Ending the divide

Why do churches still suffer with the same old tired clergy-laity divide that has plagued them for decades? For quite a while I have heard rhetorical statements on how churches need to get the people engaged in the work of ministry, but I have seen little headway in most churches.

Most churches still run by 20% doing 80% of the work. Truthfully, it’s probably more like 2% doing 98% of the work. Why is it so hard for churches to break this mold? What keeps churches from releasing blue collar, white collar, stay at home moms and entrepreneurs into the work of the ministry of the church?

I think we can find the answerer in Acts 6.

1In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 2So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

Acts 6:1-4

Full-Time Ministry Model

The concept of full-time ministry in the church was new because, well, the church itself was new. Things had grown rapidly out of the control of what just the apostles could handle and the breaking point came from a dispute over distribution of food. How the apostles handled things is what is truly amazing. The apostles recused themselves from being involved in the very valid and needed work of ministry so they could focus on what they felt was most important. What is truly amazing is what they said was most important for them.

They focused their time and attention fully to “prayer and the ministry of the Word.”

This was the apostles’ model for full-time ministry. They chose to spend their time in the way they felt most honored Jesus’ command to them as His chosen leaders.

Learning From Business

Many executives struggle with doing what only they should be doing. They get caught up doing tasks that others have been hired to do simply because they are good at them and they bring the instant gratification of a job well done. But performing those tasks, even exceptionally well, takes them away from the work they were hired to do. There is a lot of attention given in executive leadership to focusing on only the tasks they should be doing because it is so easy to get sidetracked. Could the church learn this lesson from big business?

In many churches across America, we see pastors doing what we consider the work of ministry. Yes, they prepare their sermons and deliver them on Sunday, but most of their time is spent doing other things. They prepare bulletins, they counsel struggling people, they coordinate the various ministries of the church, they visit the sick in the hospitals and any other number of tasks that we think of pastors fulfilling. The problem with that is, they shouldn’t be doing such things. Or at least, not nearly as much as they do.

11So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Ephesians 4:11-13

The Work of Ministry

Paul tells us plainly here that God gave us what many term the “five-fold ministry” positions to “equip his people for works.” God did not appoint apostles, pastors, etc. so they could do the work of ministry, but to train others to do it. What that means is that full-time ministry should look vastly different than it does now. That means that pastors must let go of the things that they are probably very good at and the things that bring them instant gratification so they may focus on what God called them alone to do.

So what is it that a pastor alone should do? They have been set free from the constraints of a “nine-to-five” job to focus on one thing that others do not have the liberty of doing.

Draw near to Him, so that they can lead others there.

Failing For Success

Few pastors spend any appreciable time in prayer each day. I have known many who spend less than many of their congregants. They have gotten caught up in the place of comfort by filling their days with activities that seem productive and give them fulfillment. Spending extended times in prayer is hard because you have nothing to show for it. You cannot tie key performance indicators to time in prayer. You can’t put on a budget spreadsheet how your heart is moved and shaped by the God who sees and hears. Many churches are failing at what God called them to do in the name of success.

But for most churches, the pastor is not fully to blame.

Many times pastors have expectations placed on them to do what others should be doing. Many churches expect their pastors to spend 40-50 hours a week counseling, visiting the sick, being involved in civic activities and managing the business of the church. Often pastors feel the tug to prepare their sermons on time outside of “work”. Many pastors are expected to make their job look like anyone else’s day job, so do not hear me condemning pastors for their inattention to the weightier matters of church life–the problem cuts both directions.

Churches must be willing, and even insist, that their pastors spend considerable time in prayer. How else can they shepherd God’s church unless they first get their marching orders from the Head Shepherd Himself. They should be able to delegate the important work of ministry, as Paul instructed them in Ephesians, to church members, and they should be free to do so without any guilt of feeling unproductive.

Reformation

The church needs a reformation today. The reformation needs to be in the way we think of ministry. The people most capable of performing the works of ministry are not those who spend most of their time within the walls of the church building, but those who spend almost all of their time away from it. That would leave pastors with the time to focus on what the apostles clearly demonstrated was the most important thing that they should be doing: praying and studying the Word. We need church members to honor and value the time that pastors spend in prayer and the Word to lead their church.

Reformations are not without cost or pain. I guarantee you that most pastors would probably lose their jobs or face a certain fight with their leadership board if they announced they were no longer counseling so they could focus on prayer. Of if they said they would only preach every other Sunday so they could focus less on sermon prep and more time on filling their hearts with God’s Word.

But that is exactly what the church desperately needs today. We do not need more sermon illustrations from the internet. We need pastors who have met with God and feel His heart. We need church members activated in the work of ministry: sharing the gospel, reaching out to the poor, feeding the hungry and taking care of the administrative functions that keep any organization going.

Will you choose today to make the changes your church desperately needs?

Take-Away Questions

  1. Pastors, ask yourself this question: What are you currently doing that you need to delegate so you can spend 2+ hours a day in prayer and study of God’s Word?
  2. Church member, ask yourself this question: What can you do this week to free up your pastor from doing things that you were commanded to do?

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