“Clergy and laity are two words that should never escape the lips of Presbyterians,” the Rev. Joe Small told members of Committees on Ministry and Preparation for Ministry here, insisting that Presbyterian polity and theology emphasizes “collegial ministry.”
Small, director of the office of Theology, Worship and Education for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s General Assembly Mission Council, called the “separation” of ministry “one of the big problems we have in the church today.”
Ministry within the church needs to be the responsibility of all the leaders — deacons, elders and pastors, Small said, speaking at Christ the King Retreat Center here during the Synod of Lakes and Prairies’ annual training event Jan. 26-28.
Deacons, Small noted, have too often been relegated to serving coffee on Sunday and sending flowers to shut-ins. “People don’t want to do it anymore,” he said.
Elders, he continued, “have become the board of directors of a small community service organization.”
And, he asked, “What happened to ministers? They became clergy,” and clergy have “emerged as the power in the church.”
The divided role of ordained leadership in the church needs to change, Small insisted, and the walls between ordained offices torn down.
For instance, he said, deacons are called to “leading the whole church in the ministry of compassion and justice.”
Elders should “share equally in the administration of the ministry of word and sacrament,” he said.
And, he continued, the “primary role” of ministers should be that of “teacher of the faith.”
Small said he favors use of the terms “teaching elders” and “ruling elders.”
But, he cautioned, “ruling does not mean governing.” The correct meaning, he added, “ is rule like a measuring stick.” Ruling elders measure the congregation’s “fidelity to the gospel” and the “spiritual health of the congregation.”
Small called ordained leaders in the church to be “genuine colleagues in ministry.”
Without collegial ministry, he said, the position of pastor becomes one of a lonely leader. He described the history of ministers in the United States as one of accumulated roles, where responsibilities always have been added but never withdrawn.
Beginning on the frontier, Small said, pastors were called to be revivalists to “inspire and uplift.”
When small towns grew on the prairie, the ministers were still expected to “know more about the faith,” but in addition to being inspirational preachers, ministers were expected to be community builders.
As small towns grew into cities, ministers, he said, were expected to also be therapists, who helped those in the congregation “cope” with new stress.
As cities grew, ministers became “managers of an increasingly complex social organization called the church,” and today a pastor is expected to be a entrepreneur and innovator.
“It’s just one more layer added on,” he added.
Small said a collegial ministry relationship could help alleviate some of the stress associated with pastoral leadership, and he said Committees on Ministry and Preparation for Ministry need to recognize the growing demands on ministers.
“Think it through,” he told the group of about 40 committee members, “and understand the possibilities for a unified ministry.”
Duane Sweep is associate for communications for the Synod of Lakes and Prairies and a frequent contributor to Presbyterian News Service.