(In 1986 the Vineyard magazine, First Fruits, published an article by John Wimber entitled RELEASING LAY LEADERS. This is such an important subject for the church, that I have decided to post most of the original article in four parts over the next four weeks in the hope that God would use it to bless the Vineyards in India.)
Every Christian is called to minister. God gives gifts to equip people and call the church to demonstrate and live out the life of Jesus.
A key passage for understanding God’s intention for every Christian to be a minister is 1 Peter 2:9
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
All Christians, not just professional ministers, are chosen people, just as Israel was in the Old Testament. As royal priests we reflect the holiness of God and that of our High Priest, Jesus (Heb.7:24; 10:10), offer spiritual sacrifices, intercede for man before God, and represent God before man. As a holy nation we are called together to overcome Satan’s kingdom. As a people belonging to God we are no longer have personal rights—our lives belong wholly to God. Every believer has been called to minister.
All too often Christians expect their pastors to emulate secular helping professions. We expect lawyers to advise us, not to train us to solve our legal problems. Hence we expect pastors to serve us and not to train us to do the work of the ministry. But the biblical model of a pastor is more that of a player-coach, in which pastoral leaders are to teach people to minister over against doing the ministry for the people.
At the Vineyard we do not view the paid professional staff as the ones who do all the ministry. The staff’s job is to train other people to minister. As they are trained and released to minister, they in turn train others — and the progression is endless and very effective.
The best way for pastoral leaders to begin equipping and training others is to be accessible, visible, and vulnerable: to be one of the people. I have many people in my church who are ministering alongside of me. They lead small groups, pray for the sick, counsel, and so on. Yet many pastors are insecure about the effectiveness of their work and these try to protect themselves by not releasing the church to minister.
At the Vineyard Anaheim we also try to avoid using titles and positions. That is why I have adopted phrases like “an elder is an elder to the degree that he elds.” This is a humorous way of communicating a truth that eldership is not a position to be attained but a function to be performed. Many people have the title without the reality. I want to focus on the reality, which is learning to minister and serve others.
SPIRITUAL PRIESTHOOD AND MINISTRY
Spiritual priesthood means at least three things for effective ministry. First, all believers have direct access to God (Hebrews 4:16). Each believer can speak to God and can hear from God. Overemphasizing our personal relationship with God, however, may lead to excessive individualism. There are those who believe that because they are priests themselves they don’t need the rest of the body of Christ. But the passage in 1 Peter 2:9 says that we are a “priesthood,” not priests. That is, as we individually enter into Christ’s priesthood, we function corporately as priests. So I don’t think it is possible to grow in our priesthood apart from brothers and sisters. We have been called to commit ourselves to a local body of believers and grow with them and in them, as one of them.
Second, all believers are priests to each other. We are a community of priests, therefore, we are to serve one another. Again and again in the New Testament we find the admonition to serve and care for one another. This is why the pathway to Christian maturity is marked by becoming more concerned for others than ourselves.
Third, all believers are priests to the world. The job of a priest is to represent God to the people and the people to God. We are bridge builders. To often the people who are to be a bridge between the community of the unsaved and the God we serve have instead become a barrier. Rather than being a simple organism of life in the world today, we have become an organization that is often impenetrable to non-Christians.