One of the characteristics of modernity, according to Anthony Giddens (The Consequence of Modernity, p. 27), 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.” These systems and experts allow the layperson to trust in the system and the expertise of the professional and thus stand apart from or live without intimate knowledge of huge areas of life. So, whether the professional is a lawyer, doctor, or counselor, we trust the expert knowledge of that professional without question.
It is obvious what this modern mindset has done to church life and missions. Along with areas such as medicine, law, and psychology, ministry and missions have been professionalized. Church and missions have developed a special body of knowledge that only the initiated and professionally trained can access and utilize. And thus, the work of ministry and missions has been entrusted, or relegated, to the professionals. The laity, in turn, go to school, marry, work, and play in the world, at a distance from the church, as experts in other areas 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 become abstract systems to the majority of those in the church. Theology, missiology, and pastoral care are areas of technical and theoretical knowledge for the few rather than the confessed and practiced conviction of the whole.
Second, lay people in their deference to the expert are given permission to disengage from ministry and missions. Because ministry and missions require expert knowledge and special credentials, the laity feels incompetent or unqualified to serve.
Third, and this is the crucial point, the work of the farmer, schoolteacher, and dentist become distinguished from the work of ministry and missions. The domains of ministry and mission are placed over against and above other domains, and judged as different and separate vocations. Thus, while one is the work of God, and the other is just work.
Instead of professionalized systems that restrict knowledge of and participation in the mission of God, the expansion of ministry emphasized through the biblical teachings of soul competency and the priesthood of all believers must be underlined. Instead of the faithfulness of only a select few, each believer needs to see his or her work as the work of God. Explanation and demonstration of a vibrant theology of work in which gifts, talents, and vocational callings of the whole body are affirmed and employed in the mission of God must become the main vocation of the religious professional.
In order for the church to be faithful in the late modern age, men and women in local congregations need to find their voice in the world. They must see their labor, sweat, and effort within the marketplace, classroom, business, field, or clinic as the work of God, and not over against or contrary to it. Witness and service in the present, late modern age must be more like a chorus of voices, singing various parts, than a solo sung by a professional.
Questions that I am asking myself …
- Is there a place for the professional minister and missionary? If so, then what should his or her main task be?
- Should there be more emphasis place upon and credence given to the ‘bi-vocational’ minister?
- What are the essential components of a theology of work?
- What would happen if everyone in my local congregation saw their vocation and work as central to God’s mission?