It is commonly assumed that the major beneficiaries of a more inclusive paradigm of ministry are laity who enjoy greater freedom and affirmation as servants of God. This notion rests on the assumption that clergy are the winners and laity the losers in church systems distorted by clericalism. In some ways this is true. Clergy often enjoy higher status, more institutional power and privilege, greater access to denominational decision-making, and higher salaries and benefits than lay church workers. But in more fundamental ways, both laity and clergy are victims of the dualistic paradigm of ministry.
The dualistic paradigm of ministry projects unrealistic expectations onto clergy. When holiness and Christ-like living are seen as the special pervue of the clergy, laity are let off the hook. In thrusting the responsibility of faithfulness onto the clergy, laity retard their own spiritual development and place clergy on a pedestal. The superhuman expectations accompanying this bifurcation are stressful, isolating, and often counterproductive. I believe this dynamic is one reason clergy scandals and misconduct are such a threat to the church today.
When ordained ministry is seen as the only “real” ministry and the only way of acting on or legitimizing one’s call, then everyone interested in serving God – sometimes even everyone with the slighted inkling of faith – wants to be ordained. This weakens ordained ministry by encouraging the ordination of those with marginal gifts for the ministries of Word, sacrament, and order. This is one reason the denomination struggles so much with questions of clergy effectiveness. When all types of ministry are honored and affirmed, people are free to serve in the area of their particular giftedness.
A more inclusive paradigm of ministry also encourages greater collaboration between clergy and laity. Clergy have monumental burdens placed on them in this day when the church faces so many institutional challenges and the needs of the world are so great. Allowing gifted lay servants to come along side lightens their load.
Finally, the dualistic paradigm of ministry has placed a “clergy only” sign over the doorways to many meeting rooms, deliberative chambers, decision-making venues, and places of spiritual formation and learning. A more inclusive paradigm of ministry would open the church to new perspectives, energy, and ideas. The benefits of this are already evident in theological education, where both faculties and student bodies have become increasingly laicized and on the front line of local church ministry. But institutional structures have been slower to respond.
An inclusive paradigm of ministry is not just about the status and privileges afforded laypersons. It benefits clergy, laypersons, and the whole church.