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Who are “the Called”? Mission, Commission, and Accountability

What is Laity?

The word for lay (person) comes from an adjective (laikos) of the Koine Greek word for people (laos). While the adjective (laikos) is not used in the New Testament, the noun (laos) is used quite often. The repeated use of “people” in 1 Peter 2:9-10—the foundational passage for the Protestant understanding of the role of the laity—indicates the people distinct from pagan Gentiles chosen by God to fulfill God’s purpose in the world. The word for clergy (kleros) appears in 1 Peter 5:3. There it referred to the believers allotted to each presbyter or each God-called church leader. Traditionally, Protestant theology has described the clergy as those who serve as overseers of the people of God in their religious activities. These professional ministers enter into their roles as church leaders by ordination, a process involving the claim and testing of a call to preach and the affirmation of that call by public ceremony.

If the pastor (kleros) is called to preach to and lead the local religious community, who will be the “salt” and “light” going into the world to proclaim the gospel (Matt 5:13–16)? Of course, the answer is the laity. This is the call of the laity: as they go about their daily lives the laity are to fulfill the Great Commission (Matt 28:19–20).

If this call [of the Great Commission] is to be fulfilled, it is necessary that laypeople should be motivated and trained to involve themselves in Christian ministry, because it is only by the laity that the church can reach the whole society through its daily occupations and secular living. They are the bridge between the church and the world to which we have an obligation to minister. The church is a corporate community in which all, not just the clergy, have a ministry.5

Who are “the Called”?

Perhaps the question of who has the rightful claim on the use of the word “minister” has become a question of power in the Pentecostal church. Some would agree with the argument that the apostles’ diakonia (service or ministry) of the Word (Acts 6:4) would give them the right to be referred to as “ministers,” whereas the seven chosen “to serve” (diakonein) tables (Acts 6:2) should be called servants. In other words, those who are specifically called to a preaching ministry should be referred to as “ministers,” while those who have not been called to a speaking ministry should be called “servants.”6 Although all have been called to be servants (diakonos, Mark 9:35), the word “servant” connotes a lesser status in relation to that of the “minister” in our present social context.

While there are differences in the function of ministries, as Paul asserted in Romans 12:4, all Christians are gifted in their own unique ways to be God’s servants, or, better, “ministers.” Before Paul spoke of the different gifts Christians have, he advised that believers “not think of [themselves] more highly than [they] ought” (Romans 12:3). Professional ministers can be secure in their call to preach and not feel the least bit intimidated that lay ministers are called to be “mercy-showers” or “encouragers” or “givers.” Indeed, Peter advised, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Pet 4:10; italics added). No distinction is made between professional ministers (those who preach) and laypeople. On the Day of Pentecost, when people were filled with the Holy Spirit for service, the apostles were joined by a number of non-apostles (Acts 1:13–15) and all were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4). When Peter explained this event in his Pentecost sermon, he said that all who would believe “will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38), presumably also to be witnesses to the gospel.

Victor Paul Furnish has called diakonia

one of the vital signs of faith … The church as such is called to ministry; each congregation is understood by Paul to be commissioned for service. Several different kinds of evidence from his letters confirm this and provide us an idea of why he sought to monitor, maintain, and strengthen diakonia 7

People mentioned in various places in the Bible—Epaphroditus, Philemon, and others who were not apostles, pastors, or evangelists—clearly had some kind of ministry for which they are commended. All believers should be considered ministers/servants of God; however, for one reason or another most professional clergy seem to refuse to give permission to or empower laypeople to think of or call themselves ministers. Many laypeople might also feel uncomfortable calling themselves ministers, but the proper understanding of the term “minister” gives all believers a new sense of dignity and power with respect to serving God. Although spiritual power for all believers comes from God, people through their language and institutions bestow political and social power. The language and social construct of a Pentecostal church should reflect respect for the gifts of other believers, regardless of their identity as laity or as professional clergy.

Hindrances to Involvement in Ministry

While it is one thing to make a case from the Bible for ministry for all people, it is quite another thing to convince people that they are one of the “called.” Some common “resistances” to ministry among the laity should now be addressed.

James Fenhagen argues that professional ministers are reluctant to acknowledge as legitimate the ministry of laypeople. This stifles lay involvement. He quotes Peter Rudge, who argues that the organizational style of the local church can hinder lay involvement.8 To overcome this hindrance Fenhagen presents a “systematic” model of congregational life.9 By this is meant a style of leadership in which the pastor teaches others how to do ministry rather than doing it him or herself.

Many have noted the “confounded comma” in Ephesians 4:12 in the KJV. Ephesians 4:11 lists the speaking gifts of the church, which I would identify as those who are called to full-time professional ministry. Then Ephesians 4:12 says they are to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (NASB) or “prepare God’s people for works of service” (NIV).10 Instead, the KJV says, “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry …” This seems to describe the duties of those with the gifts listed, rather than to indicate that those gifted were to train others to do ministry (Eph 4:11).11

If only the KJV is affirmed as the “true Bible,” then it is easy to see why professional ministers would want to do all ministry and see the laypeople only as recipients of ministry rather than regard them as fellow ministers. Fenhagen has argued that the professional minister is called to train laypeople to be ministers. Sadly, in many places, there is a kind of “imperial” Pentecostal/charismatic ministry. The pastor or evangelist wants people to look to him for the “legitimate” ministry; “enablement is limited simply because ‘ministry’ is dependent on the institution and gifts of the … leader.”12

Robert Worley says another hindrance to lay involvement in ministry is that the stated goals of a local church often do not reflect the intention or desire or permission of the congregation and so people will not commit to the plans presented.

The nature and intensity of persons’ involvement can be best understood by examining both congregational goals in relation to personal goals, and the use of the various forms of power to achieve congregational goals or the goals of leaders.13

Again, Fenhagen discusses what he calls “the traditional model” of ministry, which is “non-reflective and hierarchical … it does not lead toward an enabling ministry since it keeps the authority and power in the hands of the clergy.”14 Many local churches are organized in such a way that laypeople are not given any political power. They do not have permission to express their views or feelings, so they learn to be quiet and learn to expect that ministry will come only from the professional minister they have hired to be the pastor.

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Category: Fall 2011, Ministry

About the Author: Steven M. Fettke, M.Div. (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary), Th.M., D.Min. (Columbia Theological Seminary), is Professor of Religion at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida. He was awarded the Delta Alpha Distinguished Educator Award by the Alliance for Assemblies of God Higher Education in 2009. He is the author of Messages to a Nation in Crisis: An Introduction to the Prophecy of Jeremiah (1982).

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