Laypeople and the Mission of God, Part 2

Today I continue my series about laypeople and the mission of God. If you missed the first post in the series about killing the clergy-laity caste system, you can find it here.

In the first church I planted we did something strange, but we were tying to communicate something important. In the Sunday program, normally you would print the name of the church, phone number, and the obligatory: “Ed Stetzer, Pastor.” Instead we listed everybody. I was listed as the pastor but we included the greeters, the children’s ministry coordinator and a host of other ministers– since all God’s people are the ministers. What I learned was that was a nice thought, but it takes much more than an announcement.

Every church must have a strategy and a process to equip people for ministry and mission. Thus, they create an environment where people are empowered and enabled to do ministry. Yet, and perhaps this is the greatest challenge in many churches, you have to recognize that there are many factors working AGAINST engaging all God’s people in ministry.

There is a role for leadership, but we cannot miss the reality that, in most churches, there are many more passive spectators than there are active participants in the mission of God.

The question: why?

Well, there are many reasons, but one is this: pastors and attendees want it that way. They may bemoan passivity, but they empower it personally.

Let me start with the attendees.

Anthropologists tell us that “religion” is a universal cultural reality. Every culture creates a religion. We find religion all around the world, in every culture.

The religions they create have at least two characteristics:

  • people create religious rituals to ceremonialize their devotion
  • people create a religious hierarchy to outsource their religious obligations

So, the default mode of culture and people is toward ceremony and hierarchy, rather than devotion and ministry engagement.

(Note: I am not addressing liturgy here, but rather cermonialization– where the rituals replace the relationship.)

Christianity is not another created religion, but we should note the fact that every created religion has these characteristics in common. In other words, these forces are so powerful that they are, well, everywhere. But, Christianity is so radically different– or at least it is supposed to be– that it would show another way.

Yet, it is important that we recognize the nature of people and the constructs of culture both push away from the idea of all of God’s people are priests (1 Peter 2:9) and ministers (1 Peter 4:10). We don’t want a priesthood and ministry of all believers. Instead, we want people to go to God for us and leaders to do the ministry to us– that is the default condition of the heart. It is the religion that we seem to crave– yet it is not Christianity, at least not biblical Christianity.

So, my point is this. To deal with the issue you have to fight against the causes. Biblical leadership (and, as I will address later, church offices) are put in place by God for the purpose of “for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12). Yet, too often they (we) are perpetuating the system they bemoan.

Which leads to addressing the reasons pastors often disempower the priests.

Many pastoral leaders enjoy (and take their identity from) doing the work of the ministry more than training and equipping all God’s people to do that ministry– that hurts the pastors and the people. Some pastors are concerned about their employment, wondering, “If I train them for the ministry then why would they need me.” Others are concerned about their identity asking, “What do they need me for if they do the ministry?”

This is a tricky topic and, to be honest, many of the commenters on the last post seemed upset at pastors. So, lest I be misunderstood, let me be clear: I love pastors. But, I love pastors enough to say, “You are to equip God’s people for ministry, not be the shopkeeper of the religious store providing religious rituals to ceremonialize devotion a religious hierarchy to outsource people’s religious obligations.”

That requires some shifts in how we do ministry.

More on that in Part 3.

Read Part 1 from this series here.

Read more from Ed here.

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Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

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Recent Comments
What happens when u dont have a meeting place any more. And u was forced out because the buliding wasnt available any more.
— Debra
If someone wants entertainment they're going to the wrong place. Church is not a place for entertainment...or in my opinion a barrage of coffee and donuts. Why are churches today bringing the world INTO them? Then there's the thing with children...age appropriate??? These little guys can pick stuff up in service. Besides Jesus said Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. Mt. 19:14.
— Laurie
I love the intentionality here as well as the challenge to look at the data. That's missing so many times. I would like to offer a contrarian's take. Church members and regular attenders have so many ways to get information: Announcements, bulletins, social channels, relationships, and email being among the options. But brand new people are likely going to check out the website and that's it. It might be wiser for churches with limited time and resources to focus their website almost exclusively to guests. This group of people isn't looking for a calendar of events but wants to know about regular programs. They probably aren't interested in watching all of the messages but instead may want to preview one of the services. For the times we need church members to go to websites (sign up for camp, join a group, etc), we're probably better off designing and promoting a specific page rather than cluttering up the homepage.
— Michael Lukaszewski (@mlukaszewski)

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