When I was just starting in ministry, one of my most respected mentors said something to me that I’ve never forgotten. As I was venting to him about feeling like a one-man show in my young church, he put his arm around me and said, “Nelson, remember, every member in your church is a minister. You are not in this alone unless you choose to be.”
Every member is a minister. I’m sure you’ve heard that assertion time and time again. It may even be one of the core values of your church. Honestly, when I first heard the statement, I wasn’t sure exactly what it meant. But now, after decades in ministry and countless hours spent working with pastors around the world, I realize just how deep this truth runs and how important it is when you are working to lead a God-honoring, effective church.
At The Journey, we have built our theology of ministry around eight theological foundations. Now, you don’t have to adopt our theology ministry carte blanche, but here’s what I do ask of you: Use these eight principles to help you think critically about how and why people serve in your church. As you work through each one, let it spur you toward clarifying your own theology of ministry, so you can move forward with building your ministry system on a proper foundation.
Principle #1: Ministry simply means to serve.
We often confuse people with our language. When your members hear you say that you want them to get involved with ministry, they don’t understand what that really means. You and I understand that we are simply asking our people to volunteer, so make sure your members understand that being involved in ministry doesn’t mean they have to go to seminary or join the staff.
Principle #2: Serving is the act of putting the needs of others before your own needs.
Serving is an expression of selflessness. Unfortunately, our modern cultural mindset is one of wanting to be served rather than serving – and that’s as true in our churches as anywhere else. In fact, I believe that selfishness is one of the greatest sins we face in today’s church. We have a duty to lead others toward the life of service that Jesus emulated. As he says in Matthew 20:28, “For even I, the son of man, came here not to be served, but to serve others.”
Principle #3: The goal of the ministry system is to help people become like Jesus.
As church leaders, you and I are responsible for helping our people become more and more like Jesus. That’s God’s goal for every individual He has placed under your care. So, as you begin to think about developing an effective ministry system and doubling your volunteer base, the real question isn’t “How many more volunteers can I have?” but rather “How many of my people are more like Jesus because they are connected in serving?”
Principle #4: You cannot become like Jesus Christ unless you learn to be a servant.
Helping people learn to be servants, then, is an essential part of discipleship. In order to strip away selfishness and move people toward being servants, we need to model servanthood, teach on servanthood, and challenge volunteers onward as we celebrate and reproduce the Jesus-like characteristics in their lives. Just remember: Serving is essential to becoming like Jesus.
Principle #5: Serving opens people’s hearts to God and therefore is part of worship.
This foundation has profound implications for both Christians and non-Christians. Before an unbeliever can come to know Jesus and worship Him in truth, God has to open his heart to the reality of the Gospel. In my experience, non-Christians who find themselves in serving situations become receptive to God’s work in their life much more readily than those who don’t serve. For Christians, service not only opens people’s hearts to worship but also stands as an at of worship in and of itself. When we present our bodies and our time to God as willing servants, we are worshiping Him.
Principle #6: If people aren’t serving, they aren’t truly worshiping and growing in their faith.
Given this theological foundation, serving is a good way to measure worship and growth in your church. One of my favorite images of ministry is the football game analogy. Go to any college or professional football game and you’ll see 22 people on the field who are in desperate need of rest and tens of thousands of people in the stands who are in desperate need of exercise. Too often, that’s how our churches look. We have lots of people sitting on the sidelines who desperately need to grow, while the small minority who does everything desperately needs to take a break. That game plan may work in sports, but it will hinder your church in terms of both spiritual and numerical growth.
Strive for having 50 percent of your people serving one hour per week. They may be leading a growth group, singing on the worship team, serving as an usher or greeter, working in the kids’ area, or whatever else they are best suited to do. The point is that they are involved in serving in some way for an hour each week.
Principle #7: Mobilizing people for ministry is part of discipleship.
If someone in your church is not serving, he is not growing as a disciple. If he isn’t serving, he’s less likely to be sharing his faith, spending time in Scripture and in prayer, and giving in a God-honoring way. In short, if he isn’t serving, he is not going to be able to honor God with all of the other areas of his life. Your job and mine, as church leaders, is to disciple people. We are called to help them down the path of offering their whole lives to God. Mobilizing them for ministry is an indispensable part of that discipleship.
Principle #8: The role of the pastor is to equip people for ministry.
As a pastor, if I am doing everything by myself, I am robbing the people in my church of opportunities to grow. Having a do-it-yourself attitude is dangerous when it comes to ministry. It’s in my best interests not only as a pastor but also as a kingdom builder to mobilize as many people as possible to be involved in ministry. I am called to equip them as Paul says in Ephesians 4:11-13.
Too often you and I are hesitant to call people to ministry because we think the request will be seen as self-serving. We fall into feeling like we are trying to recruit people for our own purposes. Such thinking is completely off base. If your vision is aligned with God’s purposes for your church, asking people to get involved with that vision is asking them to start doing the most important thing they can do in life. You are calling them to act of worship.
–Nelson Searcy and Jennifer Dykes Henson
In my book Connect, I show church leaders how to create a culture that attracts, keeps, and grows volunteers. Taking a comprehensive approach to the often frustrating issue of finding and retaining volunteers, Connect gives leaders the practical insight and tools they need to effectively involve people in serving the local church. It details how to help people see the importance of serving, how to continually raise up new volunteers, how to really delegate, and even how to “fire” a volunteer. Every church leader who has struggled with getting and keeping people active in the church (and that’s all of them) will love the practical, workable strategies found here.
Your partner in ministry,
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