Why The Church Fails: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD

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108 Responses

  1. Xenia says:

    Good post, Duane. You wrote:

    If the issue is that the church is unfriendly, go out of your way each week to welcome at least one newcomer, or better yet, invite someone. <<< (And the rest of the paragraph.)

    Probably the best advice ever offered here. I'd go even further: if you think your town is ghetto-looking, start picking up the trash and pull the weeds from your front yard. If you think your neighbors are unfriendly, take them garden produce and Christmas cookies. Keep you animals under control, don't play loud music. Shop locally, if at all possible. Walk in your town, smile at the homeless, receive kisses from the dogs, pray for everyone you see as you walk. We don't need permission from anyone to do this.

    So many people sit in front of their computers or TV and complain. Get up and do something! Even doing something small will lead to better things. Do like London here does: she collects school supplies for poor kids. Do like Michael does: he is like a guardian angel at the local skate park.

    At church, be the Christian you want everyone else to be. We can begin by eliminating gossip and back biting. How many churches are wrecked by gossip and malicious conversation. Just say NO. You don't need to hear it and you don't need to spread it. It is sin. How can we complain that "the church" is failing if we ourselves have contributed to the destruction of our own parish? Build up, don't tear down. This is love in action.

  2. Dan from Georgia says:

    Well said Duane. My wife and I have both been hurt by fellow believers in Churches past, as well as by believers in situations outside the church. And surely most here have had as well. How much hurt is too much? Tough question, but we don’t want to get into the habit of church-hopping. Wife and I have been having some trouble finding a good church fit here where we live in GA, which is odd because you can’t throw a rock without hitting a church. Most of our looking is the result of some offenses. I did tell my wife that no matter where we go, if we get close to people, there will be pain at some point, but again, where do you draw the line. We have to decide how much hurt is too much.

    And as posted elsewhere, in regards to the self-proclaimed spokesmen of the faith, it seems like we fight uphill with the media’s attention to the likes of Falwell Jr, Franklin, and Jeffress. It’s too bad we have to live under the spectre of people believing that that is how most Christians think, but as you said Duane, we must live being the church despite this. We may never change the public’s view of us, but if we live as the church, we just may change someone else’s life for the better and point them to the Lord.

  3. Michael says:

    It is fitting that Xenia be the first comment on this thread as she has embodied and taught us the proper way for a long time.

    Put that comment with Duane’s fine article and we have what we all claim we’re looking for…

  4. Dan from Georgia says:

    Amen Xenia.

  5. Xenia says:

    Michael, I am mostly talk and very little action.

  6. Xenia says:

    Although I do receive a lot of dog kisses…..

  7. Michael says:


    I like your talk better than that of those who claim to represent us with their speech. 🙂

    We all fall short of our ideals, but half the battle is actually having the right ideals…

  8. Duane Arnold says:


    Many thanks and, yes, you got exactly what I was trying to say…

  9. Duane Arnold says:

    #2 Dan

    It’s a struggle to find a place where you actually “feel at home” – and I think it is getting more difficult as a result of the political situation. The way that I’ve approached it is to list the 10 things that are most important to me in the life of the Church. If I can find one with 5-7 of those things, it has possibilities!

    You and your wife are in my prayers…

  10. Josh the Baptist says:

    Xenia…yes. It’s that simple, yet completely profound.

  11. JD says:

    Apparently our love has grown cold, as the Bible said it would.

  12. Duane Arnold says:

    #12 JD

    I’m not so sure that our love has grown cold, but people have been encouraged by leadership, environments, etc., to be passive spectators (apart from giving money… but that’s another subject!). We need to break out of a “spectator mentality”. I think the love is there…

  13. Dan from Georgia says:

    Thanks Duane for the offering of prayers!

  14. Xenia says:

    I think all Christians, being as they are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, have the potential to demonstrate godly love towards their neighbor and their enemies but many have been misdirected. I think given the proper leading and good opportunities, “real” Christians (and what other kind is there?) can have cold hearts warmed up. It is always a little surprising that Holy Spirit-indwelt Christians can fall for such insidious misdirection but we all fall into various sins throughout our lives, even though we know better. It’s a gradual day by day ignoring the Holy Spirit and listening to more exciting/ carnal teachers and leaders that excites the emotions but freezes the heart. But frozen hearts can be thawed.

  15. Duane Arnold says:

    #14 Xenia

    “Misdirected” is the word. As I recently said to a friend, if you’re in church on Sunday morning and they dim the lights over the congregational seating, but bring up spotlights on the “stage” when the worship leader or pastor gets up… it’s a show, it’s not church.

