When I say the word “priest”, what do you think of? I was raised a C.E.O. Catholic so the first thing I think of is a professional clergyman wearing a black and white collar. You might think of another denomination or an Old Testament priest. Even in our most conservative evangelical circles most people probably think of the pastor/preacher. But what if someone told you the first thing I thought of was a mom of three toddlers rolling a stroller into a park sharing the gospel with the other moms? Is that legit? As far as most of the people in NPL are concerned it is!
Our culture (Christian and Non-Christian) has done a bang-up job of portraying the priest as a professional clergy person. Two problems: It’s unbiblical and it’s a bottleneck to the movement of the gospel.
Our “go-to” passage is 1 Peter 2.9
But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.
We are a race, a priesthood, a nation, a people. Peter is saying, “All y’all, are priests.” Peter is not saying everyone is an elder or that everyone should be professional clergy. But what he is saying is that everyone and I mean everyone, has kingdom responsibilities. Notice the end of this wonderful passage: so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. If you consider yourself to be “in the light” you are responsible to tell others about “the good things the Lord has done for you.” We are all “proclaimers.” That’s what a priest does. We bring God to the people and the people to God. This principle is one of the core values and practices of NPL because it’s biblical. (More passages highlighting the priesthood of the believer: Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15, Act 1:8, Romans 12:4-5, Ephesians 4.11-12, 1 Peter 2:4–8, Revelation 1:4–6, 5:6–10, 20:6)
So what’s the big deal? How does this misunderstanding of a biblical view of the priesthood impact anything in day to day Christian living? Well, actually this misunderstanding cuts the knees out from under the movement. This brings us to the second reason the priesthood of the believer is so important. When we take the God-given right and responsibilities away from the common everyday believer we become the “toad in the road.” We restrict the ministry and the movement of the gospel to a chosen few. That will stop a movement from going viral. We must put the ministry back into the hands of those who can get into every nook and cranny of everyday life. We must unleash the movement of the gospel. The professional has to throw gas on the fire rather than being the bottleneck. We have to release authority and equip everyone to do the work of the ministry. (Ephesians 4.11-12)
It really boils down to what the Bible says about “Who Can and Who Can’t.” Now let’s be clear. The Bible has very specific requirements for elders and deacons (1 Tim 3.1-13, Titus 1.5-9) But for some reason along the way we have relegated the simplest functions of discipleship to clergy and clergy only. Things like sharing the gospel, making disciples, baptizing disciples, serving the Lord’s Supper, preaching and teaching, and even performing weddings and funerals. (Which, by the way, in my Bible college and seminary experience, I only got extensive training in preaching and teaching. The rest of these ministry tasks, it was “You’re on your own, chicken bone!)
I remember when this realization dawned on me. I was meditating on the Great Commission one day (Matthew 28.18-20). I was slapped in the face with the fact that I had been teaching people to disobey this command for years. Not all of it, just ¼ of it. It was ok for you to obey Jesus and Go, Make Disciples, and Teach but you better leave the baptisms to me. Kids don’t try this at home. Leave it to the professional. Oh boy! I was in trouble. Why was I doing this? Because that’s what had been modeled for me from day one. Now I had a choice: Obey Jesus or allow tradition to trump the command of God (and we all know how Jesus feels about allowing tradition to get in the way of the commands of God! – Matthew 15.1-6, Mark 7.5-13).
We have placed ourselves in an unhealthy codependent relationship. The priests (think disciples) have relegated their God-given rights and responsibilities to the professional (clergy). When it comes to things like evangelism, baptism, making disciples, etc… we say that’s what we pay the pastor to do. We have out-sourced our part of the kingdom. And the professional is allowing the priest to shirk their responsibilities. This may make them feel important and special but in the end leads to burn-out, truncating leadership development, and the worst part, stalling the movement.
We need to take a page out of Jesus’ playbook. He turned sheep into shepherds, fish into fishermen, and ordinary people into priests. Let’s go back to baptism. How quickly did Jesus delegate the role of baptizer? Pretty quick. Check this out:
Therefore when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were) (John 4.1-2)
So Jesus had delegated this very important role to His disciples. Notice it doesn’t say the Apostles. And even if it did, they hadn’t been to seminary or pastored a church and some weren’t even sure of who Jesus was (Matthew 16:13-20)
A short time after my little proverbial slap in the face, I got a phone call from a friend asking me to speak at a conference. Just before ending the conversation they said, ‘Oh by the way since you’re ordained, would you please do some baptisms and serve us communion?’ And I said, “No! (long pause on the phone) But I will teach you how to baptize and serve communion.” So when the time came, I was standing in front of 75 people and I told them to pair up and right there in a crowded hall, I taught everyone how to baptize someone. It was crazy and loud and chaotic and I was wondering if I hadn’t just made a huge mistake. The next morning, the stories started to roll in: moms were baptizing their children in the nearby ocean, husbands were baptizing their wives and the atmosphere at the retreat center was electric. The lion was off the leash.
And what about making disciples? The eleven had abandoned the Son of God in the most strategic moment in history and Jesus turns around and gives them the most important responsibility on the planet: Go and make disciples of all the nations. “Uh, what?! Jesus you know you’re talking to eleven losers that just did you dirty. And after you had invested all that time in them and even counted them as your friends, they cut and run on you. I’d be getting myself a new team if I were you.” But here’s the bigger miracle. Jesus turns to you and I and says the same thing, “There’s the world, sic ’em!” Now if you thought the eleven were a bunch of knuckleheads, you haven’t begun to see the shenanigans I’ve pulled!
I like the little ditty, “God doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the called.” I love that. But you know what? It’s very messy and God is willing to put up with a lot of mess with those who are willing.
I could write a book on this topic and I just may. But here’s the deal, we are robbing the people of one of the most exciting, terrifying, growth causing, meaningful parts of the Christian life. I for one have decided to quit doing that. And I have decided that this one principle, the priesthood of the believer, needs to be the new reformation. Let the lion out of the cage! You can do it!
Have you completely owned your God-given rights and responsibilities as His priest? Are you practicing the priesthood on a daily basis? Have you relegated any of your responsibilities to others? If you are a professional (earning your living from the ministry), are you doing anything that would rob the people, the priests, of their rights and responsibilities? Are you an active champion of the priesthood of the believer by multiplying priests not just converts?
SIX CORE PRINCIPLES