The biblical model for local church ministry is not that pastors would “do ministry” but that they would “equip others for ministry” (Ephesians 4:11-13). Sadly, many churches do not recognize or act on the assignment God has given pastors.
For example, peruse the typical job descriptions churches give for their pastors. In many churches, you will likely find little emphasis on equipping people for ministry. According to the job descriptions, programs will be run and budgets will be managed but people may or may not be developed.
While some pastors neglect equipping for several reasons, some churches insist that pastors “do ministry” rather than “equip people for ministry.” Three reasons stand out:
This is not to say that churches are filled with ignorant people but that many churches are filled with people who are ignorant of the biblical approach to ministry. People are often ignorant of the biblical approach to ministry because in many ways it feels so counterintuitive.
“So our church hires pastors not to do ministry?”
“Let me get this straight. We are going to pay pastors to train us to do their jobs?”
But God’s kingdom often feels very counterintuitive. Such is life in the upside-down kingdom of God where the last are first, the weak are strong, and the poor in spirit inherit the kingdom.
Clearly people within our churches need teaching and reminding that they are priests, that as Jesus was crucified, the veil of separation was torn and we are all able to enter His presence. Ministry retained by the professionals is a deep contradiction of this glorious truth. Martin Luther reminds us, “Let everyone who knows himself to be Christian be assured of this and apply it to himself—we are all priests and there is no difference between us.”
I am the only one in my family or my wife’s family who is a pastor, which means at every family and holiday gathering, I am the one asked to pray before the meal. Our families know I am not the only one in the room who can pray, not the only one with the Spirit of God, not the only one whom the Lord hears. But it’s just easy to ask the preacher.
It’s easy and comfortable to rely on pastors to “do the ministry,” especially if that has been the culture and practice in the church. It is simply what people have observed and known. Thus, in many churches, the cycle continues.
Yes, some people resist a culture of equipping because they are selfish. For some, refusing to embrace a biblical approach to ministry is a heart issue, not a head issue; a lack of passion, not a lack of knowledge. They are likely to bemoan that pastors have easy jobs and lament life in the real world. In their minds, they give to the church and are owed some goods and services in return. Of course, shaming them won’t change their hearts. Only the grace and kindness of Jesus can.
If a church insists that pastors “do the ministry,” the church suffers. Consumers and moochers are formed rather than participants and contributors. The scope of the ministry is limited to the time and abilities of a few people. May God give us churches, not just pastors, that embrace a ministry philosophy that values the priesthood of all believers and the importance of equipping.