  16. Xenia says:

    I would like to summarize my morning’s pontifications by saying that the church fails because I fail. It is just as much my fault as anybody’s.

  17. Duane Arnold says:

    #16 Xenia

    “the fault dear friends, is not in the Church, but in ourselves”.

  18. bert says:

    How has the chruch failed Christ?

  19. Xenia says:

    bert, inasmuch as churches preach the Gospel, pray to the Lord, offer the Sacraments and so forth, it is not failing Christ.

    Inasmuch as we fail to be genuine salt and light in the world, we are failing the Lord and the world.

    The Church itself will not fail, it will endure to the end.

  20. Scooter Jones says:

    “I would like to summarize my morning’s pontifications by saying that the church fails because I fail. It is just as much my fault as anybody’s.”

    Thank you for including that addendum.

    A preacher friend of mine critiqued a sermon I gave in the church years ago. “You need to personalize your exhortations by including yourself…too many you, they, them, not enough I.”

    It was good advice, advice that I have still have a hard time applying to this day.

  21. John 20:29 says:

    good observations all… but most of you folk have been called to places of prominence and leadership… you don’t see the destructive cells within the congregations… the question is how to root out those small, usually very small, unseen clusters of housecleaners – the undercover clicks that seem to infest so many churches today
    perhaps, this is the job of us pew sitters? dunno

  22. Duane Arnold says:

    #21 Em

    It is a problem. Most cliques begin around 1) Pastor and other staff 2) Pastor’s wife 3) Musicians/Choir/Worship Leader and then go on from there… There is no sure cure, but I’ve found when authority is devolved – i.e. the regular pew sitters are involved in decisions, planning and the like, the cliques begin to break down. Too many leaders actually use cliques to control what goes on in a congregation. Bad practice in my opinion.

  23. John 20:29 says:

    #22 “Too many leaders actually use cliques to control what goes on in a congregation. Bad practice in my opinion.” … yes, i have seen this – it signals an insecure pastor to me and it does create and “us and them” atmosphere – not of leadership, but political intrigue
    society has had an atmosphere of doers and watchers for quite a long time… you had to be “worthy” to be a doer… i think i see that changing, so maybe my grandchildren will feel empowered to be participants

    … and it is spelled “c l i q u e,” isn’t it? – hate it when i do that… 🙂

  24. Josh the Baptist says:

    “dim the lights over the congregational seating, but bring up spotlights on the “stage” when the worship leader or pastor gets up… it’s a show, it’s not church.”

    I think you’d have trouble defending that one. Seems to be just a choice of style. I do prefer just regular houselights for everyone, but no way I can find that in scripture. Doesn’t seem the early church was to keen on lighting of any form. I think it could possibly be a faithful, true church, even with annoying lighting.

  25. Duane Arnold says:

    #24 Josh

    For close to four decades I’ve straddled the line between rock concerts, clubs and churches. When the house lights go down on the “audience” and tracking spots are up on the “stage”, the “show” is about to begin. There are, I believe, real theological issues in relegating the faithful to an “audience” or “spectators”. It speaks to our theology of leadership, our theology of ministry, our theology of the laity and much more. Yes, it is a style, but style often contains the substance of what is believed…

  26. Josh the Baptist says:

    “There are, I believe, real theological issues in relegating the faithful to an “audience” or “spectators”. ”

    Agreed, but the same theological arguments could have been made about preachers speaking from lecterns with everyone facing their direction. There is a lot of drama played out in churches with candles and incense, but I think that is part of their beauty. They are giving a representation to the senses, but that is a show. Its an older style show, but a show none the less.

    I agree with your idea. I would prefer less of a line between congregation and leader. I want us to all join together lifting up one voice to the Lord. But if I am asked to lead music at a church and they dim the lights, I’m not going to stop the service to tell them they aren’t a church. I am going to assume they are a church with distracting lighting.

  27. Josh the Baptist says:

    “For close to four decades I’ve straddled the line between rock concerts, clubs and churches.”

    I started that straddle in 94, myself. I have blurred those lines more often than I’d care to admit.

  28. Bob1 says:


    I disagree that a service with candles and incense should be called a show. Would you call a Catholic Mass a show, for example? Would you call other forms of liturgy such as Jewish or Muslim or Orthodox or Protestant, a show? To me, show means something more like “show business.” To provoke certain feelings from the audience.

    Drama, yes. Dorothy Sayers: “The dogma is the drama.”

