Every-Member Ministry: The Need of the Hour
There is a crisis in the evangelical church. A problem in many local churches. Maybe even in yours.
It’s a crisis of involvement. A problem of participation. In his last newsletter article, Pastor Clint made a passing reference to what is called the “80/20 rule”—that is, the “rule of thumb” that in many churches, 20 percent of the congregants do 80% of the work. This observation originated in the world of secular management theory, but most Christians with experience in the life of a local church would admit there’s a strong similarity between the church and the world on this point. In any given church, you’ll probably find several people who seem to be doing three, four, or five “jobs” that keep the ministry running, alongside a (usually rather larger) group of regular attendees who aren’t actively serving at all.
I do need to stress, before some suffer needless guilt, that some church members simply aren’t in a position to volunteer or serve in organized ministry. Some people are sick. Some may be in a season at work where they are travelling often or swamped with projects. And of course there are parents of young children who quite literally have their hands full, for whom simply making it out their door to get to church is a monumental feat! That’s not to say that such folks are “exempt” from the responsibility to serve—no, they actually still have ways in which they can minister to others even in their inability, and we’ll see some ways later in this series, God willing—but it’s important to acknowledge that some Christians just aren’t in a position to volunteer in organized ministry, and that’s okay.
But even with that acknowledgement, the problem remains. Put aside those who are providentially incapable of actively volunteering, and there are still many “passive members.” We live in a consumeristic age, and many Christians have unthinkingly applied that outlook to their church involvement. Too many come to church to be “fed” rather than to be “equipped for service.” Too many allow their personal schedules to get “crammed” full of (perhaps good, but not necessary) activities that reduce their availability for active service in the church. One writer, who I don’t always agree with, was nevertheless right to call this “the biggest sin in many churches.”
One indicator of this problem in evangelical churches is the epidemic of pastoral burnout. David Murray writes that burnout is the main reason for 20% of pastoral resignations. Recently 9Marks dedicated an entire issue of its Journal to the subject. I remember vividly a pastoral ministry class in seminary where an experienced pastor was brought in to share his own experience of burnout. Why is burnout such a problem? The pastor’s own sin and weakness plays a role, certainly—pastoral ministry is very attractive to men who are prone to a “messiah” complex, for one thing, and for another Murray is right to point out that pastors need to develop a “thick skin.” But an undeniable part of the problem is a prevailing attitude in many churches of a “professional” or “clerical” ministry. The pastor is often viewed as a “hired hand” paid by the congregation to do the work of ministry for them. Many congregants think of help or advice as only being valuable if it comes from the pastor—or, in a multi-pastor church, from the lead pastor—and cultivate resentment if they don’t receive the attention they think they need from that man. Many churchgoers view pastors not as equippers or trainers for ministry, but as “priests”—the pastor is thought of as “the” conduit of God’s grace and mercy to the church member rather than as the one who trains members to be such conduits to others.
And burnout isn’t just a pastoral problem. Nursery and children’s ministries in many churches are “revolving doors” of exhausted church members, for instance. Congregations often “burn through” ministry leaders, each of whom serve for a season and then “run out of gas” because there aren’t enough shoulders to bear the load.
We are all finite, and the work of ministry is great. Exhaustion will be unavoidable at points, and God gives grace and strength. We cannot have a utopian view of a local church where all the work is perfectly divvied up and no one feels burdened or tired, for such a church cannot exist in a broken and sinful world. Just because such a church is unattainable, however, does not mean that local churches cannot or should not strive to do better. Addressing the whole congregation in Galatia—in the context of commanding mature believers (not just pastors) to restore those caught in sin, and commanding all those receiving teaching to share “all good things” with those who teach—Paul told them: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the Law of Christ” (6:2). In other words, a healthy church should be a burden-bearing co-op, where everyone pitches in and there are no freeloaders.
To put it differently, then, church membership is a call to ministry. Ministry isn’t just the job of the pastors; if you’re a member of a local church (and if you’re regularly attending a local church you need to be in membership!), ministry is your job too. That's the need of the hour--more on that next week.