Normal Christianity: Blurring the Lines and Raising the Bar

lab techA young man in our ministry has been a particular delight to my soul during the last decade. Dave came to know Christ during the first few years of Tri-County Bible Church’s existence, when he was a senior in high school. He immediately began to grow like a weed (or, as Joe Tyrpak insists, “like a tree planted by rivers of water”). He grew in his understanding of the Scriptures, his love of the gospel, his desire for holy living, and his burden for souls. By God’s grace, he was instrumental in seeing his uncle and his (seventy-plus year-old Italian Catholic!) grandmother come to Christ.

Dave is now a deacon in our church, as is his uncle Joe. He’s also a godly husband and a soon-to-be father. His knowledge of Scripture and theology continues to amaze me. The zeal and skill with which he preaches the Word is a testimony of God’s grace. He’s leading in our church through his ministry to our teens, his ministry as a deacon, and his example. What a joy!

Here’s the thing: Dave is a biologist. Following his conversion, I pushed him toward BJU. He visited the campus and loved it, but he decided to stay in Ohio, where he graduated from Kent State University—not exactly a bastion of Christianity or even secular conservatism. Besides pushing him toward a Christian college, I also pushed him toward the ministry. It seemed like a no-brainer: certainly a young man with his love for the Word of God and the souls of men should devote his life to full-time ministry, right? I mean, “Duh.”

“Duh,” indeed. My faulty thinking revealed two things:

  1. I had too distinct a line in my mind between so-called “clergy” and “laity.”
  2. I had a low expectation for those not in (ahem) “full-time ministry.” Anyone really serious about Christ must be or should be on their way from the “laity” side to the “clergy” side of the church, I assumed, though I wouldn’t have expressed it so crassly.

I’m embarrassed by such thinking now, but I imagine that the same idea has permeated your thinking, as well. Here’s the bottom line: Life-dominating Christianity is so rare in our time that we confuse it with a call to the ministry. However, according to Scripture, what Dave has demonstrated isn’t exceptional Christianity at all. It’s normal Christianity, or at least it should be. My thinking was wrong. I needed to blur the line between clergy and laity and raise the bar for normal Christianity. I think most of the church needs to do the same

Philip Graham Ryken addresses my erroneous thinking in his very helpful book on the church, A City on a Hill:

“[M]ost churchgoers assume that radical discipleship is only for advanced Christians, not for ordinary believers.” (p. 115)

He’s right. The only thing I would change is that I would add “most pastors” to his “most churchgoers.” It’s a grave error, and one which we must attack aggressively. Serious-minded believers should fill our pews, not just our pulpits. Students of theology and winners of souls should be at work in accounting firms, hospitals, laboratories, and garages, not just pastor’s studies. To expect anything less is to misunderstand the radical nature of salvation and to teach the church (and certainly teens in the church) that the only believers who need to pursue Christ whole-heartedly are those who will be or have been Bible majors—two debilitating errors.

Dave may very well end up in vocational ministry in the future. It wouldn’t shock me, nor would it shock me if many of the other godly men at TCBC head for the pastorate or mission field. Indeed, another one of our deacons is on the verge of leaving his job as a public school teacher to enter the pastorate. Praise the Lord! I pray for more of the same in our future! However, I thank God for godly teachers, engineers, and machinists, and I’m determined not to insult them and belittle the gospel by assuming that, were they “really serious,” they would change vocations. After all, every Christian should be wholeheartedly serving Christ, not just those who are paid to do so! Let’s pray for that to be the case. Let’s teach it. And by God’s grace, let’s expect it.

______

Note: I addressed this issue in last week’s sermon on 1 John 4:1-6, where all believers are commanded to know the Scriptures well enough to detect false teaching. The sermon can be downloaded from here.

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7 Responses

  1. Amen. Way to go Chris.

    I don’t think we really need to blur the line between clergy and laity. They are distinct vocations even though they are of equal value when pursued to the glory of God. Sort of like husband and wife. We don’t want husbands to be wives and we don’t want wives to be husbands, but neither is of inferior worth.

    Nevertheless, you are right on man in pointing out that we should not think that “really serious, committed Christians will go into ‘full time Christian service.'” We try to make that point repeatedly at my school: “Some of you should serve God as pastors and missionaries, but some of you should serve God as doctors, plumbers, lawyers, farmers, engineers, carpenters, etc. Just find a vocation in which you can glorify God and enjoy Him.”

    Attaboy.

  2. Chris,

    Very good article as usual. Thank you.

    Do you think there are many people in the ministry today who are probably not equipped for “full-time” ministry, but were directed into it because of their spiritual maturity by a well-meaning pastor ?

  3. Hi, Keith.

    You’re correct regarding the clergy/laity distinction. The second of the two points probably captures my burden sufficiently without the first. The reason I included it is that I do think we’re prone to an unhealthy sacerdotalism within most of our churches. However, it is clear in Scripture that there are God-ordained elders who are responsible to lead the flock, and it is just as unwise to diminish the importance of their distinct role as it is to exaggerate it.

    FWIW, understanding that the pastor’s job is to equip the entire body for ministry (per Eph. 4:11-12) would solve much of the problem of both extremes, I believe.

    Thanks for your kind comments.

  4. Hey, Andy.

    Yes, I think that certainly happens. We assume that godliness in a young person is the equivalent of a call to the ministry, even when there is no evidence of ministerial gifts. And when we push such men into ministry—or even permit them (via encouragement, ordination, etc.)—we’re doing them and the church of God no favors.

    It’s a tough issue. I had a refreshing conversation with one such guy my own age this last summer. He was in “preacher’s classes” with me at BJU, but really isn’t gifted or called to vocational ministry. Fortunately, he realized that and headed toward a career (accounting, if I’m not mistaken). However, his change of direction was met with some skepticism at the time, I think, as though he were carnally exchanging God’s call for filthy lucre or something.

    My two cents: we should be careful about discouraging men from the ministry, but we should be even more careful about encouraging them toward it.

  5. Chris,

    Very interesting post, and one that really strikes a chord with me. Some years ago I went from Christian School Teacher to Law Student. Some saw this as quite a falling away and I can still hear them saying under their breath, “I knew he wasn’t really spiritual. After all…he went to Cederville!” :-)

    I couldn’t agree more with your assessment. I’ve had many positive, spiritual influences on my life that were not in “full-time christian service.” When it gets right down to it, ALL of the redeemed should be in full-time christian service REGARDLESS of vocation.

    The belief that pastors, missionaries, etc. have a corner on spirituality is a detrimental to the Church in that it may lead the majority of the Church to lower their own personal standards since they’re only a secretary or teacher or policeman or doctor.

    We who have been adopted into God’s family through the blood of Christ all have the same duty to make Jesus the Lord and Master of our lives. We are all called to do all to the glory of God. We all have various gifts for the edification of the Church. We are all called to turn from sin, to study to show ourselves approved unto God, to love the brethren.

    BTW, I love your two cents on the previous comment. Very true.

  6. “It should not be unusual to see someone growing spiritually in your church. It should be unusual when you see people in your church who are not growing spiritually.”

    Mark Dever’s 9 Marks Interview, Part 2 (about 10 minutes in)

  7. Update: Dave the “soon-to-be father” is now Dave the father. His baby boy arrived to day. Praise the Lord!

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