Christian Communities with No Hierarchy or Exclusive Clergy Do Exist and are Possible

church clergy

Credit: Flickr user louisa_catlover

Have you ever heard of a church that meets with no pastor, clergy, or leadership hierarchy and thought…

  • is it a cult?
  • is it a moral free-for-all?
  • is this person lying to me because there is really no such thing?
  • is this completely unorganized and chaotic?
  • is it a bunch of people that hate church and the Bible and just want to do their own thing?
  • there is no way such a thing could possibly work!

I’ve been part of a group that does meet in this way for the last 5 1/2 years.  While it can certainly be difficult at times (aren’t all relationships and communities difficult at times) it is absolutely possible.  However, few Christian communities actually achieve this reality.

Don’t Hear What I’m Not Saying

caution danger warning disclaimer

Credit: Flickr user thomashawk

I’m not saying that leadership in the church doesn’t exist.  Leadership is like the Force or the Matrix; it’s everywhere all the time.  We cannot escape it.

The keyword I’m using is “exclusive” leadership.  My premise is that the church does not need to rely on only a few exclusive members to direct, lead, or control what happens.  Rather than designating a few to handle the affairs of the church, resulting in a mostly passive group, leadership is really possessed only by Christ who leads the church through the indwelling Holy Spirit residing in each person.  Whoever is pointing the group to Christ is leading in that moment.  And by always yielding the leadership of the community to the Holy Spirit and whomever He chooses to work through, all of the saints remain on equal footing.  There is no distinct class of Christian to aspire to.  We are all simply in Christ and submitted to Him.

So leadership exists, but it is not meant to be exclusive.

A Challenging Experience to Explain

Sometimes I get the opportunity to talk to folks about being a church without an exclusive clergy.  Some folks have left “church” (by which they typically mean the institutional form) and are looking at other ways of being the church as witnessed in the New Testament.  Some are just curious what a “house church” actually is and does.  Many are wondering if they need the church at all.

complicated challenging math problem

Credit: Flickr user ajc1

Most of the time I have great difficulty convincing people that meeting and living together this way is possible.  I’ve been in conversations with people wanting to know “where I worship at” (Christian code for which “church” building I go to) and when I explain meeting together in a home and living together without exclusive leaders they literally tuck tail and run.  It’s a great conversation killer!

In other situations I’ve met with folks who are very interested in organic/simple/house church, but when I describe meeting together without designated leaders they shy away and end up falling back into the church shopping merry-go-round looking for something they deem better than whatever they left behind.  Not only that, they write-off organic church without even giving it a try.

God’s Church Isn’t About Your Needs, But You are an Essential Part of God’s Church

Why does God want or need a church, anyway?  What is it all about?

This question really needs to be looked at from God’s perspective first.  Does God want a church, and if so, why?  Unfortunately, for many Christians the need for church has generally become more focused on what they want to get out of it.  I want to be spiritually fed and nourished… I want classic music… I want modern music… I want this or that version of the Bible… I want men to be in charge… I want women to be in charge… I want such and such for my kids… I want a church that focuses on [fill in the blank].  And many churches feed this mindset by offering flatscreen TVs as door prizes, catering to celebrity guests, and generally creating a country club type of atmosphere.

I do believe that God desires a church, He desires you to be part of it, and He does want to meet your needs.  However, the reality is that your needs are not met through typical church “things” like those listed above; your needs are met in Jesus Christ alone.  When we look at things through the divine lens, all we see is Jesus.  He is the answer and the key to everything.

Getting The Right Answer Requires Asking the Right Question 

“We thought that we had the answers, it was the questions we had wrong.” – Bono

Unfortunately, the common form of church around the world (buildings, special clergy, pews, sermons, programs) is often just accepted as a matter of fact, and thereby is often left unchallenged.  This is changing today as more and more people are walking away from the institutional form of church and challenging assumptions that have been passed down through many generations.

This raises many questions.  A common question for those disenfranchised with the church but who still maintain a desire to follow Jesus is, “do I need church at all?”

I believe the answer is “yes”, a Christian does need a church to be part of, and as I said above, I believe God longs for you to be part of it (or more correctly, her).  Of course there may be times that this is not possible due to various circumstances or seasons of life, but it generally makes sense that those who share in the life of Christ would assemble together and support each other as much as possible.

Answering such questions requires us to get to the root of the issue.  These questions will help us get there:

  • Why did God create in the first place?
  • Why does God want a “people” in the earth?
  • Where did the “church” come from?
  • What is a church really supposed to do?
  • What does a healthy church look like?
  • Why do I need to be part of a church?

I plan to work through these questions in the next few weeks here on the blog.  I hope that in the end you will see that it can be healthy for God’s people to live and function together without the need for exclusive leaders or hierarchies.


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4 thoughts on “Christian Communities with No Hierarchy or Exclusive Clergy Do Exist and are Possible

  1. yes I look forward to these posts—I am currently meeting with a group of people that have no pastor or pews and we do not pass an offering plate and we are not on a time schedual.—but I guess we could use some spelling lessons!

  2. Well, I am glad to have found your page via Google. I was bought up a Catholic. I loved the life and teachings of Jesus, but not the Catholic church’s angle on it. I now live in a small village, and throughout most of my life I’ve been a bit confused about what is the right thing to do with regard to going to church, because Jesus tells us to pray alone and keep it brief with the Lord’s prayer, which I have, but then later on, I get the impression he wants us unified. I just went to a service at the local village Anglican church. It was pleasant, and the people there were loving and friendly, but everyone sits in rows looking at the vicar again, there’s no exchange between those gathered. Not in a meaningful sense. No room for growth but a formula that’s virtually identical to that of the Catholic mass. I just feel the need for a real connection. I find that in the world there’s a lot of anti Christian feeling, and posts on facebook claiming that it stole Easter which should be about sex worship and such like. There are some pagan beliefs that are good, such as a reverence for nature which seems to be sadly lacking in much of Christian teaching, so I can understand the misunderstanding. Plus, it appears that all Christians are now being tarred with the same brush as it’s worst examples, such as George Bush, and are considered to be backward creationists. I just feel totally alienated from every angle. Plus, I can’t drive, so I’m limited in my exploration, so I hope that I find your church to be a place where I feel I can at be at home and hopefully be a small part of it. Thank you! 🙂

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