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  • David Defries

Priesthood is for Everyone

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)

There is a biblical concept called "the Priesthood of all believers". The emphasis is on the word "all". Basically, what this means is that when you come into a relationship with Jesus, when you accept Him as your Lord and Saviour, you are changed. Jesus calls it being born again. (see John 3) Part of the change is that you become a priest for God. Everyone who is "born again" is changed into a priest. Your identity and role is changed forever.

This isn't being a priest in terms of becoming a Catholic who runs a parish… putting on robes, performing liturgy, etc. Rather, it's being a priest in the sense that you are a person who ministers to God and ministers to other people. You become a person who represents God, directs people towards God, and you lead worship to God. You become someone who is set apart by God for the special purpose of interacting with Him and bringing others into an encounter with Him.

In the Old Testament, priests were an elite group who were set apart. They were esteemed and held in honour, but there was also a large responsibility that they carried. They were the keepers of the law set down by God. They were the ones who led the assembly in the festivals and religious observations that God gave them. They were the ones who led worship and the animal sacrifice which paid for the sins of the people.

Fortunately for us, Jesus paid for all sin, so we're no longer tied to animal sacrifice. Jesus gave us His perfect grace, so we are no longer bound by a law that defines the rules of how we behave. However, the concept of priesthood remains. We may not be tied to observance of religious law anymore, but we still have a role. We become ministers of worship, ministers of Jesus' grace, and representatives of the goodness of God shown to us through Jesus.

This is great to talk about in theory, but if that theory doesn't make its way into practice it becomes a piece of useless theology. You see, my experience of church is that there's usually one person or a few people who are "in charge" and lead the church in everything. They're the people up front in every service, the people responsible to do everything. Then there's everyone else… the congregation who comes in, sits down, get's ministered to, and generally get served. My experience of church is that the "ministry" is done by a professional few and everyone receives.

This is never the way church was meant to be.

Every person in the church is a priest. Everyone ministers. Church service is meant to be participatory where all are worshipping uniquely, both individually and corporately to God. The work of God is supposed to be done by all church members, not just an elite few. There is no divide between "professional" ministers and everyone else. Pastors and laity are not separate, they actually have the same standing and role before Christ.

When we artificially create this divide, it creates an unhealthy role for everyone. If you're one of the professional few, you are the one burdened with the responsibility to make everything happen. A job that is the entire church's responsibility is now laid on your shoulders. You become the focal point for all of the success or failure in the execution of that job, with entirely predictable results. If success, it usually goes to the person's head and creates an ego driven dynamic which has a lot of destructive end results. If failure, you have a person shouldering criticism not meant for them and you have burnout and disillusionment.

If you're one of the congregation who has abdicated their responsibility to minister to the elite few, you become a passive observer of faith, rather than a practitioner. Services are to be evaluated for their efficacy and criticized when they don't measure up. We become consumers of a spiritual product, continually searching for the next place that will temporarily satisfy our craving and hunger for a genuine faith. There's an emptiness within because of an unfulfilled identity and this emptiness cries out to be filled.

True church has Priesthood for all believers. I once heard a preacher say that when you come to Christ, you become part of the ministry. You may suck at it, but you're still a part. Part of church is to train you up and disciple you to minister well. Just because it's hard doesn't mean it's right to abdicate your role and responsibility. If you have come to Christ, you are a minister. If you're a minister, then it's time to become engaged and active in fulfilling the role that you have. Don't sit back and let someone else fill your place of ministry. Learn, grow, and step out into all that God wants to do through you.

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