I personally know a lot of clergy and ex-clergy. If you include missionaries in that category, which I do, I know a whole boatload more. I lived and breathed in that world for over 25 years. One of the tendencies I’ve noted among those of us who are, or were, in the clergy is the propensity for getting our personal identity from our title or position. This often ends up causing spiritual and emotional problems for us.
There is a particularly dangerous perk when one is a member of the titled clergy. It is the perk of unearned reverence or respect. Usually one is introduced as, “This is Pastor So and So.” Or, “this is What’s Her Name, she’s a missionary.” Of course the not so subtle subtext on this introduction is, “so treat with reverence and respect their opinion on all things religious.” In some circles the clergy even have special uniforms so that people will know who they are, otherwise their opinions might be treated as average and mundane.
In my particular case, when I was ordained, I had a special friend who addressed all my letters to Rev. Ross Rohde. This was 30 years ago when letters actually existed. I was actually introduced to people as Rev…you get the picture. Have you ever stopped to think how ridiculous the title Reverend is? Literally it means this is a person to be revered.
Revere: to show devoted deferential honor to: regard as worthy of great honor.
Should we have a special class of people who are treated deferentially? I’ll let Paul answer that question. On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. (I Cor. 12: 22-25)
It should come as no surprise that being treated reverentially can go to our heads. For a few it is an intense adrenaline rush. For most, it is an unnoticed, unconscious, tacit problem that still deeply and negatively touches our ego. Those of us placed in this revered category, whether we like it or not, end up subconsciously playing the role. We are quick in any religious discussion to share our opinions. We are all too prone to dominate the agenda. We feel that others should respect our experience and position. Let’s face it, its fun to be a big shot, or at least the biggest guppy in the mud puddle. If we become aware of our ego issue, we try to hold our tongue, to sit on our hands…but it’s tough, real tough.
But here’s the even more devastating problem I’ve noticed. What happens when one is no longer a member of the clergy? What happens when your identity has been stripped away? What happens when the people who were calling you Reverend, fire you? What happens when the Reverend has to become an insurance agent to survive? That can be an incredible blow to one’s identity. The clergy are just as much victims of the clergy/laity system as are the laity. Both end up getting wounded by it.
Here’s the truth, whether we like it or not, a godly plumber is no less holy than a godly bishop. Popes or pastors have no more or less access to God than we do. God’s calling to be a waiter at the coffee shop is every bit as sacred as being called to the dangerous streets of Mogadishu. It might even be more strategic for the Kingdom. My cousin is called to be a cheese maker. I don’t doubt that calling in his life, nor does it make me, a twenty-five year veteran of overseas missions, any holier than he is. We both love Jesus and are obeying our calling from our Lord. Isn’t that enough?
The issue isn’t one class of people being more holy than another. It isn’t a matter of one calling being more special than another. The issue is obedience to the calling Jesus has called us to? Are we continuing to become the people he wants us to be? Let’s not get our identity from making cheese or being a denominational executive. Let’s just be identified by who lives in our hearts and minds.
- Are all callings life time callings? Can God call someone to be in full time ministry; then have what some would consider a menial job? Are they less of the person they always were?
- Where do you think this division of status came from? I can assure you it doesn’t come from the New Testament.
- Is there still room for special respect for those who have demonstrated godly maturity and wisdom? Is an auto mechanic or a full time mother any more or less likely to be spiritually mature and wise than a full time minister? Can’t being a full time mechanic or mother be full time ministry?
- Have you ever known non-clergy who were deeply spiritual and wise? Have you ever known people in professional ministry who shamed the name of Jesus with their behavior?
 I don’t believe in ordination any more since it has no support biblically. But, like everyone else, I was fitting into the system I knew.