One of the characteristics of modernity, according to Anthony Giddens in his book, “The Consequence of Modernity,” is the rise of “expert systems” of “technical accomplishments or professional expertise that organize large areas of material and social environments in which we live today.”
This phenomenon gives us systems and experts we can trust and benefit from without having intimate understanding of huge areas of knowledge. So, whether the professional is a lawyer, doctor or counselor, we trust the expert knowledge of that professional and their system.
It is obvious what this modern mindset has done to church life. Along with areas such as medicine, law and psychology, ministry and missions have been professionalized.
Christianity has developed special bodies of knowledge that only the initiated and professionally trained can access and use. And thus, ministry and missions are entrusted to the professionals.
The laity, in turn, lives, works and plays in the world, at a distance from the church as experts in their jobs and specialties but not in ministry and missions.
This professionalization impacts the way in which the church interacts with the world in at least three ways.
First, because of the existence of professionalized experts, ministry and missions have become abstract systems to the majority of those in the church.
Theology, missiology and pastoral care are areas of technical and theoretical knowledge only for the few, rather than the confessed and practiced conviction of the whole.
Second, lay people, in deference to the experts, are given tacit permission to disengage.
Because ministry and missions require expert knowledge and special credentials, the laity feels incompetent or unqualified and thus able to defer to the professionals.
Third, and this is the crucial point, the work of the farmer, teacher and dentist are disconnected from ministry and missions.
The domains of ministry and mission are placed over against, and in some cases above, other domains, and are judged as totally different and in some sense “special.” Thus, while one is the work of God, the other is just work.
Instead of perpetuating the mindset of professionalized ministry and missions, we must adamantly proclaim that every follower of Christ is a minister and a witness.
Instead of relegating ministry to a few, each believer must be challenged to see his or her work as ministry and missions.
From the pulpit and in conversations, the gifts, talents and vocational callings of all God’s people must be affirmed, formed and encouraged.
In order for the church to present a vibrant, faithful witness to the whole world, men and women in local congregations must find their voices. They must see their labor, sweat and effort within the marketplace, classroom, field and clinic as the work of God, and not contrary or auxiliary to it.
God’s mission is more like a chorus of voices, singing various parts, than a solo performance.
Two questions church leaders must ask the nurses, teachers, clerks and coaches in their congregations: “How has God wired, gifted and placed you for unique witness and service in his mission?” and “How can we assist in your formation toward all that God created you to be and do?”
Michael Stroope is associate professor of Christian missions and M.C. Shook chair of missions at George W. Truett Theological Seminary. A version of this article first appeared in a Kinexxus e-newsletter and on their blog and is used with permission. He blogs at mereHope.