Setting aside the clergy role is hard.

This morning one of my friends and I were talking on the phone about a project he is involved in. He and his friends are intentionally trying to develop a missional community. One of the participants is a part of the professional clergy. In discussing the vision of the community my friend and I ended up discussing the difficulty those in the “professional clergy” or those of us who are “ex-professionals” have in stepping out of the professional role.

Organic ministry is whole-life ministry. It is not something you do as much as someone you are. It is not a job you do, as much as a life you live. It is not a role we play as much an adventure we live. And, our relationship with those on the journey with us is not defined by positions and job responsibilities, they are just our friends in same community and on the same ministry adventure with us. For those who are steeped in professional ministry this can be a hard transition to make.

The Clergy Role

First, it is difficult to step out of the role of clergy. When you have been “the clergy” it becomes part of your identity. One just assumes that they will play a leadership role. Let’s be honest, we enjoy being the big shot. We like being the one with all the answers. Being quiet and allowing others to express what Jesus has put on their hearts is hard. We find ourselves filling in all silent spaces with our ideas. We find ourselves taking charge…even when we are diligently trying not to do so.

Worse yet, those who have not been professional clergy, but are accustomed to the system, have been trained to look to the professionals for the answers. They are used to some being leaders and some being followers. It becomes easy to allow others to take the lead and therefore the risk of being wrong or making mistakes. This leads to an unintentional passivity which must be overcome if someone is going to actually be part of an organic missional community.

Knowing but Not Really Knowing

I can only speak from the position of being ex-clergy. My own experience, and the information I’ve gained from other friends who are ex-clergy in an organic ministry setting tells me that we have a problem of knowing about the problem but not really knowing the problem. Let me explain. We know intellectually we need to be quiet so others can speak. We know in our heads that if we talk too much or dominate the conversation we will stifle the Spirit in others. We know that, but we do it anyway. We know with our heads but it really hasn’t filtered down into our hearts yet, so it isn’t part of our unconscious behavior. Therefore, the problem keeps coming up. Let me restate that differently; we keep becoming a problem. And, we end up beating ourselves up about it.

There is a flip side to this issue as well. Most people currently involved in organic ministry are ex-lay people. That is to say they have learned to let the clergy do the work. They too, if they come to understand organic ministry, realize that they should participate more, but they are so used to being passive that they struggle to not just be bumps on a log. They wait for someone else to “take over.” This doesn’t help the missional community, the ex-clergy or the Kingdom. We all need each other. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” (I Cor. 12:21). In fact, one of the great weaknesses I’ve seen in those new to organic ministry is that they look for some great leader who will produce spectacular results so they can join in and bask in the glow of successful ministry. In other words, they are waiting for a “great leader” to come along so they can be a part of a great ministry. Consequently, when things aren’t spectacular, or don’t produce exciting fruit soon enough, they are off looking for the next cool thing. This is just another expression of being a passive person waiting for a human leader to take over. It is a result of our clergy/laity system.


So, what do we do about this? I have three suggestions. First, everyone needs to participate. There is no room for big leaders and there is no room for the passive in organic ministry. We all play a part and we are all equally important. Second, give yourselves some space. Most of us have the “system” baked into our bones. It is going to take awhile to unlearn what we have learned. Gently and graciously help each other be less passive or less in charge, whichever the problem might be. And remember we can understand with our heads long before it filters down to our heart. Be patient and gentle with each other. Finally, remember in organic ministry there is only one leader; his name is Jesus (for more on this see: Authority: How Jesus Leads a Church).We are all part of the body but Jesus is the head. Learn to follow him and only him and a lot of these problems will slowly go away.

  • Have you noticed the problem of ex-clergy taking over and ex-lay people being passive? What are you doing about it?
  • Have you ever noticed that we can “know about the problem” but not really know about the problem? That is to say we can understand the problem intellectually but still struggle with it?
  • If Jesus is going to lead, what skills will we need to develop to learn to follow him?
  • Who do you think has the harder time learning to be part of the body, the ex-clergy or the ex-lay person?
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