Church is for Amateurs, Part II: What’s a “Christian of the Fourth Order”?

In our last post we talked about how trying to develop a discipleship methodology for training North Korean underground Christians led us to an examination of the methodology of the current NK underground church, plus other underground churches throughout history extending back to the New Testament itself.

Talk about your life-changing surprises.

It turns out that our modern western way of making disciples and being church—with church buildings, paid pastors, congregations of even dozens of people (let alone hundreds and thousands), with Bibles and study materials for everyone—that’s the historical oddity. The North Korean situation of empty-handed discipleship in the face of intense persecution is the norm!

As we studied the story, our eyes began to be open to a whole new New Testament—one written by persecuted Christians to persecuted Christians who had to face the same challenges we face in North Korea:

  • No buildings.
  • No paid pastors.
  • No Bibles in the pew racks or available through the local Christian super store.
  • Literally no nothing that we in the west consider so essential to discipleship.

Instead, what we see in the New Testament—and for many Christians throughout church history right on up to the present—is a church that consistently, cheerfully grows right in the teeth of persecution…through the dedicated service of amateurs with few if any tools at their disposal.

And it’s in those times and using those methods that the church really thrives!

Now, amateur is a word that doesn’t come in for a lot of love in our time. To us, it means “not serious or well-versed in the subject matter.” But that’s too bad, because it’s not accurate. An amateur is someone who gives their all for the love of whatever it is they’re doing. No ulterior motive. No thought of financial gain. No eye towards career advancement. That’s pretty cool, and—as it turns out—effective. Biblical, even.

  • Jesus himself was an amateur—not even a trained rabbi. And that drove the paid professional religious leaders of his day crazy.
  • Paul? Amateur.
  • Peter? Amateur.

In fact, pretty much every major figure in church history for the first couple of centuries of the church’s existence (each of the authors of the New Testament, for example) is an amateur, not a paid professional. And you could hardly describe them as not serious or well-versed: they managed to turn the world upside down, after all.

The Bible calls the amateurs of the Christian ministry world the laity, which simply means “people.” It’s a designation of a new nationality—citizenship in the kingdom of God.

Interestingly, the Anglicans call lay people “the fourth order of ministers in the Church,” along with bishops, priests, and deacons. Lest we think that “fourth order” roughly means “fourth class” or “not serious or well-versed in the subject matter,” consider this definition of “the ministry of the fourth order” (i.e., our pals, the laity) from the Episcopal Church:

 …to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.


And effective, as Mormons will readily attest. While we western orthodox Christian types have whittled the definition of laity down to “not the pastor,” the Mormons have done the opposite, building quite the religious empire using only laity—their priesthood, after all, is a lay, not an ordained one.

But we need not look beyond the pale to see “fourth order” (i.e., lay) Christians getting it done around the world today. Just look at a map where the church is growing and ask yourself: Who’s in charge there—the laity or the professionals? And look at where the church is shrinking and ask yourself the same question. It’s not like the church is stuck in neutral until paid professionals and buildings and Bibles for everybody show up. In fact, it’s a little bit of the opposite…

Needless to say, all of this new insight from the persecuted church and from across church history proved extremely helpful to us in our discipleship planning with North Korean Christians.

What we didn’t count on was just how much it would transform us—and our family’s personal practice of church.

Join us for the next post as we talk about how we planted a “church of the fourth order”—a lay church—that spread to another country…even before we started!

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is the former International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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10 Responses to Church is for Amateurs, Part II: What’s a “Christian of the Fourth Order”?

  1. Eric, I am really enjoying your blogs; discovered them today (08/27/11) doing a google-search on church growth. eagerly plan to read some more!
    question? are you an amateur?!
    question#2? was Paul really an “amateur” or a tent-making pro?
    not trying to be difficult, just “devil-advocate” approach to dialog!

    • EFoley says:

      Wonderful! Good to have you adding your thoughts and experience to the site, Jerry. And I’m honored to be able to be a boost of enthusiasm for you. You do the same for me with your good questions. I’d love to hear your thoughts: Am I an amateur? Was Paul? What do you think?

      • Eric, I am inclined to think that God wants all kinds of tools in his tool box as he fixes this mess we have made! Paul was a few hours short of a doctorate in pharisaism, IMHO. Peter, on the other hand, was an uneducated fisherman. God used them both. I think your point (not read all your blog posts on this matter, yet) is that God is using NK’s, with no blackberry’s, not websites, no cathedrals, no church libraries, … and getting the job done better than seemingly is being done in NA?! Maybe it is as simple as Tertullian said, “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the gospel…”

  2. Ken says:

    Eric, I thought Paul meant … “Aren’t you earning a living through your ministry when you’re telling others not to?” Obviously Paul the Apostle received gifts to support his ministry. His policy though was not to receive such gifts from people he was serving at the time.

    I don’t think he was questioning whether you served out of love or not.

    • EFoley says:

      Hi Ken,

      Thanks for your comment, and my apologies for any confusion. I certainly would not want to imply that anyone who is paid isn’t working out of love. I am, however, fully meaning to imply that the primary motivation of love is what should characterize ministers of the Gospel, which you and I are. That’s why Paul made his living as a tent maker even while he could have insisted the church in Corinth support him (see 1 Corinthians 9) – by removing any incentive for financial gain, he proved to them that he preached the Gospel out of love and not out of greed. So, too, in the persecuted church, the leaders do what they do because of love; for them, no other option is available. And that motivation for ministry – far more than financial gain or fame or anything else – has profound effects on the church as can be seen in the rapid growth of Christianity in areas where it is persecuted.

      Hope this helps clarify, Ken!

