clerical-collarWhen attempting to shift an existing church in a more missional direction I believe one of the topics of discussion must surround the concept of “the priesthood of all believers.” However, the concept of “priesthood” is not just a theological perspective on there being no need for an earthly mediator to God. When properly understood, the priesthood of all believers teaches us that all believers are priests, no matter what their vocation–or calling–in life might be.

A shoemaker, a smith, a farmer, each has his manual occupation and work; and yet, at the same time, all are eligible to act as priests…. Every one of them in his occupation or handicraft ought to be useful to his fellows… ~ Martin Luther

All believers have equally received the treasures which God has given, from the shoemaker to the farmer to the blacksmith. No vocation is more “sacred” than any other. No vocation is better than another. God has called all believers, without exception, to be His royal priests. “No legitimate vocation is too lowly to be the vehicle through which God will do His work.” (Charles Eastwood) 

In other words, if we understand the church as God’s agent sent into the world to participate in what He is already doing, then every member must be developed and deployed as missionaries into his or her local setting, and specifically into their vocation. In part this will mean that the church needs to be affirming and “commissioning” every member to engage his or her local mission field.

In their book, Untamed: Reactivating a Missional Form of Discipleship Alan and Deb Hirsch tell a story of how they “commissioned” the entire congregation of South Melbourne Restoration Community.

At South we took the “priesthood of all believers” (that every person is a minister and needs to be released as such) seriously. This didn’t mean that our community always lived this out, but it was a value we tried to live by (and at times used humor to reinforce). In order to drive this point home, one Sunday morning, as our community arrived for our gathering, we greeted each person at the door and handed them a two-inch-wide strip of white flexible card and a fastener. Many looked puzzled but decided to play along, wondering just what we were up to.

A short time after the service began, Al asked everybody to stand up and fasten the white strip around their necks. He then proceeded to lead the whole church through an ordination ceremony. It wasn’t quite what people were expecting, but that morning each and every person gathered at South was officially ordained into the ministry of Jesus. Once they were all ordained, they could dispose of the symbolic (and very unnecessary) dog collars and just live out their commission.