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Why Every Christian Should Wear a Clerical Collar

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My older (and better looking) brother Brandon is the principal of the high school we graduated from in Mississippi. A few years ago, when my wife and I were home for Christmas, I asked Brandon what a typical day in his job is like. He went on to tell me a story about Corey, a kid who had been in and out of trouble because of drugs, theft and other things teenagers often get into.

But my brother didn’t simply administer discipline to Corey. He tried to dig into Corey’s situation and understand who he was and what was going on in his life. As Corey was coming to the end of his rope, Brandon said, “Corey, tell me one person in your family who doesn’t do drugs.”

Corey thought for about two minutes. “I don’t think my aunt does. I’m not entirely sure. I’ve just never seen her do it,” he replied.

As Brandon continued to dig into Corey’s situation, he discovered there was more to the story. Corey’s parents were using him. Since Corey was only 16, they would put drugs on him, order him to give the drugs to another teenager in the high school, who would then deliver the drugs to his parents. This was Corey’s situation.

A few weeks later, Corey got in trouble again and landed in in-school suspension. Brandon sat down to deal with Corey, who was probably going to have to be removed from school at this point. He said, “Corey, look me in the eye. Do you want out?

“Show me how,” Corey replied. “I don’t know how to get out.”

Eventually, Brandon wanted to know about a typical day in my job was like. And within three minutes of our conversation, my brother looked at me and said, “You know, I just don’t understand how what I do on a daily basis is as important as what pastors, missionaries, and seminary professors do.”

That’s hard to hear, isn’t it? But what’s harder to hear: Corey’s story, or Brandon’s comment about his job somehow being inferior?

This story illustrates a deep problem we have in the church — the deep divide between the pulpit and the pew — that should never have existed to begin with. This problem exists because we’ve bred a culture in the church that says that the pastors — the ordained among us — stand up here and everyone else sits down there.

I’m not sure that culture is healthy. To be more honest with you, I’m not sure the language of Scripture will allow it.

In Ephesians 4:11-12, Paul says that Jesus “gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers” — acknowledging a five-fold gifting of the ministry. To be honest with you, I don’t know what all five of those are and how they transfer to today. But we can at least understand that these giftings are associated with the position we now know as pastor or elder.

But Paul doesn’t stop there. Jesus has gifted these people for a reason: “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12). So Christ has gifted certain people (pastors and elders) in our community of faith in a certain way — not as an end unto themselves, but to equip the rest of the body for the building up of that body.

But here’s the funny thing about this passage. When we read of the five-fold gifting, we assume that those people do the ministry. But that’s not Paul’s language. Instead, those people have been gifted to equip everyone else.

In other words, there’s a centrality of the ministry of those who are ordained to the ministry of Word and prayer, but not a superiority.

There’s a centrality of the ministry of Word and prayer, but not a superiority.

We have to recover this distinction. The role of the ordained among us is to equip those who fill our pews, who occupy the vocations and ministries of the rest of the kingdom.

Think about the saints who sit in your pews and the ministries they have. How are you equipping the truck drivers? The stay-at-home moms? The sanitation workers? The public policy makers? The high school principals? What are you doing to help them, equip them to flex their ministry of reconciliation in God’s world?

Corey will never come to my class. He’ll never knock on my door. He’ll never walk down my hall. He’ll never come ask help from me. But for Brandon, there are dozens of Coreys that walk down his hall every day. And there are Coreys that sit across from your cubicle or come into your barbershop. You have opportunities to minister to them. It’s your calling — and part of your vocation — to do so.

To the pastors: What are you doing to equip the saints, the workers in the pews of your church to flex their ministry of reconciliation in God’s world? To the saints: When you put on the uniform of your job, whether it’s a hard hat and boots, or a suit and a tie, or an apron. When you put on the uniform of your vocation, you don the clerical collar. So, get to work equipping the saints for their ministry of reconciliation.

Dr. Quinn originally delivered this talk at Wisdom Forum 2015.

Benjamin Quinn
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Benjamin Quinn

Associate Professor of Theology and History of Ideas

Dr. Quinn is an Assistant Professor of Theology and History of Ideas. He also serves as the Associate Dean of Institutional Effectiveness for the College at Southeastern. He is the co-author of Every Waking Hour.

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