We're one week away from the Richmond Marathon. Am I ready? In one sense it doesn't matter if you're ready. You just give it all you've got that day. As odd as it sounds, I know I'm ready for a race when I begin to question if I'm ready or not. The closer you get to a marathon I think the magnitude settles in and you begin to get a healthy fear/respect for the distance. I feel energized and pumped. Today is my last long run before race day. I've definitely learned many lessons from my previous marathons. I feel thankful and blessed that I've been able to finish this training block without pain or injury.
One of the reasons I love the marathon so much is, frankly, the people. Your fellow runners, even the so-called elites, are just normal, everyday people like you. And in the marathon, everybody gets to play on the same playing field, from the fastest of us to the slowest. I think there's an application to the church. (You know me, always trying to find spiritual applications!) I truly believe that the institutionalization of the church has become its greatest weakness. I know this is a harsh judgment, but it must be faced. So many of us have not been enlisted for our mission (to fulfil it where we are) or adequately trained for it. Only the full ministry of all Christians can fulfill the Lord's Great Commission.
In the ministry of all believers, Christianity has an old prescription for a modern malady. The question is: Will our churches take the medicine? All Christians are sent to our generation to infect all of society with the liberating, saving, ministering power of the gospel. This is not a new doctrine but the recovery of the teaching of the early church. This cannot be achieved in a formal church service but it can be awakened there. The development of a ministry of the "laity" is therefore essential. Self-identification with Christ's mission, nothing less, is the goal. No amount of change in the structure of our churches will have any lasting effect on the church's mission if the individual Christian does not come to a proper understanding of his or her calling in the body of Christ. All God's people get to run in this "race." All of us are to be building bridges to people. To this end, elders are teachers and enablers. Disciples are to become disciplers. The most strategic use of the eldership is the deployment of the whole congregation for the fuller exercise of every Christian's God-given priesthood. So why do we continue to identify "ministry" with clergy-status? Whoever has Christ also has ministry. Every church historian will recognize that this was the teaching of the early church.
At next Saturday's marathon in Richmond you'll find elites and you'll find normal, everyday runners. We all get to play. As amateurs, we're in it, not to win, but for the fun, the companionship, the achievement, the sense of personal fulfillment. This attitude has allowed literally hundreds of thousands of "lay" runners like me to have life-enriching experiences. I realize that I'm not cut out to be a marathoner. I more closely resemble a power-forward than a runner. But in the end, if you run, you are a runner. It doesn't matter how fast or how slow you are. There is no diploma to attain or test to pass or membership card to get. You just run. Everyone is welcome now. You already have everything you need to become a runner. It's your attitude -- not your aptitude -- that separates you from those do from those who dream.
Likewise, the universal priesthood of all believers in the church does not do away with the necessity of pastoral leadership any more than the fact that amateurs run in a marathon does away with the elite field in a race. However, the Old Testament distinction between priest and people has come to an end in Christ, our High Priest, who has made all Christians priests before God.
My point is: it's time for a return to the New Testament concept of the church, not as an uber-organized institution but as a ministry of all believers witnessing to Christ in every walk and station of life. Leaders and people in every generation need to rediscover the church as Christ's living presence in our planet, celebrating their priesthood in all areas of life. Recruiting people for this priesthood is the single most important thing I do.