  29. JD says:

    I’ve been walking down the primrose church path for over 30 years and have been despised by church leadership the whole time. So I’m not surprised that the failed church is trying to figure out why they have failed and are not finding the answer.
    Jesus never fails, I am assured of that. As for these people, I say; depart from me, I never knew you. My dog has more love for me than them. 🙁

  30. Duane Arnold says:

    #28 Bob

    I agree that there is a difference between liturgy and a “show”… after all, liturgy is the work of the people (or should be!).

  31. bob1 says:


    Yes, what you said.

    Also as I think you and JtB are saying, sometimes it is hard to make the distinctions, esp. in a lot of modern-day worship. I do think, though, that liturgical churches are less likely to go the “show biz” route.

  32. Rick says:

    Having been functionally excommunicated from a parachurch ministry 40 years ago and a church that I was once an elder in 7 years ago, I delight in and value very highly my membership in the Church Catholic. I feel superior to no one; I feel inferior to no one. I am free to fellowship with anyone who has partaken in grace, whether saving grace or common grace. When someone, or some organization, says or does something that looks or sounds like Jesus I rejoice. When someone, or some organization says or does something that does not look or sound like Jesus, I simply do not accept their words or actions.

    Conversation and invitation before judgement. Authority based in trust, not position. The only imperative is love.

  33. Rick says:

    I must add this; I find the pastures within the fences bounded by the creeds lush and expansive.

  34. Duane Arnold says:

    #32 Rick

    Your comment is simply a delight!

  35. Jean says:

    I am sad to hear that churches have failed Duane and others here. About two years ago, I left a local UMC church, because of the apostasy which is spreading within that denomination, for the Lutheran Church. I couldn’t be happier with my decision.

    I would, however, like to share something about how Lutheran Churches work, which is very comforting and I believe healthy. At my small congregation, which worships about 100 people per Weekend, we have one pastor who is given 4 weeks of vacation per year. He tends to take his vacation all at once. So one of our elders is responsible for lining up a guest pastor for 4 consecutive Sundays during the summer. He typically tries to find pastors in our general area, because we pay the pastor an honorarium, plus travel.

    This past Sunday was the 3rd of 4 guest-pastor Sundays. What we experience is the same lectionary readings (for that Sunday), the same liturgy, the same hymnal, and the same doctrine preached from the pulpit, by pastors wearing the same vestments. Although different pastors have differing personalities and oratory skills, generally they all do a fine service, are Seminary trained, and are relatively interchangeable.

    It may irritate some people reading to be thought of as “interchangeable”, but the pastor of a Lutheran church is a servant of the Word and should never be the focus of attention. All boasts are in the Lord, and all glory accrues to God. Thus, we don’t miss a beat when the pastor is away.

  36. bob1 says:


    I guess I’d see “interchangeable” as a positive value. Like you said, it keeps the focus off the individual personality of the pastor. Not that personality is all bad — after all, they’re pastors, not robots. And I’ve been in churches where the pastor’s personality was a hindrance to people being able to worship comfortably. Nevertheless…

  37. Duane Arnold says:

    #35 Jean

    It’s good to find a home!
    Again, it is not so much that the Church has failed, or failed me or us, as that we have too often failed at being the Church. My concern right now is for us to reclaim what it means to be the Church in all of our varied situations. For people like myself, it is simply a matter of finding a place where the prayers are said, the Eucharist is celebrated and people are encouraged in their faith.

  38. Captain Kevin says:

    Very well said, Duane. Thank you for the reminder that as I criticize my church, I criticize myself.

  39. John 20:29 says:

    i think for the most part most churches reflect the personality of the community they serve… if anything is failing – i don’t know that it is – it is the focus on Christ within the churches – not the focus of the doctrine of salvation or the triune nature of the 3 persons of God, not the doctrine, but the ability to make this God real and imminent or maybe better said, “eminent”
    there is absolutely nothing, repeat, nothing! wrong with fearing God, fearing eternal condemnation… but it must come out of an understanding of what the word ‘holy’ describes, not because we think that God is mean… how could anyone look at the truth of John 3:16 and conclude that God is mean… ?
    i have seen enough of the folk who attend the churches who observe a formal liturgical Sunday service to know that isn’t the answer either…
    we do live in pressing times and we congregants have a hard time focusing on the imminent reality of a holy God… ignoring or relegating Him to a pigeon hole in our life’s commerce doesn’t seem to give us much concern…
    today a hell fire and brimstone Billy Sunday would just be another show… so i’m not sure how to get us to sit down, shut up and renew our minds by learning an intimate knowledge of God, sin, righteousness and judgement …
    is the question perhaps, “do i know Christ or do i know about Christ?” is it enough to give assent to the salvation message and the worship ritual? … dunno …. maybe it all falls back on personal volition and accountability … we can’t make another Christian want to be Christ-like … or can we… lots to think about thanks to the thread and comments here

  40. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    I don’t think the church fails, and I really don’t think christians fail (in a broad sense). People’s expectations for the church are unrealistic and if you look at what Duane found on the internet under “why the church fails…” not a one of them is in the church “job description”.

