This is a question I just want to throw out there for discussion: Is Clergy Essential for Church?
Over the years there has been a lot of talk in emerging church circles about viral growth, about the limitations of institutional forms of organization and the necessity of shifting towards more organic forms of organization. If we are to unleash the exponential growth potential of the Christian movement, that is. Often in these discussions the Chinese house church movement is invoked and concepts from Malcolm Gladwell book’s, The Tipping Point,” are introduced. Concepts like “stickiness” which is, to put it crudely, basically about stripping things down so they are more easily reproducible. Along with this there is usually some rather pointed questioning about leadership, about the way clergy-based leadership structures slow things down. All very well and good I say.
But, almost invariably I find the most prominent voices in these discussions are seminary trained. They dream of more organic forms of leadership, which is commendable, but as it stands they are actually incapable of modeling it. Not through any fault of their own, mind you, but just because they are who they are, they can’t help the fact that they are themselves seminary educated, products of the very institutions they critique.
This all begs the question, with all this talk, have leaders started emerging from beyond the confines of the institution? Is there any evidence that a more organic Christianity might one day be a living reality in the old stomping grounds of Christendom? Well obviously there is some; there are people like me for starters. But the sobering reality is, while I have learned the ropes beyond normal institutional contexts, I don’t think my “theological education” has been any quicker or is any stickier in comparison.
And I find it ironic that, as a non-institutionally educated leader, it can be hard to get a word in edgewise with all the institutionally educated leaders talking about the need for non-institutionally educated leaders, though there are some, like Alan Hirsch, who can look beyond my background or lack thereof.
But it makes me wonder. In China, deinstitutionalized leadership was no option. Hell, many of the house churches there considered themselves lucky if they possessed a complete copy of the Bible, let alone seminary educated leaders. But what if they had had a choice? As we do? It makes me wonder if organic church can thrive in the shadow of institutional church, or whether institutional collapse is a necessary precondition, and that short of that it will struggle for legitimacy. It also makes me wonder to what extent non-clergy leadership should even seek legitimacy.