The Question of Holy Orders

Of late the church has been doing what it can to bring the ministry of all baptized to the forefront. We are, after all, members of a priesthood of all believers, something we reaffirm in each recitation of the baptismal covenant. It is important and nothing good can come of evangelism or discipleship without it. But in so doing the term Holy Orders seems to have been discarded with a goodbye note of disregard and near disrespect. I want to take issue with that. There is something extraordinary about being called by God out of the community and into a particular role received through a life profession, the laying on of hands and Spiritual anointing, which, by our tradition, places us into a line of direct physical contact with all the generations that preceded us and all the generations that will follow.

None of that means a retreat to the so-called Father Knows Best practices of former decades. What it means is that there is something of the holy that marks the ordained priesthood in a way that is not present in other offices of ministry, and that it is to be respected and honored as one sign of God’s presence among us. It also means that, whether you like it or not, ordained priests are called to be leaders in the church, and are accountable for successes and failures. Within the institution of the church, as is the case with all true leadership, it requires an ability to create conditions in which others have the greatest possible opportunity for success in their own ministries. It’s not a top-down sort of thing. It’s all about providing the knowledge, skills training, information, resources and support that others need to do well in whatever they are doing.

Suppose, for instance, that Joseph’s carpentry business grew large enough to employ a handful of others but there were no gifted craftsmen available. Could he, as leader, get quality production out of new employees who were given no training, not provided with quality tools, told to go out and get their own wood, given no information about what was happening, nor told much about whether their work was any good but always told about how bad it was? Could he make things better by “motivating” his people with slogans and nifty videos? How about some punishment? Would his situation improve if he announced that leadership obviously did not work so from now on everyone would be a leader and he would just be another carpenter, albeit one who specialized in altars, cups and plates?

Think about it.

5 thoughts on “The Question of Holy Orders”

  1. We are members of the body of Christ. The priesthood is a visible and important member that brings (if done well) particularly special knowledge, leadership, and skills. The quiet worker in the kitchen or the school is not so visible, but brings other knowledge and skills. Without the contributions of each, the body suffers.Thank God for all those who choose to be effective members of the Body by using their gifts and efforts to make the Body whole and viable on the earth. D

  2. Amen, Geezer. Thank God also for all of those of the priesthood who are truly chosen and some way or another manage to bring new ways of looking at and for God to us….in spite of themselves.

  3. There seem to be many competing visions of priesthood in the Church. The varying visions seem bound up in function. I think a more comprehensive understanding is appropriate.If you reduce the priest to CEO, you risk losing the theological significance of the role. If you overemphasize the unique nature of the call, the danger is distancing the priest from the community. I believe it to be a balance.Priesthood is different and unique, but the role is about being part of, not ruling from on high. The priest is charged by the Church and Christ to provide sacramental and community leadership faithful to the Gospel. I believe authoritarian behavior stems from insecurity and anxiety. Good leadership invites others into leadership, it is not about \”my way or the highway\”. Good leadership demands non-anxious clarity from the leader. As a priest, I wish were better at it.

  4. Here is the problem: priest (rector) as CEO is automatically equated with authoritarian, and that is a mistake. Priest as primary leader cannot be ducked, so the question is, in what way is primary leadership best manifested? The answer has been well understood by the best of management experts for a very long time, but it is hard to implement because most people who find themselves in the role of primary leader have not been well prepared for it or are unwilling to do the hard work required. I tried to capture essence of it by writing that the job of primary leadership is to do what one can to ensure the conditions needed for others to achieve all the success they are capable of achieving in their own areas of responsibility. I actually wrote a book-length piece on the application of management theory to congregational life, which, by the very nature of its subject, sounded too boring to elicit much interest.

  5. The body of Christ – all of us is a must. For me, my job in that body can be inspired and fed by the good leadership of the rector/pastor/priest-in-charge. It can also be squashed and starved by one who is inept in teaching or leading or administering the greater \”body.\” I\’ve always scoffed (some, I hope not too much – although I suppose a scoff is a scoff!) anyway, at those who selected a church by how many jokes the preacher could work into one sermon. That is not the leadership that I yearn for in a rector or a spiritual leader – he/she can keep me inspired if I\’m allowed to see that person living out their life in the best way they can according to the teachings of Jesus.The blessing of the Eucharist for me is that, if all else fails on Sunday – my pew mates, the music, the whatever, that I always have that special piece of God\’s love to take home with me.I\’ve been blessed to be in churches over my life that had leadership in both church admin of the body of Christ and in their daily lives being examples I\’ve wanted to follow – only one that comes to mind that left me totally cold and he was a leader and example for many people….or so I was told that he was.

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