Greg Ogden, in his book Unfinished Business: Returning the Ministry to the People of God wrote "It has been broadly observed that the first Reformation of the early 1500s placed the Bible in the hands of the people and that the Second Reformation will place the ministry in the hands of the people." This is occurring in churches across the country, especially in those served by bivocational pastors.
In a bivocational setting there is a lot of ministry that will not get done if the pastor is expected to do it all. There simply isn't enough time. By definition, a bivocational pastor has another job. It may be a part-time or full-time job, but in either case this pastor is not always available to do "church work." In my experience I have found that in healthy bivocational churches members of the congregation are willing, and even expect, to minister when the pastor is not available.
However, returning the ministry to the people is not merely a pragmatic action because the pastor is not always available. It is the biblical model for ministry. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons we have not emphasized the ministry of the laity for the past several decades. As a result we have perpetuated an unhealthy family system.
Ogden explains, "In the healthy family, the goal of parents is to grow children into responsible, self-initiating, caring, and serving adults. The church, on the other hand, has more often that not viewed the role of pastor as parent and the people of God as dependent children who need to be constantly cared for. As a result, the children remain perpetually children."
He goes on to note that too often the church and the pastor have entered into an unhealthy conspiracy of dependency which has been equally unhealthy for both. Pastors are burning out and leaving the ministry at frightening rates, and churches are continuing to decline in attendance, finances, and impact on their communities. It is vital that we rediscover the equipping role of the pastor and the ministry role of the congregation.
How would a pastor go about equipping his or her congregation to do ministry?
- Begin by casting the vision for such ministry. Be sure to begin with the why before you go into the what or some people will think you're just trying to get out of work. Because the church has operated in the old, incorrect model for so long this initial phase will take time in most churches.
- Change your role from teacher/caregiver to that of a coach. This may be a difficult change for the pastor, especially one trained in seminary for a very traditional form of pastoral ministry.
- Train your leaders. Ogden suggests a pastor should spend 80 percent of his or her time with 20 percent of the congregation who has the greatest ministry or leadership potential. I agree with this. In the old model we often spent 80 percent of our time with the 20 percent of our congregation who had the most problems. We need to reverse this.
- Help people identify their spiritual gifts. There are numerous surveys to help you do this. Challenge them to work most in the areas where God has gifted them.
- Model ministry to those you are equipping. Invite them to go with you and participate in various ministry activities. In time, you will be able to send them to minister to these needs. In fact, they will be able to take others with them to help develop them as ministers as well.
- Demonstrate your trust in them as ministers. Believe in them. They may not do things the same way you would do them, but that's OK.
- Do not underestimate the desire of the church to want to go back to the old way of doing things. Remember, it's what they knew for decades, and there is always a pull to return to what we've known. Don't allow that to happen. Keep this vision before them. Celebrate and publicly recognize those in the church who are doing good ministry.