by Dave Miller
The Apostle Peter reached back to the ancient identity of God’s people when he wrote:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. - 1 Peter 1:9-10, CSB
The link between God’s people in the Old Testament, the nation of Israel, and God’s people in the New Testament, the faithful in Christ, runs straight through God’s purposes. Namely, proclaiming the greatness of our God. Peter calls God’s people a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s possession. For thousands of years, in reality since the first humans, Adam and Eve, God has been demonstrating his greatness and choosing people who will walk in obedience with joy to that end. These people he calls priests of the King and sets them apart as holy. In Peter’s words, this identity makes us who we are. We were once not a people, but now we are GOD’S people.
The rights, responsibilities, and privileges that come with being God’s people is eternally significant in every moment. When walking in the Spirit, we bring to bear the whole of the kingdom and our King, Jesus, into every idle and active moment, every relationship, every plan, every dream, and every response. The praises of Him who brought us out of darkness into His marvelous light flow as springs of living water to a barren world. But what happens when a priest starts walking according to his own spirit and way?
We of course want to keep the rights and privileges in the middle of our man-made chaos. I have often asked self-proclaimed believers in Jesus this question, “If Jesus wasn’t in heaven would you still want to go?” Yes, is the answer more than I care to admit. We want the kingdom with as little interference of the King as possible. The result? Lives that have a form of godliness but deny its power. In a word, consumer Christianity.
The first thing to go in a self-focused version of christianity… responsibility. Position in Christ comes with responsibility to the purpose of Christ. There is no separation. As Dallas Willard wrote, “Grace is opposed to earning, not effort.” The heart of the issue is our view of the kingdom. For many, the kingdom of God is an eternal idea that begins once we die, enter eternity, and enjoy the comfort we deserve because of our faith in Jesus. Jesus challenges this thinking. He said in John 17:3, “This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and the one you have sent — Jesus Christ.” He also describes the kingdom in Matthew 25 as the master rewarding the responsible servants upon his return with more responsibility and the accolade, “Well done good and faithful servant.” At the same time the irresponsible and lazy servant was sent away and what he clung to was removed. I do not think we can honestly read the New Testament, even the Gospels, and hold to an idea of a priesthood expecting rights and privileges without also faithfully stewarding the responsibility. Our value is not in God’s need for us, our value is in our need for God.
A seismic culture shift is required for the Western church to live out the priesthood of all believers on a majority scale. Both in terms of leadership and in terms of laity. An empowerment culture must replace a hierarchical culture. A few simple comparisons will help demonstrate a little of the difference.
The matter comes down to trust. Will leadership in the church trust the Holy Spirit and the Word of God in the people of God, train and equip them to face the challenges of a dissonant world, and release them to use their knowledge, experience, and motivation as they respond to God’s invitation to the work in their life? The simple idea of a church coaching and equipping the Spirit led agendas of their people instead of creating the agenda and recruiting to the cause invokes hyper-ventilation at the possible ensuing chaos. But, I ask the question, if the people of God were trained to listen to the voice of the Spirit, seek truth and direction from the Word, recognize their gifts, and look to leadership to overcome fear and barriers, what would the kingdom expansion look like? An explosion of too many inroads and expressions to count.
Alan Randolph wrote:
“For empowerment to succeed, leaders must take a leap of faith and fight the battle against habit and tradition. For example, most [leaders] continue to define empowerment as ‘giving people the power to make decisions.’ Perhaps this misguided definition explains why so many [organizations] have difficulty engaging the minds and hearts of their people. Defining empowerment as ‘the manager giving power to the people’ still regards the [leader] as controller and miss the essential point: namely, that people already possess a great deal of power—power that resides in their knowledge, experience, and internal motivation. We prefer the following definition: Empowerment is the creation of an organizational climate that releases the knowledge, experience, and motivation that reside in the people.”
Taking a quote from a secular leadership book brings up old arguments about bringing the world into the church, instead of the church into the world. But keep in mind, it may be that the business world is discovering, through the fruit of Christian leadership examples, the truths built into human existence by our Creator. Biblical principles still work outside of the church, otherwise the fragrance of Christ would never affect culture on a broad scale. That being said, leaders who recognize the latent strength of the Holy Spirit and Word-centric priests of King Jesus can release the church and the gates of hell cannot overcome them.
But you, priest. Yes you. The believer in Jesus who fears failure, hesitates at responsibility, and lacks the gusto we see in the lives of New Testament examples. You must change your culture too. The kingdom needs the latent kingdom DNA deposited in you when the Holy Spirit made you new. You are part of the chosen race, you are a contributor to the royal priesthood, you must collaborate with your holy nation, you are God’s possession.
The price of empowerment is sharing risks and responsibilities. The weight of failure cannot be shirked, it will become yours. The pastor can no longer be blamed, while you cling to your rights and privileges. The kingdom is not somewhere your go, it is your people. God’s people. The work of the kingdom awaits your engagement. Find a mentor who will disciple you through the process and become one who brings your knowledge, experience, and motivations to bear on this world for King and kingdom!
If COVID has taught the church anything, at the least I hope it is being used by our Lord to teach us this: Plans are in a man’s heart, but his steps are directed by the Lord. If I can’t even successfully control my plans, how am I as a leader, going to confidently take ownership of others plans as well. The is an anxiety pit for everyone involved. Instead, leader and laity, flatten the hierarchy and steps into the identity of priest. Look to those who have experience to sharpen how you steward your responsibility, but by all means, do not not give it or let it be taken from you.
Until there's #NoPlaceLeft...