Collaborative Priesthood In A Nutshell
God's Original Intent
The story of God's people has multiple plotlines. One of these is God's plan for us to function as a kingdom of priests.
od’s intent has always been for his people to live lives that were distinct from those around them, and one of the earliest mentioned distinguishing characteristics was their identity and construct as a collaborative community of priests under his direct authority and leadership.
Yet they did not want to be set apart from the surrounding nations in this way. Instead they sought to imitate them. They wanted a king like everyone else. They wanted a dynamic leader to oversee the nation, to subdue their enemies and to resolve their conflicts.
By comparison, a shared priesthood walking in the presence of God, with all of its nuance and responsibility, seemed like hard work! Interdependence would require humility and vulnerability, and these, too, seemed like hard work. Not to mention the awkwardness of a theocracy with an invisible king! How would they explain that to the neighbors? So the Jews negotiated with God and got their king.
Ironically, under King David’s rule, God’s original plan for a distinctive people found glorious, if fleeting, expression. The entire nation moved past the protocols of Moses’ era and briefly brushed up against God’s tangible presence in David’s makeshift tent. A thousand years before Jesus split the veil of the temple and gave every believer unlimited access to God’s presence, a generation of Jews engaged in worship as a community of priests!
One of the great accomplishments of God’s redemptive work in the cross was the ordination of every single believer into the priesthood, with the blood of Jesus sealing each certificate of appointment. So, when the worship gathering is described in the New Testament, every attendee comes as a priest, with the very real expectation of being able to contribute.
However, this type of worship gathering did not last for long. Within a few hundred years the church had moved away from the warmth of a “hospitality” environment into the formality of a cathedral. One man performed the ceremony in a language that few understood. Everyone else observed. Functioning as a collective priesthood continued to be a struggle.
At the end of the middle ages, the pendulum started swinging back with the translation of the bible from Latin into the layperson’s native tongue. More Christians were better able to engage intelligently in ministry – not just the elite. The resurgence of the singalong song, in the vernacular, soon followed. Believers could now join in the worship! For several hundred years, the promise of the priesthood of believers rode on the back of the Reformation with the various movements building infra-structures to intentionally include more believers in the ministry.
In the early 20th century, the “Holy Spirit” movement took this promise one step further by re-introducing spiritual gifts that had gotten lost along the way, thereby opening up more avenues for “priestly” service - in the manifest presence of God.
But sadly, the irony of the worship movement of the last fifty years is that we have taken somewhat of a step backwards in this regard.
The movement started with the innovation of the “worship leader” in the Sixties.
Then, in the Seventies, worship became a musical genre and the worship music business was birthed.
In the Eighties, the seamless worship set was introduced and became the de facto worship format, liturgy reinvented.
In the Nineties, the worship leader evolved into the worship band, the genre morphed into “arena rock”, and we saw the emergence of the worship celebrity.
Over the last decade, these elements have all been cemented into the highly produced worship service.
In the process, we have moved away from the distinctiveness of a “common” priesthood, with worship looking more and more like other forms of entertainment popular in our culture. We have pumped up the production to the point that there is very little opportunity for layfolk, the commoners, to contribute other than being "the audience". Corporate worship can, at times, resemble the middle ages, when the entire proceedings rested on the shoulders of one person, the priest.
It’s time for the collaborative culture of “the priesthood of believers” to be restored as the ecosystem for kingdom life, and consequently the framework for worship and ministry.
Step number one is to virally spread this idea in every nook and cranny of the church, spurred on by Victor Hugo's famous quote: "There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come."