Plumb Line #12: The Best Ministry Ideas Are in the Congregation
Pastors, I want to suggest to you that something you’ve been seeing as a problem is actually a great opportunity. That something—complaints.
You might think that complaining in churches is a new phenomenon, a product of our consumeristic, navel-gazing culture of narcissism. (And, to be sure, much of it is.) But in the first century church, Luke tells us, “A complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution” (Acts 6:1 ESV).
The early church leaders, unlike many of us, recognized the opportunity within the problem. So instead of merely attempting to troubleshoot everything themselves, the apostles turned the problem around. We see this problem, too, they said to the church. And what are you going to do about it? The apostles didn’t take care of the ministry problem for them. They turned it back to them. And in so doing, they catalyzed ministry in the church.
The Apostle Paul explained something similar in his letter to the Ephesians. God “gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and teachers to equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12 ESV). Who is doing ministry there? The saints. As I have often said it, that verse means that when I became a pastor, I left the ministry. The work of the ministry happens primarily in the congregation, not merely among the paid staff of the church.
We’ve got to focus on empowering and equipping everyone in our church for ministry—listening to their ideas, equipping them to fulfill God’s call, and encouraging them where they need help. Some of the best ministry ideas are in the congregation, if for no other reason, than because 99% of our ministers are in the congregation!
One of the ways we talk about this at the Summit is through a grid of own, catalyze, bless. With any decent ministry idea, we can choose one of those three options. With a select few, we own the process, using a lot of the church’s resources to make the ministry a success. Our weekend worship services, for instance, are largely in that category. On the other end of the spectrum are ideas that, while sincere, probably aren’t worth our full attention. A member wants to print “John 3:16” on pencils and give them to every teacher in Durham. So we bless that effort, pray for the best, and release those members to do what God has put on their heart.
Most of our ministry, however, will be in the catalyze category. We don’t levy all of our resources to get the ministry going, but we don’t simply sit back, either. We provide strategic support and guidance along the way, but allow lay members to lead the way. We’ve even started to use the phrase, “You can do it; we can help.” (I’m aware that a company that shall remain nameless formerly used such a tagline. But they aren’t using it anymore, so I thought, why waste it?)
“You can do it; we can help” is a radical departure from how most churches operate, but it’s the only way we can tangibly recognize the role of the Holy Spirit in our church members. You can be the primary disciplers of your kids; we can help by providing recommendations on resources. You can plant small groups out of your existing group; we can coach you on timing and other logistics. You can serve your neighborhood; we can get you connected to different organizations in your area. You can share the gospel with your coworker; we can equip you to do it with courage and grace.
We need to put resources and energy into the buckets of coaching and raising up leaders. The best ministry ideas are out there, and they often just need a boost to get off the ground.
Chuck Lawless, in his book Paul’s Missionary Methods, says that it is rather ironic that when we sense God calling us to reach a city, we imagine that calling being fulfilled through full-time pastors. When we look at Paul’s calling, though, we see right away that Paul would only fulfill his calling through raising up and multiplying other leaders. What if we pastors viewed our callings like Paul viewed his? God, you’ve called me to reach this city; how can I raise up other leaders to engage this city?
I’ve often heard it said that a disciple is someone who leads himself well. A leader is someone who leads others well. But a multiplier is someone who leads other leaders well. Those of us who are the most committed to the Great Commission should be committed to raising up not just disciples, not even leaders, but multipliers.
Plumb lines are a series of short, pithy statements that we, at the Summit, use as rallying points—both for our staff and for the entire church. They are a way to encapsulate our ministry philosophy in short, memorable phrases. Be sure to check out our entire list of plumb lines.