WHO'S MAKING CHRISTIANS SO ANGRY?
We can no longer ignore the hidden facts. Our
whole value system is shifting to suit the needs of individuals. Our
entire social structure is reshaping to serve the passions of its
participants. On a massive magnitude, the global world is
reapportioning power from the "somebodies" to the "nobodies."
These facts forecast a transfigured "laity," and
the emerging church will not escape the implications.
Spirituality now encompasses more than "church."
Christ’s mission now embraces more than "religion." For spiritual
leaders are showing up outside the established church, and
"unbelievers" are becoming "believers" outside sacred "systems."
At the same time, we see an unprecedented
transfer of divine power from the ordained to the ordinary, from the
educated to the uneducated, from the empowered to the unempowered.
God is breaking the constraints, in other words, on who and what a
spiritual leader is. Spiritual "somebodies" are being redefined, and
the significance for emerging church leaders is enormous.
New Players on The Playing Field
Emerging churches talk big about each member
having a "ministry"—about the importance of the "laity"—about the
"priesthood of all believers." For most churches, though, nothing
has changed. The old English word laite (or "laity") still means the
same: It means everybody else—the "un-clergy," the "un-ordained,"
the "un-empow-ered," the "un-emerging." Or, we could call them the
"Sunday spectators," the "churchgoers," the "religious crowd". . . .
. . . in other words, all those one step removed
But behind the scenes, a new laity emerges. They
are spiritually yearning—yet institutionally alienated—trailblazers.
They are often the unwashed, unwanted, and unrefined. Or, more to
the point, they are "not-us." They are "alien" believers no longer
satisfied to be marginalized, to be excluded, or to simply support
someone else’s program.
They are leaving their spectator seats, and they
are refusing yesterday’s "manna."
Of course, these believers still need belonging,
and they still need redemption. Most of all, though, they need
empowerment. They’re tired of old illusions. They want a true
"priesthood of every believer." And, they want a totally new
relation between the dispensers and receivers of sacred information.
In short, they want a new way of thinking.
And they won’t wait. Already, they’re finding
ministries beyond the religious sector. They’re discovering the
power of widespread, creative networking. They’re taking their place
as players on the playing field. In other words, they’re becoming
inspired participants in the real world.
Though we may refuse the idea, they are Christ’s
brothers and sisters. They are ordinary people doing extraordinary
things. And, they are leading Christianity into lands where old maps
no longer work.
John Wesley is hidden in their DNA. Wesley said
if a person’s heart is in the right place and they are obedient to
the Lord, he cares
not a straw whether they be clergy or
laymen. (For) such alone will shake the gates of hell and
set up the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.1
The True Story
Today, we’re forced to admit our idea of "laity"
was never the intention of the early church. To say "laity" (or laos
in the New Testament) was simply to say "Christian." In other words,
the laity were not a subspecies of anything.2
Free and spontaneous worship gave central place
to all participants. "Spiritual leadership," in fact, was widely
shared. Lydia and Onesimus, for example, did the work of "pastors,"
yet they were not "clergy." Indeed, they may not have been even
members of a "church."
And, though we may not believe it, men and women
shared equally in praying and prophesying.3 And society’s
outcasts—rebels (Simon), fanatics (Paul), thieves (Onesimus),
corrupt officials (Matthew), and worse—were the leading saints of
the early church.
It was only later that Ignatius and Clement
argued for the dividing of "clergy" and "laity"—the severing of
superiors and subordinates. After the first disciples, however, the
power of the church came not from the hierarchy. It came from the
monastic movement—ordinary believers who turned their back on an
increasingly secular church to seek God above all things.
