Thinking Out Loud

October 16, 2012

The Continuing Disparity Between Clergy and Laity

When it comes to the availability of information and resources, these are interesting times. There is nothing that can’t be accessed, and as a member of the laity, it is easy to ‘pig out’ on all manner of commentaries and Bible reference materials that heretofore tended to be the exclusive property of those in vocational ministry.

Nowadays in any given denomination, it’s easy to find pastors who can’t preach their way out of a wet paper bag, and to hear as many stories about an absolutely phenomenal adult Sunday School Bible teacher with great gifting, who works the rest of the week on a automotive assembly line or is a cattle farmer, or sells restaurant supplies.

This week I was hoping to connect with a pastor friend, who mentioned that he had come down with somethingitis. I fired off an email joking, “Let me know if you need me to preach.”

Well, not so joking. I’ve actually done the Sunday morning message in his church many years prior to his arrival here, and for that matter, at six other area churches.

He ended up not being able to preach, as no doubt his somethingitis turned into otheritis. A mutual friend — who happens to be ordained — jumped in and filled the gap. I just chanced to hear about this yesterday afternoon on my way to the bank. After cashing a check, I walked back to my car and a strange thought hit me, “You’re not going to get those opportunities in the future because you’re not part of the clergy class, they are the ones who have the hidden secrets.

You know the hidden secrets, right? Well, actually you don’t; that’s the point. That extra bit of information that does not exist on line; the things passed on when you reach your 32nd degree ordination. The mysteries of faith that cannot be revealed to the common masses. The things not even known to that eloquent adult elective teacher.

That’s why the great chasm between the laity and clergy exists. There are some things simply too great — too lofty — to pass on to the rest of us. And that’s why the next time your church offers to help people ‘develop their gift,’ they do not include you in that gift-development if your gift happens to look terribly similar to their gift.


  1. As someone who God has graciously chosen to gift in the area of Bible teaching, I often hear people say that they prefer a time focused on the Word than half an hour devoted to personal stories and theological conundrums during the Sunday morning sermon. But, the unordained-but-gifted are relegated to the background because they don’t have the key …they don’t know the secret handshake…and they don’t sport the Rev. button on their lapel. The church is poorer for that.

    Comment by Cynthia Clarke — October 16, 2012 @ 8:44 am

  2. I see you have a bit of a burr under your bonnet today. I can honestly say, I have been blessed will ‘lay’ people in my church who are not just readsy but gifted to preach when called upon. Are they Billy Graham in waiting, no. BUt niether am I. Ironically due to the size of church I pastor it is increasingly difficult to find a ’32rd degree ordained’ mnister to fill in. I dont know if its because they think it will turn them into flannell wearing, banjo playing, kjv preaching fundementalist shouting preachers.
    Whatever the reason, I for one not only welcome the ‘laity’ ( I hate that word btw) and also encourage them to discover the gifts God has given them by His Spirit, and so use them to Gods glory.

    Comment by ralph juthman — October 16, 2012 @ 9:39 am

    • It’s very disappointing to feel you have a gift that you can’t use. There is a Brethren church about an hour north of us where laity contribute regularly to the teaching ministry of the church. Oh, how I wish we had that here.

      A local pastor here gave his pulpit over to several young men in the church this summer; but the key was “young” as in under 30. He would rather develop people from scratch, and I suppose there is value in that philosophy.

      But the middle aged in his church already feel marginalized, and I can’t begin to imagine what the seniors feel.

      So yes, a burr under my bonnet. Or something.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — October 16, 2012 @ 9:47 am

  3. This post is why I keep coming back to read, no sugar coating, thoughtful observations to stimulate conversation and maybe progress.

    Comment by MJ — October 16, 2012 @ 3:46 pm

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