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 from God.

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 church!

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 hypocrisy.4


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 for you.

And like most wars, "the soldiers are expendable."

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 the car.

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 all things.

Today’s emerging leaders confuse permission with permissiveness.

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 http://www.prayerfoundation.org/books/book_review_heroes_john_wesley.htm

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; Ephesians 5:19.

4. Martin Luther, quoted in "The Living Heritage of Saint Augustine," Augustine Institute, January, 2007 http://www.sspxasia.com/Documents/Archbishop-Lefebvre/Luthers-Mass.htm

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. 89, 100.

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.

Future Church Administrator