Let’s face it. The monastic movement saved the
But history repeats itself. So, once again,
shamed believers like Martin Luther complained,
It is pure invention that pope, bishop,
priests, and monks are called the spiritual estate, and all
princes, lords, artisans, and farmers are called the
temporal estate. This is indeed a piece of deceit and
Yet, nothing has changed—even in most "emerging
churches." Today’s church is still a "Christendom" church—a
centuries-old legacy of the Roman Empire. It ignores the signs of
the times—the raw truths of a pre-Christendom heritage and the sober
warnings of a post-Christendom reality. It has become irrelevant to
the Lord of History.
"Christendom" churches restrict things
"religious" to certain times, certain places, certain
people—"sacred" programs, "sacred" pews, "sacred" privileges. . . .
Their little "kingdoms" are their only community, and their little
communities are their only "calling." So their very existence
requires pulling people in and never letting them go.
It’s a survival anxiety, a maintenance mentality.
In Christendom churches, all "religious" energies
must be focused toward the church. That means "professional"
Christians must get the "amateur" Christians to "fill all the
slots." That means a command-and-control structure must prompt a
silent consensus to work all the in-house programs.
It’s a closed system, of course, with lockstep
procedures, fixed agendas, and authorized leaders. So spirit-led
laity and creative self-starters need not apply. And all the others
must never stray from official guidelines
God help you if you make a mistake.
Obviously, these churches invest more in programs
than in people. And, when necessary, they are ready to sacrifice
people on behalf of their "first love." In other words, if you’ve
not chosen your own cross, they are more than happy to choose one
And like most wars, "the soldiers are
It’s no surprise that Christian "movers and
shakers" outside the church feel totally underutilized—totally out
of the loop. They’re told, for example, "Put your dream on hold and
come support a real ministry." That "real" ministry, however, turns
out to be a frustrated club of part-time, spiritual dilettantes. And
the clergy respond to their inevitable complaints by "getting
what’s-his-name to read a prayer."
And they ask, "Where are the disciples?"
But pity most the multitudes of hand-fed
sheep—the passive churchgoers blindly following out of habit or
duty. Or grieve especially for those lethargic conformers already
seduced by the addictive consumer church. Long ago, someone higher
up decided these laity were "needy"—that they must be taken care
of—that they must be given carbon copies, hand-me-down reports, of
someone else’s story.
Yet, each of us is a creative being. Each of us
touches off our moment in history—no matter how big or how small
that moment may be. And, regardless of our ineptness, God still
works through each of us to accomplish His purpose.
There is anger over the hogging of
ministry by professionals; anger over not empowering all
Christians for ministry; anger over not releasing the
spiritual potential in every believer.5
A Team of "Spiritual Entrepreneurs"
But angry believers won’t have long to wait. The
old notion of "professional Christians" is now questioned. For
today, a new synergy—a horizontal synergy—is emerging between the
leaders and the led.
Already, authentic leaders are changing from
harvesting to cultivating, from manipulating to mentoring, from
teaching to modeling. Already, they are changing from programs to
people, from "doing" ministry to "equipping" ministry, from managing
institutions to making disciples.
Of course, the secular world had already
discovered this shift from "hierarchical, competitive,
aggression-based criteria of excellence to supportive,
collaborative, interactive ones."6 It has rediscovered,
as well, that true "authority" means "empowering others."7
So—better late than never—the emerging church now
toys with a shift from vertical style to horizontal style—from rank
and status to love and grace—from patron-client roles to Christian
brotherhood (believe it or not!). It is a shared journey, a pilgrim
companionship, a common walk. It is a non-coercive connectedness, a
mutual mentoring, a paradox of following while leading. And no
one—including the leader—rises above advice or critique.
It’s not so much a top-down structure. It’s more
like a "solar system" where each planet has its own orbit, its own
"gifts." In other words, it’s more like a team of "spiritual
entrepreneurs" where each believer supports and encourages the
other’s inspired destiny.
St. Augustine got it right:
What I am for you terrifies me; what I am
with you consoles me. For you I am a bishop; but with you I
am a Christian. The former is a duty; the latter a grace.
