Friday, May 12, 2006

Measuring Maturity by Ministry Stages

Take the Test . . .


Years ago, I noticed an interesting way to gage the maturity or ministry development of a church or individual. I have couched these stages of growth in hypothetical comments made to one’s Pastor.

Let me back up a bit. According to Ephesians 4:11-17, a mature church is - among other things - one in which the people are trained by their leaders to do ministry and then they do it.

Such spiritually healthy saints are solid in their beliefs about and walk with Jesus, not vulnerable to the latest spiritual fads or ideas (e.g. Da Vinci Code).

They share the responsibilities of ministry according to their giftedness (read 1 Peter 4:10, 11), contributing to the church body in “which every part does its share” (Ephesians 4:16 - NKJV).

These are people who see needs, take initiative and create and do ministry, not simply follow the lead of their pastor in what, when and how. (The Reformers spoke of the Priesthood of the believers.)

With that context, here are the progressive comments of people growing into ministry maturity, and a pastor allowing and fostering it:

First, we hear: “Great job, Pastor!” This can be an encouragement from newer believers, or the intoxicating applause, of adoring, approving spectators. Sadly, such satisfied customers are fickle and unless they are growing out of this stage, they are drains on the church’s ministry and focus.

Next comes: “Pastor, may I help?” These souls have gone from watching to wanting to lend a hand. It may be from the fear that the “poor Pastor is overworked” or it may be, “I think I could be of help here.” Dare they start to think, “Hey, I can do that”? Read Romans 12:1-8.

Growing even more, we hear: “Pastor, I have an idea. May we…?” These courageous congregants are starting to see church life beyond Sunday morning worship and the sole job of the Pastor.

They may joke he only works one day a week, but know it is more like three, maybe four. No longer mere followers, these are burgeoning leaders. Either stop them while you still can, or add fuel to their holy fire.

Moving into maturity, they declare: “Pastor, we are going to…” These brazen souls have earned trust, cleaned toilets, served, led and faithfully paid their dues. Now, on their own, they see needs and opportunities that God brings before them and they act.

Out of respect and for prayer support – as well as getting first dibs on a room at church – they tell the pastor what is going to happen. Yes, tell him, not ask.

Finally, reflecting a mature ministry mindset, we overhear: “Did anyone tell the pastor that we…?” Ah, these are the heart, the life, the pulse of a healthy church. They have met a need, started a ministry, lead a charge and did not feel the need to “bother the Pastor”. The mutual trust they have developed freed them to “go for it.”

They realize – maybe after the fact - that he might want to know for his own encouragement how God used them, as well as to lighten his load, allay some guilt and prevent ministry duplication.

Truth be told, he might not even enter into their thinking. It ain’t about him, and he knows and teaches that (see 2 Timothy 2:2).

Once a pastor gets over getting “left out” by such saints, he can rejoice. This kind of ignorance is bliss and blessed. Such is the making of a ministry monster – in the best sense of the word.

Such churches blessed with such lean, mean ministry machines are not as strong or weak as their pastor. He is not the end-all. Such people are the strength of the church.

That last category may sound scary: people not running their ideas by the Pastor, Elders or Deacons. Admittedly, there are some people that need to be checking in – and frequently.

However, if at some point some people cannot be trusted to follow the Lord in using their God-given gifts, we have either done a poor job of equipping them or we are control freaks.

I close with a quandary that has haunted me for years. We applaud missionaries for bringing a church to maturity and working themselves out of a job. When the “locals,” the indigenous people are finally leading the church, the missionaries have achieved their goal.

However, that mindset, that grand ministry philosophy seems only worth exporting, not applying here at home. Why is that? Could this failure to free God’s people to serve contribute to the anemic nature of the body of Christ in America?

This quandary – call it a crisis - calls for a response on both sides of the pulpit. Are we pastors promoting people’s movement through these stages, or hindering it?

How about you “pew people” (a terrible term): In which stage do you find yourself and what are you doing to move to the next one?

1 comment:

Chris Gaborit said...

I cant agree more, I was a pastor for 17 yeras and then itinerant for 10 years travelling 10 nations per year. There are a lot of "spiritual students" in the church who are never allowed to "graduate". The great daywill come when they all graduate into their ministry function!!