    But to piggy back on Jean’s comment, I know that my former church in Orange County did much work but we did it through community groups – in other words, we did not place any value on it needing to be a “christian” work done by “christian’s.” We worked through public schools -city functions and community outreaches. We would help people do their taxes each year through a government program — and the biggest yet, we paid our taxes. People get what people get from us – that is all we have to offer.
    Now I know with many churches, it is anathema to do the church work outside of the church.

    How self centered for people with a crappy marriage to think that the church is supposed to fix it or if young couples don’t feel the warm fuzzies with other young couples that the church can fix that.

    I am very pro church and I think that the church does more good and does it consistently more often than any other institution in the US … with our own money – we don’t confiscated from unwilling others.

  41. Duane Arnold says:

    #40 MLD

    That is certainly a point of view… but it is not about the church failing us, but of many of us failing to be the church…

  42. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    Duane, this is my point. People, perhaps yourself included have s skewed view of what the Church is or what it should be doing etc and therefore judging that church folks aren’t doing it right or are not participating at the correct level.

    To me, and I will draw a circle around me to not try to influence others, if a Christian gets up to go to work in a factory for 10 hours tomorrow to support his family, He is the Church and he is doing the work of the church. I know it’s not the “churchy” stuff but it will have to do.

  43. CostcoCal says:


    So what do you do with the term “ministry” used often in the Book of Acts and writings of Paul? In every case the word “ministry” is used, it separates that work or occupation from that which is done outside of it.

  44. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    Costco, I love you but that is the saddest comment I have ever heard from you. Are you certain that the work the factory worker is not in ‘ministry’s to his family? That real ministry does not happen until he gets home and leads a home based Bible study for the neighbors?
    You have made my case. If he just came home popped a beer, sat down, caught up on the news, had dinner with the family and went to bed, he is guilty of not being the Church?

  45. Duane Arnold says:

    #42 MLD

    I don’t actually think that I have a “skewed view of what the Church is or what it should be doing”… Of course I could be wrong. On the other hand, you might have a skewed view. In either case, you seem to intentionally set aside what the thread and the article is about. That, of course, is nothing new, as you have your own agenda to promote.

  46. The Bible says, “Equip the saints for the work of ministry.” But it seems the prevailing view is to create a church with as many programs possible, so as not disappoint church consumers.

  47. Duane Arnold says:

    #46 PH

    Indeed… “consumers”, not participants.

  48. And convinced of the need to equip communers, as opposed to appease consumers,as a pastor I leave a lot of people disappointed.

  49. Duane Arnold says:

    #48 PH

    That is one of the most profound comments I have seen on this site. Thank you…

  50. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    Duane, not to make a big issue, but you said above that many of us fail to be the church and I just wanted to point out that I don’t think you have a broad enough scope of what being the Church includes. This is why I brought up the easily identifiable “churchy” stuff.

    However, living in vocation is being the Church – so if I umpire my Brandon’s little league game, because it fulfills a community need, makes players and parents happy and builds a better community, isn’t that being the Church?

    Or do we just count the number of bible studies and food ministry shifts?

    As I said earlier and have said over the years, I am pro church and I think the Church does a wonderful job – better than any other institution. Room for improvement? Sure. Worthy of scorn? No.

  51. Duane Arnold says:

    #50 MLD

    I do understand the concept of common vocation. I will, however, maintain that far too many blame the Church when the issue is really their own…

  52. MLB,

    I think we live in a day and age of considerable self-flagellation, hand-wringing and guilt-mongering. I agree with you we as a church don’t suck as much as some would have us believe. Room for learning and improvement for sure. But God’s people (at least the one’s I know) are faithfully serving at home, work and even play.

  53. Btw, I used MLB only because I saw someone use MLK a few days ago. Plus, you love baseball!

  54. When it comes to church, I sometimes want to emulate Mike Yaconelli, who often joked that he pastored “the slowest growing church in America.”

  55. Scooter Jones says:

    MLD, thank you for the vocational aspect component, it’s so easy to forget the importance of such. Me thinks that some of these formal “ministry” guys live in a bubble and do develop a skewed perspective on things.

