Active Participation through the Priesthood of All Believers

By Joel Comiskey, free teaching videos on leading small groups, May 2021 

One important principle of the priesthood of all believers is involvement. In other words, all members of Christ’s Church should be involved in using their gifts and talents.

Cell ministry stands against the idea that the official pastor or minister does most of the work, while the laity sits and listen—and perhaps engage in a few programs. The spectator emphasis in many churches undermines discipleship because only a few participate while many simply attend.

The situation is a lot like inactive fans at a football game who are cheering for the sweating players on the field. The players are doing all the work, while the fans just observe and clap. Elton Trueblood once said:

All of us suffer from a terrible sickness in our churches. It is called Spectatoritis. We speak of the congregation as the audience. We are not the audience; we are the actors. . . If we sincerely believe the Gospel, we have to believe that God has a vocation for each of us. The secret is participation, participation, participation (Elton Trueblood, in Edward F. Murphy, The Gifts of the Spirit and the Mission of the Church (Pasadena, CA: Fuller Theological Seminary, 1972), p. 152).

Participation is at the core of the cell. No one sits in the back seat. Chairs are not arranged in rows. As people share their stories, ask for prayer, and minister to one another, they are transformed in the process. They become the ministers and grow as Christ’s disciples. The best cell leaders, in fact, are facilitators. The word facilitate means to make easy, and the best facilitators make it easy for others to participate. They unwrap the gifts and talents of those in the group. The best facilitators, in fact, only talk thirty percent of the time and encourage those in the group to speak the remaining seventy percent. Talking, of course, is only one aspect of cell life. Participation is far broader and involves active engagement in each part of the cell group.

I often tell those in my seminars that the best-kept secret of pastoral ministry is that the pastor grows more than those in the congregation. Why? Because the pastor matures as he depends on God to preach, counsel, visit the sick, prepare for a funeral, or marry a new couple. Discipleship, in other words, takes place as the pastor depends on God for every aspect of pastoral ministry.  If pastors could better grasp that growth comes through participation, they would do a lot more to get people actively involved in ministry, and I believe that the New Testament pattern of house to house ministry is the best option.