Perhaps one of the most pivotal arguments from Frank Viola is that the introduction of the clergy has resulted in a caste system and has been central to the dysfunction of the church. Chapter 8 entitled ‘Re-imagining Leadership’ is worthy of a post on its own because of its incendiary nature.
Viola argues that we have changed the ‘functional’ imagination of leadership present in the NT into a ‘positional’ idea and that often both ‘clergy’ and laity prefer it this way.
It may be easiest if I just quote from the chapter and offer a few comments as I go along:
The chapter opens with a summary quote from heavyweight Howard Snyder:
“The New Testament doctrine of ministry rests therefore not on the clergy-laity distinction but on the twin and complementary pillars of the priesthood of all believers and the gifts of the spirit. Today, four centuries after the Reformation, the full implications of this Protestant affirmation have yet to be worked out. The clergy-laity dichotomy is a direct carry over from pre-Reformation Roman Catholicism and a throwback to the Old Testament priesthood. It is one of the principal obstacles to the church effectively being God’s agent of the kingdom today because it creates a false idea that only ‘holy men’, namely ordained ministers, are really qualified and responsible for leadership and significant ministry. IN the New Testament there are functional distinctions between various kinds of ministries but no hierarchical division between clergy and laity.”p.153
In describing the distinction between positional v functional leadership Viola says:
“Native to hierarchical/postional oriented churches is a political machine that works behind the scenes. The machine promotes certain people to positions of ecclesiastical power and authority. Native to functionally oriented churches is the mutual responsibility and collegial interplay of its members” p.156
Viola comments on the essence of hierarchical leadership and contrasts it with the leadership Jesus speaks of in Matt 20 (“It should not be so among you”):
“What is the hierarchical form of leadership structure? Its the leadership style that’s built on a chain of command social structure. Its rooted in the idea that power and authority folow from the top down. Hierarchical leadership is rooted in a worldly concept of power.” p.156
He goes on to cite Matt 23:8-12 “Do not be called Rabbi… etc” and argues that both gentile hierarchical forms and Jewish positional leadership models are not to be co-opted to the church because they “place severe limitations on the headship of Christ”.
As he turns his attention to the current church system he is not afraid to launch a few grenades:
I”n this connection (thinking of leadership as function) the modern clergy system is a religious artifact that has no biblical basis. This system has allowed the body of Christ to lapse into an audience due to its heavy reliance on a single leader. It has turned church into a place where Christians watch professionals perform. It has transformed the holy asembly into a centre for professional pulpiteerism supported by lay-spectators.” P. 160
Ok so that ought to get more than a yawn because there is a lot of truth in it…
He goes on in similar vein:
“Perhaps the most damning feature of the clergy system is that it keeps the people it claims to serve in spiritual infancy. Because the clergy system usurps the Christian’s right to minister in a spiritual way during corporate gatherings, it ends up debilitating God’s people. It keeps them weak and insecure.” p.160
The rest of this page is both provocative and insightful as to why the invention of clergy has been the church’s undoing. Viola affirms that those who serve as clergy usually do with the best of motives and to see people mature in faith, but few if any are able to trace the immaturity of their congregations back to their own profession.
“The clergy profession ends up disempowering and pacifying the believing priesthood. This is the case regardless of how uncontrolling the person who fills the clergy position may be.
Here’s how it works. Since clergy carries the spiritual workload, the majority of the church becomes passive, lazy, self seeking (“feed me”) and arrested in their spiritual development.
Just as serious, the clergy system warps many who occupy clerical positions. The reason? God never called anyone to bear the heavy burden of ministering to the needs of the church by himself… If the truth be told many Christians prefer the convenience paying someone to shoulder the responsibility for ministry and shepherding. In their minds, its better to hire a religious specialist to tend to the needs of God’s people than to bother themselves with the self emptying demands of servanthood and pastoral care.” p.161
Ok – so those are HUGE statements to make but I can certainly see more than a kernel of truth in them. Certainly we speak of team ministry and of people serving on another, but I would agree with Viola’s argument that the presence of a pastor tends to create a reliance on one person that should not exist.
Viola cites Christian Smith:
“The problem is that, regardless of what our theologies tell us about the purpose of the clergy, the actual effect of the clergy is to make the body of Christ lame. This happens not because clergy intend it (they usually intend the opposite) but because the objective nature of the profession inevitably turns the laity into passive receivers”
He finishes by saying:
The truth is that many of us – like Israel of old – still clamor for a king to rule over us. p.163
I don’t know about you, but I find this chapter disturbing and challenging. I don’t think we can easily dismiss what Viola has to say because we can see its effects all around us in unhealthy congregations that long for the ‘king’. And many us in Christian leadership quite enjoy being ‘royalty’…
I find it hard because I feel I am a gifted leader and yet the system that exists for me to lead within does tend towards producing this unhealthy spectatorism and dependence. This system is well established and the culture is strong. It is well known and loved by most within it.
Is it possible to shift that culture while being a ‘clergy’ member?… I really don’t believe it is. It may be possible to shift it by being a congregation member who is gifted but refuses to be elevated to a paid position. But you can’t shift a culture while participating in it.
As I look again at receiving an income for using that gift I am aware that no matter how I view it in my head many will see me as the paid professional who knows more, is more godly and ought to carry more weight. And there will be times when I will savour that… its nice to be thought of as some kind of super-saint even if it is a load of bullshit.
I know there are plenty of Christian leaders / paid staff who fully endorse the idea of equipping the saints, of releasing people into giftedness etc, so this is not a dig at anyone. However I wonder if we miss out on seeing the church develop more fully while we continue with paid clergy?…
Do we undermine what we hope to see by being the ones who receive a salary, or do we see the body develop more effectively by having time to help others express their giftedness?…
What do you think?…