  56. CostcoCal says:


    There is the Church. And we are the Church. Both are true.

    Give me a verse in the NT where the term “ministry” is that outside of the work in and through the Church. Not vocation. Nor career. Not in and of themselves. Now, someone can always take those things and turn them into ministry. I pray that you/we do. But simply checking into the office and punching the time clock (or whatever) is not “ministry” according to the NT. No, ministry is the five (or four) fold ministry of Ephesians 4 and found throughout the NT.

    Although if you can show me Scripture to dispute that, I am open to changing my mind. Otherwise, your comments may are sad….just not the saddest I have heard from you.

  57. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    So I have no ministry to my family through providing for them?

    Are you making the case that the apostle Paul was not in ministry while making tents? His ministry time did not begin until the 5 pm whistle blew?

    Some of you guys need to get out and get a real job to see that there is real life ministry out there away from a pulpit and a live stream video camera.

  58. CostcoCal says:

    Scripture, MLD.

    One always can take their vocation and MAKE IT A MINISTRY. Incorporate Ephesians 4 into any job, regardless of location or venue and it is a ministry. But it has to be a conscious action and decision. That does not mean it automatically a ministry. So Paul would take an otherwise secular occupation, making tents, and turn it into ministry.

    “A real job?” Okay, brother. We’ll go ahead and see what the Lord says on That Day. For you, me, or anyone. ‘Cuz that is all that matters.

  59. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    Scooter, and you have told us many ministry stories as you were being the Church in unchurchy places doing unchurchy things.

  60. CostcoCal says:

    Occupation and Ministry are not synonymous for many people.

  61. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    Costco, you are the one driving hard for a separate ministry category. I am saying that many are out there being the church in their everyday life, making a difference in this world, again, being the church, without needing to utter ‘in Jesus name’s in order to make it kingdom work – and they are not around to collect the church achievement ribbons and therefore they get counted as not being the church.

  62. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    It’s funny that even in this, what I have continually called vocation, you have relegated to occupation.
    I wonder what that is all about?

  63. CostcoCal says:

    I agree, MLD. I would also add many are out there working their tails off. They are workaholics. Others merely punch in and get by with as little as possible. Many Christians work for money, success, or feeling fulfilled in what they do. It’s even possible for a Christian to be known as a full on jerk at work. That is not ministry. So too, a pastor who is known for being a jerk, that is not ministry, either.

    So if you are doing things such as helping the poor, sharing the Gospel, praying for or even with co-workers, showing mercy, and loving the unlovable…while glorying the Name of Christ….then keep up the work of the ministry! If not, it’s merely an occupation.

  64. CostcoCal says:

    Collecting a paycheck is not as noble as ministry nor vocation.

  65. Martin Luther wrote:

    “The prince should think: Christ has served me and made everything to follow him; therefore, I should also serve my neighbor, protect him and everything that belongs to him. That is why God has given me this office, and I have it that I might serve him. That would be a good prince and ruler. When a prince sees his neighbor oppressed, he should think: That concerns me! I must protect and shield my neighbor….The same is true for shoemaker, tailor, scribe, or reader. If he is a Christian tailor, he will say: I make these clothes because God has bidden me do so, so that I can earn a living, so that I can help and serve my neighbor. When a Christian does not serve the other, God is not present; that is not Chris- tian living.”

  66. CostcoCal says:


    MLD has quoted that many times. Thank you for repeating it for us. Having said that, I ask not for Luther’s quote from MLD on this matter. I ask for Scripture.

  67. CostcoCal says:

    Okay, I am out.

    I am leaving it on that final note:

    Collecting a paycheck is not a ministry.

    Now, it’s time to watch “Better Call Saul.” A show about a lawyer. He is a Christian. And lives for himself. He connives and swindles. And he is funny. What a ministry!

  68. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    Costco, you crack me up in what you consider ministry to say that it only includes praying for or witnessing to co workers and that I began this line of thought saying that when the factory worker goes off for his 10 hour shift it is in ministry to his family.

    But perhaps I should consider you point – ministry to my family is only when I get home and say grace over dinner.

  69. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    Costco, why do you say Saul is a Christian and then define him the way you do? One day Perhaps we can discuss what is a Christian? 🙂

  70. Better Call Saul is one of my favorite shows. What episode are you on Costco? I’ve finished season 3. Poor Saul will certainly need some prayer.

    Also, had no idea I was plagiarizing MLD’s prior quotes. If I keep that up I may have to start posting as MLDD. And I’m not even Lutheran!

