While many lives and families faced great loss and challenge, the spirit of America seems stronger than ever. Churches are now faced with a great opportunity to flesh out the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, the ministry of laypersons and the activation of the church in the world.
This doctrine is at the core of our history, and our doctrine as Baptists. We've talked about it since the Protestant reformation, but we have done little to live it out. Deacons and church leaders have a challenge to model this doctrine and guide the church to be and do church differently as we seek to finish the unfinished reformation.
The Doctrine of the Priesthood of All Believers
Baptists are Protestants, not Roman Catholics. One of the major differences is that of the priesthood of all believers. Baptists do not believe that we must go through a priest or clergyperson to access God. Every believer has access to God through faith. We are a people who are not clergy-dependent for our faith or our church life—laypersons are the real soldiers in the army. Laypersons make up the team that's on the field playing, not the spectators cheering the clergy along from the stands.
Remember, the disciples of Jesus were "common men" with jobs and families. Many of our churches have strayed from the core doctrine of our Protestant faith. We tend to like having a clergy-dominated church life, for then we can "blame them" when something doesn't go right. In reality, God holds us all accountable when our churches are being ineffective in his mission.
In too many of our churches the assumed role of the layperson is that of a spectator. Biblically, all the people of God—clergy and laity—are responsible to God for following their calling and using their spiritual gifts!
Martin Luther sought to correct this problem in the church of the 1600s. But there's still much work to do if we are to be faithful to the doctrines we profess. How can your deacon body help your church be and do church differently? How can you help in the work of the unfinished reformation?
How Deacons Can Lead the Way
Biblically, deacons are to be servant leaders, partners in ministry and spiritual leaders for the congregation. However, deacons are not to be dictators or domineering; rather they are to possess and lead from a servant's heart. Deacons are called to lead the way to being faithful to the mission of God in the world. Here are some ways in which deacons might lead the way:
—Educate yourselves and your congregation about the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers and the ministry of all God's people.
—Educate yourselves and the congregation about what it means to be Baptist.
—Work with your pastor and staff to fulfill the Great Commission rather than expecting the ordained clergy to do all the ministry. Our clergy are burning out rapidly because we have become so clergy-dependent in many churches.
—Work with your pastor and staff to help new believers, new church members and existing church members discern God's calling and gifting for their lives.
—Create a permission-giving atmosphere in your church that encourages and equips laypersons to follow God's leading to birth new ministries out of their gifting and God's calling rather than just following traditions and constitutional committees.
—Create and facilitate ministry teams for all God's people to become involved in ministry in your church and community.
These are only a few suggestions. Deacons set the tone and model the style of ministry in most churches. Let me encourage you to commit to activating all God's people in ministry that God's mission might be fulfilled more effectively in your church and community during 2002.
Eddie Hammett (firstname.lastname@example.org) is leadership/discipleship consultant for Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, and adjunct professor at Gardner Webb Divinity School. He has also authored three books designed to help Christian leaders and churches become more effective in our rapidly changing culture. This article was adapted from his Deacon Ministry Newsletter.
Buy Hammett's books now from Amazon.com!
Making the Church Work: Converting the Church for the 21st Century
The Gathered and Scattered Church
Reframing Spiritual Formation