In his commentary on the first four chapters of 1 Corinthians called, Basic Christian Leadership, John Stott introduces chapter 4 by commenting on the confusion that exists concerning the ordained pastoral ministry. He writes, “Throughout its long and checkered history the church has oscillated between the opposite extremes of clericalism (which puts clergy on a pedestal) and anticlericalism (which knocks them off again and even declares them to be redundant). Now that many churches recovered the ‘every-member-ministry’ of the body of Christ, radical questions are being asked. Are clergy necessary any longer? Are they not superfluous?”
Stott goes on in chapter 4 to defend the idea of an ordained leadership for the church emphasizing pastors’ responsibility of stewardship as servants of God and of the revelation that He has given (1 Corinthians 4:1). Surely it has been a very positive thing for the building of Christ’s church to encourage what has become known as the “priesthood of the believer” (1 Peter 2:9). Clearly, God has gifted every true Christian with special abilities of service in the body of Christ for its edification as well as for the personal blessing of meaningful living. Thank God for the life and blessing that has come to individual churches because of this important biblical teaching!
Yet I believe it is also clearly evident that God didn’t intend the doctrine of “every-member-ministry” to eclipse the importance of ordained leadership within the church. Though Jesus had many disciples during his time on earth, he chose twelve of them to spend more time with him and to be his “apostles” giving them special authority to preach and to drive out demons (Mark 3:14). Though he came later, Paul considered himself to be one of these as well (see Romans 1:1 and the introduction to his other letters). And in his writings, Paul extends a similar kind of authority to those who are called to lead in the church (i.e. 1 Timothy 3:1-7). And he makes a further distinction for those who are called to preach and teach the Gospel (1 Corinthians 9:14 and 1 Timothy 5:17), thus establishing what is sometimes referred to as a “professional ministry.”
It is true that too much has often been made out of this distinction in the history of the church leading to misconceptions of ministry and an abuse of power. But it is also true that the significance of an ordained pastoral leadership in the church can be easily underestimated. In the face of the current sense of depreciation of an ordained pastoral ministry, the true pastoral ministry of the church has been severely jeopardized. One effect is that pastors have lost their sense of spiritual confidence and authority to preach, to teach, and to dismantle strongholds of Satan. Instead of clear and authoritative explanations of God’s Word, pastors are often inclined to resort to what might be considered more popular forms of communication. In this circumstance the Gospel becomes confused and the church becomes spiritually anemic.
In this time, we need to affirm once again the important balance between the priesthood of all believers and the biblical value of an ordained pastoral ministry whose special work is the stewardship of the Gospel. We need to pray that the Lord of the harvest will send out more workers into his harvest fields (Matthew 9:38) and do what we can to strengthen training institutions (Bible Colleges and Seminaries) that are committed to educate those who are called into ministry. Churches can only be healthy and progressive in the true sense where the priesthood of all believers is affirmed and where the value of an ordained ministry is clearly upheld.