    So, here’s my take. Ephesians 4 has gifted people equipping other gifted people for the work of ministry, primarily for the upbuilding of other believers. Alongside this work is the call to mission where we go forth as ambassadors for the Gospel. Two projects that occupy our time, treasure and talents.

    Essentially, we are on duty at all times, whether in the church, at work, in the marketplace or around the community.

    Last thought. I am grateful for my non-church work that I did before my vocation became pastoral. Restaurant owner, oil field worker, grocery warehouseman. These past experiences help me stay somewhat tethered to the “vocationists” in our flock.

  71. bob1 says:

    I’ve seen the word/concept “ministry” utilized in the most manipulative ways, and I’ve been active in churches and parachurch groups for decades.

    If something’s a “ministry,” all of a sudden it’s oh-so-serious, almost divorced from day-to-day activities. As if feeding the poor is different, somehow, depending on whether you’re in “ministry” or not. I’ve seen Xn leaders manipulate others behind this cloud. I wonder if it isn’t similar to the RCC before the Reformation when they had their priestly, etc. “ministries, “orders,” etc., and the average poor slob, well, his life and work were secondary — didn’t count for much.

    I think the Lutheran doctrine of vocation is very valuable. Just because you can’t quote a Bible verse doesn’t invalidate it. If that were so, there’d be many, many things we wouldn’t do that we do today. The Bible was written in a much simpler time and I think we should have some flexibility in defining “ministry.” Or maybe it’s not very helpful and just creates a spiritual caste system.

  72. Eric says:

    In my previous church, many people talked about the church as ‘they’, as though they were on the outside of it. On all sides of whatever disagreement, members who would normally be considered insiders thought themselves outsiders.

  73. Duane Arnold says:

    “Some of you guys need to get out and get a real job to see that there is real life ministry out there away from a pulpit and a live stream video camera.”

    Of course there is the daily vocation of Christians in their everyday lives. There is also real ministry that takes place through the efforts and lives of all those who bear the name, “Christian”. I don’t think anyone is arguing otherwise.

    The statement above, however, is simply ridiculous and dishonors the many, many pastors/priests who are exercising real ministries of pastoral care, teaching, evangelism, etc.. If you want to talk about “real life”, try the evenings away from family, calls in the middle of the night, families in crisis, emergencies, counseling, study, budgets, lack of financial security, criticism and all the rest that goes along with a pastoral calling. The statement above reflects the prejudices of someone who obviously does not understand this calling or, as often happens, one who thinks they know better without the experience to back it up.

    Ministry is not the establishment of a caste system. It is the manner in which we recognize the gifts given by Christ to certain members of his body – nothing more, nothing less.

  74. Jean says:

    Trying to bifurcate ministry from vocation not only diminishes the “holiness” of Christian vocation, but it diminishes the work that God does for us through the vocations of our neighbors. It begins that gnostic or deistic tendency which bifurcates the “spiritual” from the “physical.”

    If you read what follows the “equipping” language in Ephesians, it is helpful to ask, “equipped for what” and “what are we equipped with”? Ultimately, what Christ equips us with through His Word and Gospel, if we listen, is faith, hope and love, through the Holy Spirit. Those play out in our love of neighbor.

    If you look at the table of duties, how spouses interact, how parents and children interact, as well as how employers and employees interact, Paul urges his churches to serve one another as to, or in, the Lord. Mundane vocations are just as “holy” as formal church work, when Christians do them sowing to the Spirit.

    Finally, equipping includes putting on the armor of God, which again is equipping us with the Holy Spirit, to strengthen us in faith and encourage us to pray.

    I think if people would take Jesus and the apostles more seriously, we wouldn’t need a publishing industry of human gurus, writing a multitude of books teaching us how to live. It’s actually not that complicated, if we will just put down our self-chosen works, listen to God’s Word, and receive His gifts in Christ.

  75. Duane Arnold says:

    #74 Jean

    Not arguing about any state being “holier” than another. There is, however, unique pastoral ministries which the Church has recognized from NT times all the way through the last 2000 years.

  76. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    Duane, there is a reason I used the limiting language of “some of you guys” vs all pastors/priests need to get a real job.

    But it is funny that I need to make the same point now for the 3rd time – I commended the factory worker for the ministry he performed to his family by going to work to support them. This is when some “ministers” objected because I was trespassing onto their ground.

    One last thing – in many environments around the american church, it is a caste system.

  77. Jean says:


    I don’t think anyone disagrees with your #75.

  78. Duane Arnold says:

    #76 MLD

    I understand the Lutheran concept of ministry/vocation – I simply do not agree with it in totality.