The former is a danger; the latter, salvation.8
Spinning Off Totally New Riffs
So tomorrow’s emerging leaders will build leaders
who build leaders. They will make disciples who make disciples. And,
they will equip apostles who equip apostles. Over, and over, and
over. . . .
Jesus didn’t say, "Go schedule seminars." He
said, "Go make disciples."9 In other words, ministry is
done through us, not through a conversation about us. Through
visioning, modeling, mentoring, equipping, risking, and midwifing,
the new leaders will empower others to act. They will release the
gifts, talents, passions, and energies of all.
That means anyone, anywhere, anytime, and any
way. It means incognito missions of every kind—ministries in any
walk of life—inspired creativity wherever it’s
found—entrepreneurship in all Christ-like events. It means both
within their community and beyond their community—cross-cultural and
counter-cultural—local and global.
This new network is the new notion of "team."
It’s the paradox of diversity, yet unity—fluid spirit relationships,
yet the same Spirit—distinct ways of witnessing, yet the same Word.
It’s like a jazz ensemble intuitively following the leading of an
inspired motive, then creatively responding to variations on that
motive. All the while, though, each player supports and encourages
the band’s unity. Then, suddenly, the band spins off totally new
riffs in hot pursuit of the Lord of History.
Getting the Keys to the Car
Does anything go?
As long as the laity are aligned with the
mission, they need a long "leash." In other words, they need
permission to do their own thing, to feel in control of their own
destiny, to dream of more than they’ve ever dreamed to be. That
means removing all the unnecessary barriers, all the things that
stifle growth, all the constraints on new ideas.
Such permission, of course, includes permission
to make mistakes. Granted, the apparent anarchy and seeming chaos of
these mistakes drive perfectionists and control freaks crazy. But
risk is a necessary ingredient of creativity, and novices need
plenteous room to put their inspiration into play.
Sooner or later, they must be given the keys to
This permission doesn’t mean laity have total
freedom. And it doesn’t mean leaders relinquish total control. For
the leader does not ignore his own anointing or sacrifice his own
conviction. And, he’s not a pushover or a Casper-milquetoast pastor.
Sometimes, he must step in. He must rescue the
participants, hold them accountable, or even throw out the "bad
apples." He may allow mistakes, but he doesn’t allow mistakes to
"take over." He may permit some things, but he doesn’t permit
Today’s emerging leaders confuse permission with
Finally, though, transfigured laity mean
transfigured leaders. The success of emerging leaders, for example,
is no longer the harvest, but the planting—no longer power, but
empowerment—no longer personal gifts, but other’s gifts.
It’s a different success.
And, the sculptor Michelangelo knew this
difference. Patiently—but passionately—he chipped away the excess
marble while allowing God’s own vision to emerge.
© 2010 Thomas Hohstadt
1. John Wesley, quoted in John Wesley: The
Great Methodist, The Prayer Foundation, January 1, 2007
2. See the following random Scriptures: Matthew
23:8-12; Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12, 14:26; Ephesians 4:7-16; 1
Thessalonians 5:19-21; James 3:1,2; 1 Peter 4:9-11.
3. 1 Corinthians 14:14-15, 26; Colossians 3:16;
4. Martin Luther, quoted in "The Living Heritage
of Saint Augustine," Augustine Institute, January, 2007
5. Leonard Sweet, SoulTsunami: Sink or Swim in
New Millennium Culture (Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan, 1999) p.58.
6. Derrick de Kerckhove, The Skin of Culture
(Toronto: Somerville House Publishing, 1995) p. 62.
7. Fritjof Capra, The Hidden Connections:
Integrating the Biological, Cognitive, and Social Dimensions of Life
into a Science of Sustainability (New York: Doubleday, 2002) p.
8. St. Augustine, quoted in Dogmatic Constitution
of the Church, Vatican II Council, http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumengentium_en.html.
9. Matthew 28:18-20.