Recently, I’ve heard people decrying hierarchies, particularly in the Emerging Church movement. At first, I would nod my head. As a young feminist, this sounded great.
And then I got nervous….
Let me tell you a little bit about myself. In the seventies, while I was growing up, we lived in a laid-back beach town in Florida, where almost anyone with enough charisma could become a pastor.
We had a “home church.” My father (an engineer at NASA) had an ordination certificate.
My parents switched congregations at least five times. I’ve worshiped in about every type of space: a sanctuary, a storefront, a concrete block warehouse, a metal warehouse, a coffeehouse…you get the picture. I never really became a member of most of them, because they didn’t have any membership. Membership would indicate a certain hierarchy.
I watched as a window washer became a pastor, a sales person at the surf shop became a pastor, a pharmacist became a pastor, a popular high school football player became a pastor. With no specialized education (except for the Calvary Chapel pastors, they had six weeks of schooling). In all, the only thing that qualified them was a certain something.
The movement of the Spirit is what they would say. Which I didn’t doubt. But there were also some other things they had in common: they were all young, they were all good-looking, and they were all male.
When the Spirit moved upon me at an early age, I quickly picked up on the fact that I would never be a pastor in any of the churches I grew up in.
As I got older, I realized some of the terrible things that happened in some of those churches (the same sorts of things that happen in denominational settings). There was clergy abuse: sexual misconduct, sometimes with children.
But there was no hierarchy. There was nothing that could be done about it. Sure, sometimes a pastor lost his job, but most of the time it was just covered up. If a secret got too out-of-hand, he just moved on to the next laid-back beach town and set up shop again.
It was a terrible spiritual environment.
So I left the rock-and-roll churches of my youth and joined a denomination where I could become a pastor, even though I wasn’t a handsome guy. I could go to seminary, learn theology, and make my way through the ordination process. And I could serve within a democratic form of church government, where laypeople have equal say in decisions.
That’s why I get nervous when we talk about throwing away all hierarchies. I’ve been there. It started out as exciting, but soon it became disastrous. Because without any hierarchy, there’s no accountability. And then who has all the power?