“The moment you hand power over to other people, you get an explosion of curiosity, innovation, and effort.”
Joshua Cooper Ramo
Too often I hear Pastors and paid staff express concerns about not enough volunteers to serve. Likewise, I cringe when I hear Board/Councils’ first response to a desire to grow a ministry is to hire a staff person. Here is the bottom-line concern with both: we have made a practice of hiring ministry being done for us. Staff have become the doers rather than the equippers. Congregants have become recipients of services or privileges of their membership rather than disciples of Jesus. Of course, this is not true for everyone, but it is true for more than not in my experience. And really, this is at the crux of the decline of mainline churches in the United States. We have forgotten (or perhaps were never really taught) what true discipleship is and what the expectations are that go along with it.
If truly we were congregations made up of disciples growing in our faith, serving, and reaching new people we would not be in the shape we are in currently. We would not be isolated from our communities. We would not be irrelevant. We would not be insular and culturally incompetent. We would have been keeping up all along the way. Now it seems almost impossible to make the huge strides to catch up and become the kind of culturally competent and relevant church that is able to speak the language of the current culture in order to communicate and build relationships in the current culture.
If we are to once again be about the Great Commission and be a deployed movement to send disciples to transform the world, Pastors and staff (paid and unpaid) must become equippers of disciples. This means having a clear understanding of how your church makes disciples and having an intentional pathway in helping people mature in their faith walk. It is also having an intentional leadership development pathway and raising up leaders for not only the congregation, but also for the community. We are to be a relational deployment pipeline with intentional pathways of development. But none of this can happen if we remain pastor-centered and/or staff-driven congregations. Pastor-centered and staff-driven congregations produce ill-equipped, privilege-dependents rather than maturing disciples of Jesus Christ who become deployed disciple makers. We must stop this cycle if we are to be the expressions of the church and the disciples as Jesus intended!
Jesus said, “If you’ve had a bath in the morning, you only need your feet washed now and you’re clean from head to toe. My concern, you understand, is holiness, not hygiene. So now you’re clean. But not every one of you.” (He knew who was betraying him. That’s why he said, “Not every one of you.”) After he had finished washing their feet, he took his robe, put it back on, and went back to his place at the table. Then he said, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You address me as ‘Teacher’ and ‘Master,’ and rightly so. That is what I am. So, if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do. I’m only pointing out the obvious. A servant is not ranked above his master; an employee doesn’t give orders to the employer. If you understand what I’m telling you, act like it—and live a blessed life. John 13:10-17 MSG