Thursday, March 7, 2013

Equipping lay people for ministry

Bivocational churches need to be very intentional about equipping lay people to do ministry.  The most common complaint among bivocational ministers is that there is not enough time to do all the things that are expected of them.  This is true, but many of us make it more difficult on ourselves by our unwillingness or inability to delegate ministry responsibilities to others in our churches.  Some of us need to learn how to delegate while others of us need to better equip our congregations so they can do ministry.  I am convinced that many of the people sitting in our pews are willing to be more involved in ministry, but they are waiting either for permission from the pastor or they are waiting for him or her to teach them how to use their gifts for ministry.  It was late in my pastorate when I learned it was the latter in our church.  I had failed for many years to properly equip our saints to do the work of ministry (Eph.4).

It should be noted that this is a need not only for churches led by bivocational ministers.  The Ephesians 4 model is the biblical model for all size churches.  Our ministries are much more effective when we have all the people in our congregation involved in ministry.

Unfortunately, it is still true that some of our churches believe that ministry is reserved for the paid ministers who have been hired to do that work.  These congregations will have to be taught the biblical model of church ministry.  Ephesians 4 is a good place to begin.  It's also helpful to begin talking about spiritual gifts and their purpose.  However, no matter how much you teach this model of ministry, there will be some within your congregation who will not be interested in doing ministry.  In virtually every seminar I lead a pastor will state that he or she has only a handful of people willing to be involved in ministry which is followed by the question of what is he or she to do.  My response is always the same: you have to ride the horses that want to run.  Whipping a dead horse won't make it go any faster.  The wise pastor will invest his or her time and energy in those who want to make a difference with their lives.  The pastor is to love all the congregation and minister to their needs as needed, but his or her primary investment must be in the ones who want to be involved in ministry.

I'm sure you can quickly see this can lead to problems.  Those who refuse to engage in ministry will complain that the pastor has developed favorites in the church as he or she spends more time with those who want to be equipped to do ministry.  Because relationships are so important in the smaller church such accusations can sting (and shorten the pastor's tenure).  To avoid this many pastors try to spend equal time with everyone, but this is a mistake if the pastor is serious about wanting to equip people for ministry.  You want to provide pastoral care to anyone who is hurting, but you must invest the bulk of your energy and time in those who want to be involved in ministry.

Jesus is a good role model here.  Scripture tells us He had many disciples, but most of His time was spent with twelve.  In His most special moments that number was reduced to three - Peter, James, and John.  I'm sure the other disciples felt slighted at times and probably grumbled about the special attention given to a few, but Jesus knew that much of what would happen after He was gone would depend on this small band of individuals.  He was determined to pour Himself into them.  So must we.

In my book, The Bivocational Pastor: Two Jobs, One Ministry, I go into more detail about how to equip people for ministry and share some things that worked for us during my pastorate.  I also want to recommend another book written by my friend Terry Dorsett, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church.  This is an excellent workbook that will help you develop the leadership teams you need in your church.  It is a resource that every bivocational and fully-funded minister needs to have.

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