Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Is Hierarchy in the Church Ethical?


The above cartoons are by David Hayward, known on the internet as nakedpastor. I think they’re funny at first rub, but they also carry a biting sarcasm with them.

What do these cartoons say about church leadership?

What do they say about the church?

Why do you think the artist drew these cartoons?

Certainly these cartoons do not satirize all churches and pastors, but rather a certain kind of church and a certain kind of pastor. However, I think the satirized and non-satirized churches and pastors have something in common, viz., hierarchy.

I think hierarchy is unethical in the church and I want to discuss this issue with you all. I know everyone thus far has done all of the talking in their presentation, but I such a format would undermine my vision. You see, if I do all the talking, you might interact with my thoughts, but you won’t interact with me; there will be no dialogue, only monologue. When I do all the talking, I rob you of your voice. I silence you. I see the role of pastor—not pastors, per se—as silencing the laity and rising to a position not just of authority, but privilege. The hierarchy in the church creates an inequality between the members of the body of Christ.

At least, I see the hierarchy that way. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. I would like you all to think about the chain of command in the way we do church.

Can we have hierarchy with equality?


Brian McLaren, a Christian author advocating change asks, “What do we do about the church? What future should our local congregations, our denominations, and the Christian community at large pursue? What are our primary, essential functions? How will we cope with the many changes we face?” McLaren raises the issue of transition. How do actually go about changing if we think the hierarchy is wrong? We can’t step into a position of power and exert authority, because we would undermine our agenda. Instead, somehow, we need to have our convictions and carefully subvert the authority by empowering the laity, by listening to the voices the hierarchy silences.

Think about your church for a moment.

If you are not a pastor, do you feel like you have a voice in your church?

Who amidst your congregation do you believe is silenced by the hierarchy? Is it based on gender? Age, whether young or old? Sexuality? Economic status? Education? Will your congregation listen to anyone who has committed certain actions perceived of as sins?

Can you believe everyone has a role in the body of Christ, but not be willing to share yourself with them and allow them to share themselves with you? Can we believe in equality, but refuse to give or receive criticism from certain people?

The silenced are not the only people to be considered, of course. If hierarchy is removed from the church, current church leaders are going to be in a pickle. I firmly believe it is not my place to say who is or is not called and to what they are called. However, I question how much culture influences our interpretation of God’s call. Someone might feel called to be a pastor, but only because they only know how to equate pastoral care with the role of a senior pastor. Another might feel called to educate people on the Bible and theology, but have never seen preaching or teaching on the Bible and theology done outside of church leadership.


I cannot answer every question I raise or do not raise when it comes to changing the way we do church. Perhaps if I knew more answers, I would be more comfortable with hierarchy, but since I don’t know everything, I assume nobody else does either. I am more comfortable with group leadership—I hear a rope of three strands is not easily broken.

So, let’s reflect together. We’ve been given a model for reflection, so let’s work with the Methodist quadrilateral.


What does tradition have to say about hierarchy?

(Points to hit: orthodoxy; equality throughout time)


What does the Bible have to say about hierarchy?

(Points to hit: the Bible as tradition; culture differences between NT church and church of today; how much does the NT say about church and is it proper to think the whole NT works towards one model of the church?; Paul; Jerusalem Council; Jesus; supposedly God-appointed hierarchy and leaders in Torah and histories; prophetic questioning of authority and cultic festivals)


What is your experience with hierarchy inside and outside the church?

(Points to hit: Sunday school and small groups; businesses, jobs, teams, children, governments; deconstruction of counselor/client and teacher/student)


I already asked about hierarchy and equality. But, I wonder if anyone has anything else to share? What do you think about hierarchy? What does your reason say about hierarchy in general and hierarchy in the church?


Although some of you might disagree, I think we need to forgo church as we know it and replace it with small or “cell” groups. Instead of meeting Sunday mornings for a “service,” groups could meet based on location or time. Perhaps Sunday morning doesn’t suit a number of people, so they start a small group on Sunday night or Wednesday afternoon. Another group might meet because they all live on the same block.

They could meet in their homes. Perhaps they’ll sing songs. Maybe they’ll have communion. Maybe they’ll talk about the Bible or some other book. Maybe they’ll talk about culture and theology or plan ways to help the homeless living almost in their backyards. The people in the small group will determine what they do.

Perhaps they will support a larger group, much in the same way one church supports a denomination. This larger group could have a team of former pastors, each with different roles. Perhaps one could be a resource of biblical and theological wisdom and knowledge for groups to seek out. Certainly not every small group will have a biblical scholar in their midst and they should have free access to at least one. Another one of these resources could be a musician or two who could bring music to those groups without them. Another could be a counselor, providing group and one-on-one therapy when needed. In some areas, perhaps one person could wear a few of these hats in the way many pastors do today.

These people would not be leaders, they would be servants. They would not tell people what they should believe and do, but offer counsel when asked. They would not be the face of the church, especially since visitors to any small group might not see this person for weeks.

I think the small groups would foster a sense of equality. I think they would require less money, so Christians could spend more money on loving people instead of on themselves with pews, lights, air conditioning, lighting, and fancy clothes. The people in these environments would be more involved in each others lives and their theology—they would be a community and the body. In smaller groups, it would be so much easier to mobilize and accept others.

I’m sure I’ve left things out. What questions do you all have for me about this vision?


Bauer, Walter. Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity. 2nd (German) ed. by Georg Strecker. Trans. Philadelphia Seminar on Christian Origins. Ed. Robert A. Kraft and Gerhard Krodel. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971.

Burke, Spencer and Colleen Pepper. Making Sense of the Church: Eavesdropping on Emerging Conversations about God, Community, and Culture. El Cajun, CA: emergentYS, 2003.

Easum, Bill and Dave Travis. Beyond the Box: Innovative Churches that Work. Loveland, CO: Group, 2003.

Green, Michael. Church Without Walls: A Global Examination of Cell Church. Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster, 2004.

Harvey, Van A. "New Testament Scholarship and Christian Belief." Jesus in History and Myth. Ed. R. Joseph Hoffmann and Gerald A. Larue. Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1986. 193-200.

Hayward, David. Nakedpastor.

McLaren, Brian D. "A New Kind of Christianity: 10 Questions That ARe Transforming the Faith." The Huffington Post. 24 February 2010.

Shults, F. Leron. "Reforming Ecclesiology in Emerging Churches." Theology Today 65 (2009): 425-38.

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