October 31, 2013

By Phil Maynard

Weary Clergy and Idle Laity: What’s Wrong With This Picture?


One of the impressions I get is that many pastors are weary.  They have been at this ministry thing 60 hours or more a week for some years and they are just tired.  And no matter how hard they have worked at it, it never seems quite enough.  It isn’t that they don’t care – they care deeply!  But there isn’t enough time or energy to meet all the needs waiting for their ministry.  I remember one pastor telling me years ago that he really didn’t want any more people in his congregation because he couldn’t keep up with the expectations for ministry by the people that he had then!

Several of my lay leader friends have shared their impression that lay people often feel underutilized and even – though few would probably put it so bluntly — a bit bored with the church thing.   Many spiritually mature disciples have significant leadership skills, teaching abilities, mentoring know-how and the capacity for caring which have been developed through work and life experiences.   And when they come to church they wind up handing out bulletins or going to meetings where minor decisions are endlessly discussed.

Something is wrong with this picture: over-worked clergy and under-worked laity.  Pastors with excessive ministry expectations and laity with few.  Worn out ordained servants and laity disengaged from ministry.  Is this the picture of Christ’s Body ministering that we see in Scripture?

Certainly not!  The picture in Scripture is one of every baptized disciple called and gifted and functioning in ministry.  The ministries vary according to people’s gifting, but every follower of Jesus Christ is invited and expected to join Jesus and one another in ministry that makes a difference in people’s lives.  “It was [Christ] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until 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. . . . From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”  (Ephesians 4:11-13, 16 NIV emphasis added)

This is a picture of an interdependent community where everyone does their part in coordination with one another.  There are not a few overworked servants while most sit idly in the pews.  There are not some who get ministered to and others who do the ministering.  There are not consumers of religious services and the hired help who provide them.  There are not just a few who get all the honor and glory for being called to ministry, while most do not share in this privilege.    Instead Paul describes the church as Christ’s Body in which every part (person) has a role to play which blesses others.

Somehow we need to help one another better reflect this understanding of a Biblically functioning church.   Could pastors help laity discover the ministries to which they are called and encourage them to exercise their service to others?  Could laity release pastors from the expectation of doing the ministry that laity are called to do?  Could pastors quit trying to do all the ministry, essentially taking ministry away from the laity?   And could laity do the ministry that God’s has planned for them to do and not expect it to be done for them by a professional pastor?

Perhaps an example would be helpful.  Where does Scripture suggest that clergy have to do all the pastoral care?  Hospital, nursing home and shut-in visits in many congregations are expected to be covered by the pastor.  And yet, there may be laity quite willing and able to do this important ministry – especially if the minister could go with them for awhile and coach them (disciple them) about making pastoral visits in these settings.  But would those in the hospital and their family feel that the church had “really” visited them if the pastor doesn’t come?  Would people feel that the pastor was somehow shirking her or his responsibilities if lay people made the nursing home or shut-in visits?  Clearly teaching from the pulpit and conversation among church leaders will have to expand the congregation’s understanding of the roles of laity and clergy in ministry.

What if your congregation had a plan for helping people move from being baby Christians dependent upon the congregation to feed and care for them, to mature followers of Jesus Christ who assumed responsibility for the ministries God has prepared for them to do as self-giving servants.  How might your congregation be different if every member were taking up the ministry for which God gifted and planned for them?  Would it free your pastor up to provide leadership in other critical areas?  Would your laity feel engaged in life-changing ministries equal to their gifting and the fulfillment of making Kingdom contributions?

Your congregation would reflect better the description of Christ’s Body in Ephesians 4:11-13.   “[Christ] handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christians in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.”  (The Message)