significant happens to any member, the preacher is expected to be there. From hospital stays to marital crises, it’s the job of the preacher to fix things, to get people through. It’s a congregational contract that says, “If you don’t show up, you are failing to do your job!” And it is precisely this expectation that is overwhelming many of our ministers. It is unreasonable, unsustainable, and may I suggest, unbiblical.
They call routinely. We talk over coffee. We pray. It’s not that they don’t love to care for others, but many of them are tired and haggard, pulled in two at the mercy of the next stumped toe. (One told me that when he asked for a job description, he was told, “We’re just gonna use you.” I told him that was code language for “We’re gonna ride you until you fall over, then go get another horse.”) So how did ministers come to be the primary caregivers in the church?
Greg Ogden (Transformational Discipleship) suggests that ministers have unconsciously been diverted from their primary calling of “equipping the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph. 4:12). Which is, in fact, the nearest thing to a ministerial job description in Scripture. They are called to use their gifts “for the task of preparing, training, and discipling ordinary believers, referred to as saints, for their place of service in the body of Christ” (42). When equippers perform their role as God intended, the body of Christ is built up, there is unity of faith in the knowledge of God’s Son, and church members “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:12-13). In order to disrupt the developmental maturity of the body, however, Satan diverts ministers from their God-given function of equipping the saints to disproportional amounts of pastoral care. One of his most effective tools is to see that caregiving is assigned to the “professionals.”
I suggest it’s time we got back to the Bible and started a fresh conversation. It’s time to consider (as Alan Hirsch writes in Forgotten Ways) that contrary to the clear witness and teachings of the New Testament, the pastor/priest and the teacher/preacher models have become so dominate that the equipping role of ministry has been neglected in the church. “The net effect is that the whole system [is] thus weighted in favor of doctrinal maintenance and pastoral care” (which is far removed from the New Testament idea of every person a disciple and a priest). “Because we have frozen out other forms of Jesus’s ministry from the original recipe, we have ended up with a profoundly reduced ministry. If we are ever to be the church that Jesus clearly intended us to be (Eph. 4:12-16), then we are going to have to do it according to his specific design (Eph. 4:7-11)” (206-207).
How My Ministry Has Changed
After 30 years of ministry, I tend to be more realistic than I used to be. Like many, I stood by every bedside and tried my best to solve every problem that came my way. Finally, I realized that the most effective work I could ever do was pour myself into a faithful few men and women “qualified to teach others” (2 Tim. 2:2). I learned that God has not called me to be everyone’s hero, but more of a heromaker that creates a platform where others can stand.
Today, I’m more of an equipper. Maybe it’s because I moved from full time to bi-vocational ministry. (Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”) Yet as I reflect, the most important work I ever did was investing time and energy in capable men and women who learned how to care for the souls of others. Today, these are the men and women who are leading ministries and changing the world. With time, I learned that when ministers fulfill their God-ordained roles, a whole series of dominos fall into place – the body of Christ is built up, there is unity and maturity in the body, and the Kingdom advances. I think it’s time that church leaders ask: How can we restore a biblical understanding of congregational ministry?
- Scripture gives a case study of how the apostles handled caregiving expectations (read Acts 6:1-7). “Apparently one of the solutions proposed was that the apostles should add serving the widows to their job description. After all, what better way to show your servant spirit than to care for widows, who are at the center of our Lord’s heart? They saw this solution as the temptation that it was. They could easily be distracted from their call to the ministry of the Word and prayer. In fact, their eventual solution expanded ministry by creating an opportunity for seven Greek-speaking men ‘full of the Spirit and wisdom’ (Acts 6:3, NIV) to be added to the ministry force” (Ogden, 44). How does such an understanding give a fresh perspective of what an equipping ministry should look like?
- The New Testament portrays a church where everyone is a minister. To the extent that ministers over perform by taking upon themselves responsibilities given to the whole body of believers, how is the ministry of the people of God undermined? In what way should a minister distance himself from everyone relying on him?
- Jesus often turned away from the multitude. He would give a sack lunch to the many and give his heart to the few. How can church leaders give ministers permission and protection to reduce pastoral care so they can focus more on “equipping the saints for the works of ministry” (Eph. 4:12)? CONTACT US AND WE WILL BE HAPPY TO SHARE WITH YOU SOME BEST PRACTICES OF CHURCHES WHO ARE CHANGING LIVES BY GETTING BACK TO BASICS!
If you’ve been in ministry very long, you know the expectation. Though largely unwritten, it is nonetheless ever present: when something