My formative religious community was a small Plymouth Brethren meeting. Among other things, the founding of the Plymouth Brethren was a reaction to what was seen as excessive and non-biblical clericalism in the Anglican church. To this day, the priesthood of all believers is a core teaching among the Plymouth Brethren, and in most PB assemblies there are no ordained leaders.
I have come a long way since then, but I have held on to the idea that each member of the community has valuable gifts to share. I have been glad to hear echoes of the priesthood of all believers in the UU concept of shared ministry.
One of the reasons I left the Plymouth Brethren, however, was that I came to realize that there was a role for expert, paid leadership in religious communities. It is helpful to have at least one person whose job it is to think deeply about the issues affecting the congregation, and who has developed the knowledge and skills necessary for empowering the ministries of all the community’s members.
Sometimes it’s all too easy to think we don’t need experts. We’re Americans, and we have the “can-do” spirit. We watch pharmaceutical commercials, consult the Mayo Clinic online, and arrive at the doctor’s office with diagnosis in hand. We hate it when we think political leaders talk down to us, and a fair number of us like it when a candidate for office tells us, “I’m you.” We look at the work of clergy and we think, “I could do that.”
Somehow we’ve got to find the balance. It’s good to be informed patients–and also to respect the in-depth knowledge and skill of our doctors. It’s important to be involved and educated citizens–and also to respect the strength of many of our political leaders, who face complex issues and intense political pressure. A vital congregation depends on the committed ministry of each of its members–and it needs the leadership of gifted, educated staff members (clergy, religious educators and musicians).
I’ll leave you with this video, which says it better than I can: