Do We Believe in the Priesthood of All Believers?

Activating the body of Christ starts with release and calling

Brian Sanders

As leader of Tampa Bay, Florida-based the Underground Network, Brian Sanders has seen the fruition of his conviction that people (not buildings, budgets or leaders) make up the church. The Underground is a fellowship of 150+ micro-churches with the larger church expression serving the smaller. The church mobilizes, resources and empowers these groups, as individuals (instead of Sanders or other leaders) start and lead these fresh expressions of faith reaching into every corner of society. Over the last 18 months, Sanders has been part of the small group of Level 4 and 4+ leaders that Exponential has collaborated with to identify and define characteristics of a Level 5 multiplying church. In this guest post, he focuses on the potential impact of unleashing and empowering the priesthood of believers and the vital need to help people discover their calling. In addition to this post, check out the multiple resources from Exponential’s family of leaders (Alan Hirsch, Dave Rhodes, Will Mancini and others) focusing on personal calling

How can we talk about multiplication of the work and life of the church (then or now) without considering again this one profound idea?

Of all the gifts Martin Luther gave us, I wonder if there’s one more precious than the restless idea of the priesthood of all believers. How radical for Luther to consider the uneducated congregants of his era as his equal in ecclesial significance.

This is such a staggeringly important notion—that all who trust Jesus are called to mediate the sacred things of the church: the gospel, the body, and the presence and blessing of Jesus.

How can we talk about multiplication of the work and life of the church (then or now) without considering again this one profound idea?

Over the last 10 years of our Underground experiment, I have become convinced of this one idea: that all are called. If this idea became an organizing principle, the church would invigorate the people of God and stir up the gifts of God so profoundly that mission would be as ubiquitous as sin. I’m not saying we would win everyone, but I do think we would be everywhere people needed to be won.

People Crave to Know and Unleash Their Calling

In my experience, people believe in personal calling. In some small way, they also believe in the idea of the priesthood of all believers. They’re just cut off from it practically. It’s a strange irony that a church model built on giving consumers what they want has so badly missed the felt need of so many of its people. People want to know their calling. I have to wonder, then, why we have such a conspicuous absence of church programs to help people discover their calling. Bottom line: If we believe in the priesthood of all Christians, we’re not showing it.

I’ve come to believe that churches (consciously or not) don’t want to make that move because they’re not ready to respond to what it would produce. To allow people access to this kind of empowerment (the voice of God) is to unleash an almost un-leadable group of people. It’s taking the first step in sending everyone out the door and away from serving in established church programs. With that come the loss of people’s time and perhaps most disconcerting of all: their money.

This kind of “send and release” is, of course, exactly what we as leaders of the Church should be hoping for.

Once people feel called by God to serve and see the Kingdom come in a place outside the walls of the church in a very real sense, the church loses them as laborers. When people discover their calling and begin to serve outside the walls of the church, they are no longer as available to work in the parking lot, sing on the worship team or set up chairs for Sunday service. Perhaps churches and their leaders have not helped people discover their calling because they know it will be the end of their world as they know it. Nevertheless, people crave to know and walk out their calling.

The future of the church depends on it.

Reconsidering Calling

Priests are called. In ordination, they are, “called to be a priest forever.” It is a gift of identity given to the priest and service to the world. After all, calling is the intersection of two things: intimacy and mission.

On the one hand, we want to hear God speak to us personally. When God calls me, He uses my name. Consider the implications of that. It means He knows me. He wants me.

When I call for one of my kids, I expect them to come. Occasionally, the one who hears me shouting is not the one I’m calling, but they feel an obligation to relay the message: “Dad wants you.” This is the first and most beautiful implication of calling. The Father wants you. He calls because He loves, knows and has something for just you. It staggers the mind and fills the heart. This is part of why people need to know they’re called—because mission must begin with that moment of being known and loved.

Even Jesus, who was secure and sufficient in a way we can’t comprehend, apparently needed this first kind of calling. At His baptism, he heard the voice of His Father affirm, “You are my beloved son.” Before He embarked on any mission, this calling was in place.

We want and need God to speak to us personally, but likewise, we want to know our purpose. We all carry this sinking suspicion that we were made for something. That life is not without meaning and that God has created each of us in His own image to also create and build. We know (or at least hope) that there is some task we alone are called to accomplish—something that will give us eternal purpose and satisfaction.

Even in secular vernacular, the word “calling” is used this way. To find one’s calling, they say, is to find the thing you’re uniquely good at. It is work that comes easy or gives us the greatest sense of significance and fulfillment.

The Substance of Our Priesthood

This connotation of calling is about finding our unique place in the mission of God. He is calling forth His Kingdom, and we’re not just meant to pray that His Kingdom would come, but to live toward that end. We, each of us, has a place in the ushering in of that Kingdom and the speeding up of its coming. Nothing else in this world will give us the same joy sustenance or satisfaction than identifying and walking out our calling. It’s what Jesus called His “food” to do the will of the Father who sent Him, and to finish the work God sent Him to do (John 6:38). It is the substance of our priesthood.

The degree to which we have personally and collectively ignored it is the degree to which we have degraded our own lives and disabled the Kingdom. Our calling into this priesthood (in whatever form it takes) is the fulfillment of our craving for both intimacy and mission; it is personal, and it is social. It is a journey inward and outward. Calling is where the love of God for me and the love of God for others overlap.

You want to know how to get people close to Jesus? You want to know how to get people on mission and to see the church multiplied? Embrace the priesthood of believers and help people hear His voice calling them for what they alone were created to pursue.

Brian Sanders is the founder and executive director of the Underground Network, a new form of church designed and empowered for mission. A serial entrepreneur, Brian has helped to start hundreds of missional enterprises, including churches, non-profits, and businesses all over the world. Based in Tampa, the Underground now has movement hubs in 10 cities and five countries.

 As one of 100+ leaders teaching workshops at the upcoming Exponential East conference in Orlando (April 24-27), Brian Sanders will be talking about imagination and mission and the suffering inherent to church planting. To register for this gathering of 5,000+ church-planting leaders, go to