When I was a youngster, there was an ongoing argument about the “professionalization” of the Olympics. Americans carped that we sent amateurs to compete against professional athletes from Eastern Europe, whose full-time work was their athletic pursuit.
That complaint has largely died down, of course, now that Americans now send highly paid professionals to Olympic events. In popular usage, amateur often means “second rate” while professional means “excellent.” Both, though, are superficial understandings of the words. “Amateur” comes from a Latin word that means doing something “for love.”
An amateur athlete is not necessarily second rate but pursues excellence for the love of the pursuit, not for monetary payback. A professional, on the other hand, receives a paycheck. That may imply the professional does the task better, but it’s no guarantee. The best person at a task may be an amateur who is motivated by love. As the saying goes, “Professionals built the Titanic; amateurs built the ark.”
Putting off and on
Given the Reformation’s call to the priesthood of all believers, the church I serve, Brunswick Church, has one of its core values to “amateurize ministry.” Here’s what that means for us:
We’ve established the amateur model of ministry not so much by programs but by a comprehensive understanding of who we are as the people of God. The first specific emphasis is a “putting off.”
We de-emphasize titles and avoid using words that suggest divisions in the church. For instance, we have dropped the words clergy and laity from our vocabulary. Saying “lay people” is really saying “people people.” As an adjective, the word lay mainly suggests a second-class ministry.
Clergy words had to go, too–titles like Reverend and Doctor simply aren’t needed. We have no parking places reserved for pastors or staff; rather the pastors park in the spaces farthest away. Officers are encouraged to do the same. We removed the “throne” chairs from the platform. And on church retreats, pastors pay the same fees as everyone else.
The second emphasis is “putting on”–what we honor in congregational life. In our preaching, for example, we interview people, highlight stories from the marketplace, and make work-related applications. The pastoral prayer each week includes an intercession for a segment of the workforce, often informed by local or global events. The closing of every service features these words: “Together we are the ministers of Jesus and his good news. Each one of us is called, gifted, and commissioned for royal service. Let us enter the new week ready to minister in our homes, our neighborhoods, our schools, and our places of work.”
The spadework for every sermon is not done by a pastor alone, but by a small group in which non-staff participants outnumber the staff. The one who will be preaching speaks the least and takes the notes. This happens four to six weeks before the worship service, allowing time to flesh out fresh ideas.
Among the key questions are: What does this passage of Scripture say to the seeker, the growing disciple, and the disillusioned believer? What are the marketplace implications of this truth? Our Sunday morning worship has true amateur input; it’s not left to professionals. The results are more honest preaching and more responsive worship.
When people see their paid leaders–the professionals–acting like amateurs, they start acting that way too. When the authorities said in Acts 17:6, “These people have been turning the world upside down …” they were referring to Jason and some unnamed believers–no doubt, amateurs.
Harry Heintz is pastor of Brunswick Church in Troy N.Y.
*This article originally was published in Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal, summer 1999 issue. Used with permission.