  3. Crusher says:

    I’m not sure I quite understand the comment by Ken. It seems that you might be trying to defend the idea of full-time ministry, supported ministry, as being the Biblical model because the motivation is loving the proclamation of God’s Word. However, we have no way of measuring motives and if someone is being paid for being a minister, doesn’t it bring into question their credibility to claim their primary motivation is just love of the Gospel?

    • Ken says:

      Crusher, the other case is equally true. Just ask a Mormon. They’re widely proud about not being paid and dismiss paid ministers. Pride travels in many directions.

  4. Crusher says:

    The issue isn’t pride or other cases “equally true.” A person’s motivations are easily impugned by their financial gain. That is the issue that you need to deal with. What is your argument to convince someone that your true motivation is your love of the Gospel and not your paycheck?

    And why would you use what the Mormons do as a source of authority for your arguments about Christianity? Identifying their methods as effective is a lot different than pointing to their practices to justify an opposite argument. It’s a non sequitur. I could say that it’s “equally true” that Apostolic Dominionist Prophets make a ton of money for giving out their “words” from God. But it doesn’t have anything to do with Foley’s point (or mine).

    The source of authority is the Bible, God’s revealed Word. If we generalize the state of the American church with the recent stats, where’s the Biblical reference, or some kind of argument for a well-paid, full-time pastor leading a church that is less Biblically literate than Mormons, has 40-80 percent of the youth bailing on church as soon as they can, and has outsourced the actual doing of the Word to parachurch ministries?

    • Ken says:


      I thought it was obvious that by alluding to the Mormons I was not quoting them as any “authority” besides the Bible but as an example of people who are as prideful of their own uncompensated service, and therefore as distorted by their lack of compensation as you imply all paid ministers are distorted by their paycheck.

      I’m sorry if it struck a nerve.

      I also don’t attribute the wholesale sickness of the American church to the fact that ministers may or may not have gotten paid. I agree with you about the sickness, but it’s likewise true that for a generation the average American Christian has been told that “they are a minister” so often it’s become a cliche. Even the deadest churches seem to loudly proclaim in their bulletin…

      Pastor ….. John Doe
      Minister …. All the members

      Have these professed Christians taken up their ministry? Usually no. Have they been told they have a caling and a ministry ? In many case I suspect the answer is yes. Rev. Foley’s quote about defining a “fourth order Christian” is from the Episcopal Church. Every American Christian seems to know that we are supposed to ministers in theory. So on Judgment Day the proper response won’t be “You can’t blame me, I had a paid minister!”

      I’ve also never known a paid minister to “do it for the money” or as a “career” like social work, though I’m sure there are those who have. I’ve known many ministers who were paid who spoke the truth nonetheless and lost everything for it. And I’ve known others who worked 60 hour weeks just to be consistent with the call they made to their listeners to work a job and commit time beyond that to serving Christ. They did nothing less than they called their people to do.

      On the other hand I’ve noted troubling inconsistencies in the last 20 years or so. Without mentioning names I’m thinking of one man who just recently decried the paid ministry and the traditional church who prominently calls himself “bivocational” on his blog. He is, in fact, a seminary professor whose work is funded by many traditional churches and their endowments. One might think that to at least be genuine he could renounce his seminary position for a job at Starbucks, but alas, that hasn’t proven the case.

      I also see a problem with people who write about “Pagan Christianity” and who are so proud of supporting themselves as school teachers working in the public school system as if that weren’t also equally, if not more, “pagan”.

      By the way, I am an uncompensated minister, so I am not defending my “paycheck”… far from it. The deep problems you mention are real. They defy simple remedies.

      • Crusher says:

        Hey Ken,

        From what you write here, I think we are in agreement on a number of items. Let me start with those things that I think we agree on. Let me know if I’ve presumed too much.

        First, that generally, evangelical, protestant, American Christians are unprepared to proclaim the Gospel, are unprepared to defend their faith, and are not actually qualified Biblically to carry the title of ministers of the Gospel despite fairly consistent church attendance and involvement in their local churches. We are so poor at carry out The Great Commission that most of our children have no use for church once we stop forcing them to attend.

        Second, we agree that Mormons are not a model for us as Christians. Thank you for clarifying that in your post. But they do represent a growing religious body that is similar to Christianity in some ways and seen as a Christian sect by many. I don’t think that – just to be clear, and when we examine their methods, we see things that they have taken from Christianity that we should be doing.

        As someone who has been white-shirt-listed from the Mormons (they won’t visit our house anymore), functionally they demonstrate what I think Pastor Foley is talking about in his posts. Although the “elders” – the Mormon guys that visit houses – appear to be organized, equipped and trained to take their Gospel to people, they are not really prepared for you to take them to the scriptures and point out their logical fallacies, their misreading or misquoting of scripture or the clear errors and contradictions in their own “prophetic works.” They do have a system though that convinces these kids to go out and do this for two years even though they don’t equip them. How much more, than, should we be looking at what we are doing, identifying the failures we have in our system and change it to actually train, equip and go out to make disciples?!?!

        If we take what Rev. Foley is saying seriously, it isn’t about paid or unpaid pastors. A model of paid pastors has its problems as we seem to agree on, and unpaid pastors doing a poor job isn’t desirable either. Rather, I think his focus on training and equipping, and recognizing that a model which has as its head a paid professional isn’t getting the job done leads us to try something different. And he points out that this paid-professional pastor model is not the model we see in the Bible, especially with Paul who went out of his way so that no one could question that he was doing the work of proclaiming the Gospel because of his love of Christ. I hear that there are paid pastors doing that today, but they are difficult to find. And even harder to find are those that are willing to do what it takes to demonstrate that they are working for the Lord and not their need of a job.

        Our pastors and church leaders should be as serious about their “product” – disciples going out to make disciples – an any CEO, especially if they have the opportunity to do that full time and get paid for it.

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