Author: Ron Graham
Ministry Without Clergy
—The New Testament pattern
What pattern of “ministry” should there be in churches that follow the New Testament?
You may have observed that the “ministers” in different churches present themselves differently. In some churches, they wear fancy robes and have fancy titles.
In other churches you would hardly know who were “ministers” because they wear neither special clothes nor distinguishing titles.
Yet other churches do not even have “ministers” at all, only “lay preachers”. What is the pattern in the New Testament?
1 The Ministry of All Christians
In a general sense, all Christians are ministers. In the Greek, the word is διακονος (diakonos), which may be translated “minister”, “deacon”, or “servant”.
Phoebe (Romans 16:1), Tychicus (Ephesians 6:21), Epaphras (Colossians 1:7), and Timothy (2Tim 4:5), were all called ministers.
Any person rendering Christian service is a minister. We also note that the scriptural priestood of the church is a priesthood of all believers (Revelation 1:6, Revelation 5:10, Revelation 20:6, 1Peter 2:5,9 ).
2 Special Ministries in the Churches
The ministry of all Christians is an important principle. However, it does not mean that the church has no special or official ministers.
- In Philippians 1:1, the "ministers" (or "deacons") are distinguished from the "saints" in general.
- lTimothy 3:8 applies the term diakonos to those appointed to serve (or minister) in a special capacity.
- Ephesians 4:11-12 tells us that God has set some in the church as special servants in various capacities, for the work of ministry.
3 Ministers are like Teachers
There is a parallel in the use of the words “minister” and “teacher”. Here in Ephesians 4:11, we find "some teachers" —not every member, but "some".
James says "not many" in the church should be teachers (James 3:1). Yet all Christians have a duty to teach friends and neighbours. All members are, in a general sense, teachers.
But there are "some", "not many", who are teachers in a special sense, and by a special appointment. The same is true of the term “minister”.
4 Ministry as a Vocation
It is evident in 1Corinthians 9:14, that there are special ministries. "The Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel".
This could not refer to every Christian, could it? It must refer to those who are specially appointed to the ministry of the word —those who make it their vocation.
For example, we read of "Philip the evangelist" (Acts 21:8). This is like calling "Simon" a "tanner" (Acts 9:43).
Simon was a tanner, Philip was an evangelist. These verses are talking about what men do as their job, their vocation, their daily work, and how they make their living.
In this lesson we have found no scriptural evidence for a clergy in the church. The distinction between “clergy” and “laity” in the church is one made by man, not by Christ. However, in order to get away from false distinctions which may elevate men above their brethren, let us not reject all distinctions.
That would be throwing out the baby with the bathwater, and going from one error to another. Remember that the word “minister” does not mean “boss”. It means “servant”. That will help to keep us from elevating the minister to a wrongful place, whilst giving due recognition and respect to his special service and vocation.