! He died for a people who are all caught up in His New Testament priesthood, empowered by the Holy Spirit who dwells in them and among them, operating as team together in His mission on planet Earth, and doing ministry in their homes, their offices, their factories, their schools, the cafes, and any other place they might happen to find themselves. And the ministry we’re to do in these places involves loving, caring, being hospitable, praying, encouraging, prophesying, speaking, serving…. and much more!
It means that every member of Trinity Central is a priest – and each of us has the responsibility of ministry to those whom God places around us. It changes our understanding of what church is, and our place within it. No longer do we have the luxury of thinking to ourselves “The church should do this or that” – because we are the church!