The Back Story



The story of God's people has multiple plotlines, and one is God's plan to make us a kingdom of priests.


God has always called his people to live distinct lives, to be different than other people.

In fact, one of the distinguishing characteristics of the Hebrews was their identity as a community under his direct leadership and authority.


Yet, Israel did not want to stand apart from surrounding nations in this way. They imitated their neighbors instead. They begged for a king to lead the nation, to subdue their enemies, and to resolve their conflicts.


A priesthood where they all must share responsibilities must have seemed like hard work by comparison. Such interdependence would require humility, vulnerability, sacrifice.


So yes, they negotiated with God and got their king, and ironically, under King David’s rule, God’s original plan for a distinctive people found glorious, if fleeting, expression.

Can you imagine the awkwardness of a theocracy? The Jews had to explain their invisible king to their neighbors.


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. The blood of Jesus stamps a seal on each certificate of appointment. 


The New Testament describes worship gatherings where everyone was expected to contribute. Every believer came as a priest.

Middle Ages

That type of worship gathering did not last for long. Within a few hundred years the church had moved from the hospitality of homes to the formality of cathedrals. One man performed the ceremony in Latin, a language that commoners didn’t speak, while everyone else observed. For believers to function as the common priesthood was a struggle.



At the end of the Middle Ages, the pendulum started to swing as bold believers translated the Bible from Latin into the native tongues of laypeople. More Christians could read scripture and engage intelligently in ministry. The resurgence of the “singalong song,” in those native tongues, soon followed. Believers could now join in the worship! For several hundred years, the promise of the priesthood of believers rose with the tide of the Reformation. Various movements had structure that intentionally included more believers in ministry.


Then, in the early 20th century, the “Holy Spirit” movement added to this momentum by  re-introducing spiritual gifts that had gotten lost along the way. More avenues for “priestly” service opened up.


Contemporary Worship Movement


The irony of the worship movement of the last fifty years is that we have taken a step backwards. The role of a “worship leader” rose to prominence in the 1960s.

In the 1970s, worship became a musical genre. The worship music business took shape. And in the 1980s the seamless worship set came on the scene. This format reinvented liturgy and became the de facto format.


In the 1990s, the worship leader evolved into the worship band, and the worship genre morphed into “arena rock.” These developments produced worship celebrities.


In the early 2000s, all these elements have coalesced into worship services with an emphasis on polish and high production value.


Meanwhile, we have moved away from the distinctiveness of a “common” priesthood.


Worship has begun to resemble 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. They are simply "the audience".

Corporate worship in large churches can, at times, look very similar to worship in cathedrals in the Middle Ages. The entire service rests on the shoulders of a select few.



It’s time for us to restore collaborative culture in ministry. We want “the priesthood of believers” to define our worship!