These three words describe a lot of pastors I know. Their days are spent counseling, setting up chairs, answering email, attending strategic planning meetings, preparing to preach, reading about current events and culture, fixing the sound system, visiting the sick, interviewing for a new youth pastor…and that is just the list for Monday.
These pastors frequently tell me about how overwhelmed they are, and at the same time how frustrating it is for them that their congregation is not as “engaged in the mission” as they should be. Sure, there are 20% of the people doing 80% of the work. Thank God for those 20%, but what about those other 80%? How can we get them engaged? How can we get them to volunteer more?
What are pastors to do with all these passive people? We need to work harder. We need to lead better. We need to cast more vision. We need to offer more equipping and training. The pastors need to do more.
But what if the passive congregation is not the result of the church leaders not doing enough, but doing too much?
Remember our basic jurisdictional principle? When larger jurisdictions overstep their bounds, lesser jurisdictions suffer a loss of resources, time, and motivation to do what God created them to do. The lesser jurisdictions almost always become less effective in their God-given role of advancing the Gospel and building His Kingdom.
Here is the ugly truth. Many Christians in our churches today are passive because they can be. They don’t need to engage in the mission, because whether they engage or not, the church leaders will make it happen. I can just show up, sit and soak, and all these wonderful programs happen anyway! Not only that, I can take pride in being a part of a church that offers such wonderful programs, even though I have no part in making them happen, other than an occasional donation.
The root of the problem is often not that Christians in the church are doing too little, but the leaders in the church are doing too much!
Could it be that our great youth and children’s ministries have had the unintended effect of separating parents from their children and decreased the ability of parents to disciple their children at home? It is possible that with all our great intentions of “reaching the youth” and “leading kids to Jesus” that we have usurped the responsibility of parents to be the primary spiritual trainers of their children in the home? We didn’t mean for this to happen, but in many cases we have robbed parents and families of the motivation, time, and resources they needed for their family to function as God intended.
Could it be that our dynamic and “non-threatening” evangelistic events at church have had the unintended consequence of Christian families and Christian individuals not being evangelistic in their own homes and neighborhoods? The evangelistic call to the Christian has changed from “Invite your neighbors into your home. Share your life with them. Pray for God to give you an opportunity to share the Gospel” to “We have an incredible outreach event here at church next month. Pray about who you can invite to church so they can hear the gospel from our special speaker.” Is it possible that the more pastors and church leaders focus on running outreach events at church, the less Christians share their faith in their neighborhoods and workplaces?
It’s Not Just Pastors
Church leaders are not the only ones who are overwhelmed. Remember the 20% of the congregation doing 80% of the work? We usually focus our concern on how to get the 80% motivated and on-board. We need to pay equal attention to the probability that those 20% are just as overwhelmed, burned-out, and discouraged as the pastors.
These are the ones who “answered the call!” They “stepped-up” to volunteer! They are the ones who are serious about living missional, externally-focused, gospel-driven lives…right? Maybe. Volunteering has become the gold standard for “serious” Christians.
But I have lost track of the number of people who have come to me for counseling because they were giving it all at church, volunteering in a wide range of ministries, yet their marriages were crumbling, and their children w were walking away from God. All the wonderful programs of the church, and the pressure to be involved in them, can be a factor in robbing people of the time they need for their most important ministry, their ministry to their own family members.
I’ll never forget one particular morning of ministry. At 9am, I had an appointment with two young men. One was in his late teens, the other in his early twenties. I had known the family for some time, and the young men wanted to meet with me to talk about their struggles in their relationship with their father. To put it bluntly, they were struggling with feelings of hatred for him, and they wanted guidance with how to handle those feelings and develop a better relationship with their dad. It was not an easy meeting, but I admired their willingness to meet with me.
At 10am we had a pastoral leadership meeting. A special guest was invited to join us, the father of young men I had just met with. He had done a great job volunteering in summer outreach ministry and one of the pastors had invited him in to celebrate his good work. I was the only one in the room with the knowledge of what was going on with his sons. Those two hours, back to back, broke my heart. Here was a group of pastors celebrating his impact in the lives of other children in the community, while his own children were struggling in a broken relationship with him. More had become less.
When the leaders in a local church do too much, when the church goes beyond its biblical jurisdiction, the church becomes quickly filled with a mix of passive and exhausted Christian families and Christian individuals. When this cycle takes hold churches suffer, families suffer, individuals suffer, and the Gospel is hindered.
What can be done? We can return to the simple patterns and commands for the local church in the New Testament. We can dedicate ourselves to the proper worship of God, the preaching of the Bible, prayer, care and discipleship of the believers, and to the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry in their homes, neighborhoods, communities, and beyond!
Excerpted from the upcoming book, Limited Church: Unlimited Kingdom,Randall House, Spring 2013.