Turning the world’s hierarchy on its head: Jesus and Hierarchy (Part 3)

We all accept that Jesus walked around in a worn out tunic, hanging out with the thieves and prostitutes, and turned power on its head. We are amazed by that, and want to imitate that. We become Christians and tell everyone that we are followers of Christ.

vestmentsThen we go about forming a congregation to celebrate our newfound joy in this man who turned power on its head. We elect leaders who rule with power. Then a few generations later we insist that each minister have a seminary degree, from a reputable seminary that has academicians who have published respected books. We insist that these seminaries have suitable endowments such that their finances are stable enough to be accredited by the proper accrediting agencies. And when the minister arrives at our congregation we want him or her to have the proper degree and to be ordained with a suitable title. And we want our church building to look respectable for the neighbors and visitors. How can we grow our congregation if we don’t look respectable, with a well staffed nursery and a suitable music ministry?

worship teamCongregation size is the supreme power in evangelicalism. That’s why almost all of the money goes to a preacher who can draw a crowd, and a building that is comfortable for visitors. The preacher’s time is spent figuring out how to orchestrate the Sunday morning service so that it will be appealing, and which programs to implement that will draw more families. All of this is the power dynamic and hierarchy of American evangelicalism. Almost nothing is spent on serving the underprivileged in the community.

Is it any wonder that when we attend church we don’t feel like we are vitally connected to Christ and His teaching? There are hardly any traditional churches that could survive if they truly heeded Jesus’ anti-hierarchy teaching.

There have always been small groups throughout the centuries that have taken Jesus’ anti-hierarchical teachings seriously. One group decided that nobody could wear fancy clothes to church, or anywhere, so that everyone would look equal. Several denominations banned the wearing of titles by church leaders, and banned distinctions between clergy and laity. Some churches really worked hard to shelter slaves that were running away from their masters, and dug root cellars that could be used for hiding slaves on the underground railroad.

Some ministries today are built around serving the intellectually challenged, the under privileged and disenfranchised of our society. In these groups it doesn’t matter if you are liberal, conservative, evangelical or fundamentalist, Democrat, Republican, Tea Party or Libertarian, Trinitarian or Oneness, Calvinist, Arminian or Pelagian, male or female, black, Arab, Mexican or white. All that matters is that you are joining the group in turning the world’s hierarchy on its head and lifting up the downtrodden of the community.


About Mark

I was raised in the conservative non-institutional churches of Christ and attended Florida College in Tampa, Florida. I served as a minister for 8 years in the non-institutional churches of Christ, and 4 years at a mainline church of Christ in Vermont.
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8 Responses to Turning the world’s hierarchy on its head: Jesus and Hierarchy (Part 3)

  1. garycummings says:

    Well Mark,
    I certainly agree here . Hierarchy is not compatible with the Kingdom of God paradigm of Jesus.
    I have been there and done that. When I first started preaching, I really wanted to be a self-supporting missionary and basically live on faith. That was set aside, as the way things were done was to become a church preacher first, get some experience, and then raise support to be a missionary. I became the preacher of a small Non-Sunday School Church of Christ. They were impressed with me as I actually had an accredited B.A, in Bible. I was one of the few, the proud and educated.

    Well in the Fall of ’69, I moved to Colorado to a small town on the Western Slope. The church was small with 4 families and their kids. One couple had no kids. I tried to preach at a higher intellectual level, as I had been trained. Then I felt called by God to preach at the local jail. One young man accused of rape got baptized by me, as well as his sister. He was found innocent of the charge and felt really reborn, he and his sister started attending. Then I baptized a runaway girl, and got her back on a bus to California to live with a COC preacher’s family. Then some of the poor in town started coming to church. I thought that God was finally moving here, in spite of my poor preaching.
    I was taken aside by the chief elder. There were two elders, but he ran the church. He told me to quit visiting the jail and the poor people, and concentrate on those with good jobs and who were leaders in the community. He wanted to build a big church, and to do that I had to start preaching to the more financially stable people. I was angry, but did not say anything.

    I really prayed about this and decided to enter Alternative Service and work at a State Hospital. My income was cut in half. My wife (COC raised) was angry about that. I worked at the state hospital, and later was assigned to be a janitor at a gay counseling center (that was after my wife left). I worked as a laborer, truck driver, grave digger and cook, while I attended seminary. Years later I finished seminary with an MDiv., and got a pastorate at a large church in Indiana. It was all respectable, and their expectations were that I do their will as well. Then I led a service for peace, and was asked to resign. Long story short, my MDiv was seen by many as a meal ticket. To me, it was to learn more so I could be a better servant of God. Later I became a Registered Nurse and worked at a county hospital in California and worked with the poor and migrants and prisoners and addicted folks. I now was a servant, and have been one since. I have been a bi-vocational minister in house churches, a community church, and a Mennonite Church.

    I do not think seminaries are either good or necessary, and I have been to four of them. Some of what I learned was okay and helpful. But servants of Christ do not need initials behind their names. One of the best preachers I have heard is an old Mennonite preacher with an 8th grade education who preaches from the King James Bible (which I detest). His humility and authenticity speaks volumes. He and I would take turns preaching at a small country church, and I tried to speak at a common level to common people: those who worked with their hands for a living, struggled to make ends meet, I supported myself as an RN. They gave each minister some token payment each month. Most of the time I spent this on the Church.

    Keep talking, Mark !!!!

    • BH says:

      Just curious but has that non-Sunday School church shut down like a whole lot of them have the last twenty years?

      • garycummings says:

        I have been away from them and the “Mainstream” since 1971. They seem to be still there. One of them, who ordained me, in San Angelo, Texas still has their own “unaccredited” preacher training school.

  2. BH says:


    Are you going to put the Support board back up or are you washing your hands of it?

  3. garycummings says:

    We had two German girls live with us as exchange students, 2010-2011 and 2012-2013. We love them both like they are are daughters. The first girl named Clara is a super person: she plays concert piano (she is a prodigy), she sung in the Virginia State Choir while here, got her belt in Karate, and is a Paralympic skier. She brought her parents and sister to see us a couple of years later. The first thing she said told us was “I am an atheist now ” She wanted to see what we would say. We both told her we love her and that we are glad she is honest with us. I also told her that God still believed in her. She and I always sparred. She still calls us dad and mommie and we from her a lot. Laura, our other German girl had similar problems with faith, but she is an open seeking person. We took her to the DC mall to visit the ML King Memorial, That made an impression on her that a Christian leader could do great things like that. Dr. King is one of her heroes now. We never tried to argue with them about faith or God. We just lived our lives, prayed before each meal, and did not censor our language about God in our daily life. They seemed to respect us for being real people. They liked the fact that I am an anti-war veteran.

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