A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Monday, May 12, 2014

Sometimes It's Best for Pastors to Get Out of the Way

Churches may have pastors, but the ministries of the church must be and should be lay-driven. The huge downside to the professionalization of the ministry is that too many pastors believe they have to do ministry for everyone in the church, while too many laity believe the same thing. When the pastor does everything it leads to an exhausted pastor, over-fed and out-of-shape laity, and a church that is neglectful of its mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

Yes, the pastor needs to provide leadership to be sure, but sometimes the best thing a pastor can do to foster new ministry in the church is to simply get out of the way and let the laity run with their vision and allow them do what they have a passion for. Over my years as a pastor, I have seen more new and vital ministries start by following seven simple principles:

1) If the new ministry is in keeping with church's mission statement, it does not need to be approved by the church board. Do not bog down new ideas in committees and endless debate that just foster discouragement. A church does not need to vote on everything; if competent and trustworthy lay leadership is in place, things will happen and the slow-moving turtle of ecclesiastical democracy and red tape can be saved for such decisions as new construction and Sunday morning schedule changes.

2) Any person who suggests a new program or mission is responsible for implementing it. It is amazing how many people in the church come up with wonderful new ideas that simply make more work for others.

3) To quote United Methodist church consultant, Doug Anderson, "the doers decide." Armchair quarterbacks are not allowed in the church. Too often people who desire nothing more than to sit on the sidelines want to have their say and direct how things should be done while others put in their time, energy, and commitment. I have actually had people approach me on various occasions over the years telling me and others in leadership on something that should be done, but in the same breath say, "But I'm too busy to help." Those who have "skin in the game" get to make the decisions and decide on the course of a ministry they have committed themselves to seeing through. Those who choose to be bench warmers can remain in the seated position in silence.

4) The pastor and the paid staff are there to provide ancillary support, but other than that, they should get out of the way so that people can pursue their passion.

5) Pastors should allow people to plug themselves in where they are passionate. Burnout in the church happens not so often from people doing too much, but from people who are doing things they have no desire to do. It is better to leave a job undone then to push someone into it making everyone unhappy.

6) While the pastor needs to let the laity drive the mission, she must also encourage, encourage, and encourage. Things seldom go exactly as planned in the church. Becoming discouraged is an ever-present reality. Pastors need to be cheerleaders offering their support. They need to write thank you notes and give verbal thanks to those who have committed themselves to the mission of the Church of Jesus Christ in the world.

7) Pray, pray, pray, and pray. Need I say more?

It is amazing what God can do with people who are passionate for a particular ministry; it is amazing what God can do when the pastor simply gets out of the way.


Anonymous said...

Oh wow! Someone finally had the guts to say it out loud! And a pastor at that! That has actually been the topic of discussion between me and my husband, then with a friend from another denomination just this past week. My friend actually said, "Did you know that when someone becomes becomes a pastor, they automatically become a lawyer, engineer, architect, and plummer, all in the same day? (Or at least they think they do" he added sarcastically). Believe it or not, this church was here before [this pastor] came, and if you're careful, it might still be here when you leave. Too many take "pastor in charge" waaaay too seriously!

drwayman said...

First time reader here... I saw this link on my twitter account. The professionalization of pastoring, I agree, can get in the way of spiritual and church growth. Henri Nouwen admonishes pastors in his book, The Living Reminder: Service and Prayer in Memory of Jesus Christ. He states that pastors can engage in "the ministry of absence" For example, when the minister is absent, then the Holy Spirit can be more present. So, stepping out of the way is needed at times.

Thanks for such a good post :)

Unknown said...

Indeed. The purpose of the pastor (and those in other church offices) is to 'equip the saints for the work of ministry' (Eph 4:12), not necessarily to do the ministry themselves (except that they themselves are among the saints and therefore called to ministry). Have we often gotten that flipped backwards?

Anonymous said...

I was with you all along till you said this: "While the pastor needs to let the laity drive the mission, she must also encourage, encourage, and encourage." "She". Am I against female pastors? No! Am I against political correctness in the church? Yes. Your points are well taken but sad you have to taint them with political correctness.

Allan R. Bevere said...


We United Methodists ordain women. This means, that the "she" in my post is a reality in many UM churches for which I am thankful.

What is sad is that you chose to post such a silly comment anonymously. I suppose it is much easier to post such nonsense while hiding one's identity.