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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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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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COMMENTS

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Recent Comments
In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
 
— Russ Wright
 
"While I understand the intent behind this phrase" Expound please. What do you understand to be the intent behind that phrase?
 
— Ken
 
Thank you for this article! I'm the pastor of a small church. My gifting is in teaching and we are known for aiding Christians in becoming Biblically literate. Visitor's often comment on God's presence being very real in our services. But we just don't seem to be growing. I have some soul-searching, etc. to do and this article provides some solid ground from which to proceed. Thank you again.
 
— Jonathan Schultheis
 

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