Deep Clericalism: avoiding judgmental axiomatics


Over the years there has been deep seated suspicion of priests and church pastors/ministers, and much of it warranted I'm sure. Anti Clericalism is not new, and it is alive and well today. Many from previous church formations are ideologically opposed to paid pastors/clerics and you can find plenty today from emerging church streams.

I want to suggest that continued anti-clericalism, will not produce better leadership for our churches, old and emerging. Within the framework and values of Deep Ecclessiology and Generous Orthodoxy, a view that the Emerging Church is a context all churches are facing together, something more constructive than the axiomatic of geting rid of paid staff, is needed.

I'm not keen on the word cleric, but I will use it in it's broadest sense, to represent church community leaders, paid and unpaid, and sketch out what a 'Deep Clericalism' might include for our emerging context.


1. Functional: Leadership should be functional and contextual in formation rather than simplistically ideological. Some contexts warrant paid staff, some bi-vocational, some mono vocational, and those will change as communities grow and change over time. What does the current missional context we are in require?

2. Flexible:We should be prepared for church leadership to evolve. The idea of being a paid pastor who does the same role in the same way, will not help our communities respond to the needs of our changing missional contexts. Similarly the unpaid leader who refuses to consider paid staffing due to ideology will hamper the growth of communities. If we remove something hampering the growth of church communities, i.e. the burden of paid staff in a small community, once that community grows, it might need paid staff, and to oppose that on ideological grounds may limit the future growth of that community.

3. Complimentary & Synergistic:The possibilities of paid and unpaid, temporarily paid, long term paid, allow for a synergy and working together of leadership structures.

4. Aspirational:We need people to aspire to leadership more than ever, to sense the call of God, and the call of God's people into leadership, in as many way as possible. We need our best people to train for full time mission, bi-vocational mission, etc. Anti clericalism can be debilitating for many reasons, in particular the pathological and judgmental undermining of people aspiring to ministry leadership.

What might that look like?

A. Life time bi-vocation: In places like the UK, that probably means a lifetime of bi-vocation, due to the small percentages of people willing to be involved in any church community. How do existing denomination and new forms of church, value, identity, train and support leadership for long term bi-vocational mission? I think this will be a needed functional norm for many years to come, yet so much of our training is aimed at the full time pastor/cleric.

B. Short Term Missions:People freed up by funding from churches, agencies, denominations, personal donors, to be able to give their time to short term missions. There is benefit in the larger church, setting people aside to research and engage in mission situations in which the communities they are in cannot fund them, and it is unrealistic for them to have a full time job for their context.

C. Bi-vocational Church Planting:There is still a place for the planting of communities that grow missionally, and reach a size where they need full time staff for support and further growth, or they may choose not to. This might be a church planter/team who transitions from being bi-vocational, into full time ministry, as the community grows. This might also entail leaders who have been bi-vocational, moving aside to allow others into full time paid positions, who are better suited to the new emerging roles of a community.

D. Full Time Ministry: We still have churches that need full time pastors/leaders, and if some of our emerging forms of churches really connect and grow with new christians, future churches will need full time staff. There is still the place for people to aspire to full time ministry, to train and be in that role for a lifetime.

...And many other forms...

Conclusion So rather than spending time and energy on being anti any form of leadership, we might attend to being open in our own contexts to the leadership needs that are required, and working alongside and supporting one another from other leadership contexts. And in doing so we might together build up the body of Christ constructively and generously, and find ways for people to aspire and experience the church leadership that God requires of us.

Some of us paid full time by churches, will need to move our of those roles, some of us unpaid will need to move to paid roles, or move aside for others to be paid, some of us will spend our lifetimes in full time church work. And many of us will need to experience the reality of all of them, and most certainly we could do with al of us avoiding the judgmental criticism of any of them.