    Yes, ministry can be a caste system, especially if the laity allows it to develop as such…

  79. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    To Duane’s #75 I will object if he is trying to include ministry to others in that comment. In fact it seems in the bible that when the care for others did arise, the pros passed it off to the laity. Hospital calls and family interventions are not in the exclusive realm of the pros.
    I think the apostles had it right.

  80. Duane Arnold says:

    #77 Jean

    I think it is the “fleshing out” of how those ministries will now operate that is the “question of the day”. The model of the local church with a full-time pastor/staff and a relatively stable congregation seems to be slowly fading for most denominations and even some independents. I don’t have the exact figures in front of me, but among the UMC, ELCA, TEC and Presbyterians, the next five years will see a majority of pastors being bi-vocational or caring for multiple churches. We are watching the development of something new…

  81. Jean says:

    “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,”

  82. Duane Arnold says:

    #79 MLD

    You are setting up your own “straw man” to lodge an objection.

  83. Jean says:

    I have no data, other than Paul’s letters about himself and the reality of house churches, but I assume that the early church probably had mostly bi-vocational pastors. I think it can work very well, provided the pastor meets the qualifications and has a strong board of elders.

    The biggest challenge is proper theological training. Even the seminaries don’t guarantee it.

  84. Duane Arnold says:

    #83 Jean

    You are most certainly correct concerning the seminaries, that is, those that are still functioning!

  85. JoelG says:

    Great discussion. The Lutheran teaching on vocation is what’s missing in the evangelical church IMV. I know for myself it would have prevented burnout and not neglecting my wife and kids for a “more spiritual ” ministry.

  86. JoelG says:

    I should clarify that I’m not blaming anyone but myself because I loved the ministry I was involved in, but to the neglect of what? Sometimes I get the impression that if we’re not involved in some sort ministry through the church were somehow not fulfilling the mission.

  87. Duane Arnold says:

    #86 Joel

    It is very easy to get “caught up” in ministry… I think it happens to us all in one way or another.

  88. Steve says:

    A lot of talk about ministry vs. vocation; church vs secular, etc.. I’m struggling to understand the institutional church vs. the invisible church. Or possible another way, the local church vs. the universal church. All of these discussions lead me to the importance of spiritual gifts and ultimately love.

    The way I am beginning to look at this is that institutional and vocational ministry is associated with both natural and spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts in my opinion are not the same as natural abilities. I believe spiritual gifts are bestowed upon a believer by the Spirit and can just as easily be taken away by the same Spirit to accomplish His will. However natural gifts are usually with us for a lifetime although they can also be removed from us. Therefor no one can be prideful. Non believers have natural gifts but they have no spiritual gifts and can not serve the church because they are not indwelt by the Spirit. Am I seeing this correctly?

  89. Xenia says:

    If all one’s vocation involves is doing the job and taking home a paycheck, that is not ministry. Even unbelievers do that much, said the Lord.

    If one is salt and light at their job, going the extra mile, showing compassion, being scrupulously honest, being generous, never using coarse language, never gossiping, etc and proclaiming the Gospel whenever appropriate, one is using his vocation as a ministery even if they are not a minister in the sense of clergy, which is a special role ordained by God.

  90. Xenia says:

    We are reading at our house a memoir by a Greek taxi driver who really is using his vocation as a ministry. He comforts, exhorts, gives free rides, gives out Gopsel cassettes, etc. He prays for and with his passengers. He has carried paraplegics on his back…. I think in the case of Mr. Thanasi we can say he is using his vocation as a genuine ministry.

    If he just drove people for a fee so he can pay his bills, this is not ministry. Just being a decent person does not make one a minister.

  91. Duane Arnold says:

    #88 Steve

    I think Xenia is on the money with her observations. I also think there is a differentiation in terms of “ministry” and “calling”. I may have the opportunity for ministry in my everyday life, job, etc., that does not necessarily mean that I have a calling to pastoral or priestly ministry. It’s why I also have a tiny bit of a problem with the term, “bi-vocational”. In most instances, the people involved are merely working a secular job to enable them to exercise pastoral ministry… very much a matter of “tent making”.

  92. JoelG says:

    “Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”

    It would seem, according to this text, that simply working a job and minding ones business is a ministry of some sort.

  93. Duane Arnold says:

    #92 Joel

    It is certainly a witness of one’s life and values.

  94. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    “f all one’s vocation involves is doing the job and taking home a paycheck, that is not ministry. Even unbelievers do that much, said the Lord.”

    Ortholand does not recognize the ministry the factory worker is doing for his family? This is what gets me – ministry is seen only as “bringing people to Christ” or putting a bologna sandwich in someone’s face (but it only counts if you say – in Jesus name.)

  95. CostcoCal says:

    Use Scripture to back up your assertions, MLD.

    Because from what I read in the Bible, “ministry” is not simply earning a living.

    Otherwise, Donald Trump has had a tremendous ministry. Lol.

  96. Duane Arnold says:

    #94 MLD

    You are using terms – vocation, ministry, calling, etc.- as thought they are synonyms. In that LCMS considers ordination to be adiaphora, this is not surprising. The vast majority of Christians – RC, EO, Anglicans, etc. – do not use these as interchangeable terms and have a different theology of “ministry”, as, of course, you know.

  97. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    Sorry Costco – I am not in the habit of proof texting my life and ministry.
    If you want to keep making the case that the factory worker going to work is not providing ministry to his family, go right ahead. No one equated just having a job to ministry – but you do show a lack of understanding of vocation, and that is the saddest part because now you demand proof texting. As I asked yesterday, was the apostle Paul only in ministry when the 5 o’clock whiste blew at the tent factory?

    I know that you are familiar with the concept in many independent evangelical churches that lay ministry is only done either within the 4 walls of the church or under the strict observation of the pastor.

    So we differ – what else is new? 🙂

  98. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    Duane, I have not used them interchangebly at all.
    My vocation is working in real estate financing and yours is in church work of some kind.

    From our vocations, we are each capable of doing ministry to various degrees. Mine may be as little as showing up to work to show others that a Christian is faithful to his vocation and the needs of the family – or it may be bringing the whole office to Christ. In your vocation you also do similar ministry. But we both, not its both of us, do our ministry work through our vocations — unless you can make the case that your ministry is outside of your vocation.

    Other than in your mind that MLD cannot be right, where do you see anything lacking in my comments.

  99. John 20:29 says:

    #74 Jean said:
    “I think if people would take Jesus and the apostles more seriously, we wouldn’t need a publishing industry of human gurus, writing a multitude of books teaching us how to live. It’s actually not that complicated, if we will just put down our self-chosen works, listen to God’s Word, and receive His gifts in Christ.” worth repeating…

    i don’t think we realize how much this analyzing of what is ministry and how the churches fail is missing that one essential… maybe John 7:38-39 applies? doesn’t the life of Christ flow naturally if one is taking in good spiritual nourishment – feeding the soul as it were?

  100. Duane Arnold says:

    #98 MLD

    Ok, Real Estate Finance – Occupation? Vocation? Ministry? Calling?… or all four?

  101. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    Well, it is an occupation as it is employment. It is also vocation as it is the place that God has placed me for this part of my life to serve my neighbor. (in my case, I am serving my neighbor by helping them get housing so their family can live in security and free them up to serve their neighbor.
    Ministry? it is not A Ministry but it is a platform for me to provide ministry – as I said in my duty to serve my neighbor – and my family is the closest neighbor I serve.
    Calling – perhaps not in the sense of pastoral duty. Calling is one term I have not used here as I do have great respect for the pastoral office.

  102. Xenia says:

    it is not A Ministry but it is a platform for me to provide ministry <<<<

    Isn't that what I said?

  103. Duane Arnold says:

    #102 Xenia

    Exactly… as for all of us.

  104. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    Well if everyone agrees, why all the push back since my original comment at #42?

  105. Perhaps some of the confusion lies in the fact that many of our churches focus on in-house ministries/programs rather than talking with our people about their personal platform for ministry. I must admit that I get pretty stoked when I hear about the work someone from our church is doing in the community, without any church planning/involvement. In my mind, those are people who really get it. Of course, our churches have classes and events, and those need people to make them run, but a church that tries to suck every member into finding a role within the walls of the church is missing out on some great opportunities,

    As to MLD’s point about ministry to family, the one verse that comes to mind is 1 Timothy 5:8: “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” That, IMHO, seems to at least hint at the idea of providing via occupation as being a form of ministry.

  106. Duane Arnold says:

    #105 PH

    I think that I would take that verse as indicating the conduct of a believer, rather than as a form of ministry… it is the result of an occupation honestly exercised bringing benefit to the family of the worker…

    And, yes, the ministry of lay people outside the walls of the church is priceless…

  107. JoelG says:

    Here is an interesting short essay on vocations from Gene Veith that makes a good case for vocations as means through which God ministers to us.

    “On the surface, we see an ordinary human face—our mother, the doctor, the teacher, the waitress, our pastor—but, beneath the appearances, God is ministering to us through them. God is hidden in human vocations.”

    Just something to ponder….


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