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Mobilizing the Church

I remember a children's Sunday School song that was popular a few years back. The lyrics went like this:

When we all work together, together, together,

When we all work together how happy we'll be.

For your work is my work and our work is God's work

When we all work together how happy we'll be.

This song captures the essence of how a church should function. Like the various parts of a body work together as a whole, all members of the church need to work together to accomplish the purposes of the church.

Today, more than ever, pastors are beginning to realize that for centuries the church’s focus has been unbalanced. Churches have held the notion that pastors were the primary ministers.

Loren Mead, author of The Once and Future Church, is one of many people who for decades has been calling for the return of the work of God to the people of God. He says:

In Christendom the lay people would come to the pastor and say, "How can I help you with the ministry?" Today, the pastor needs to come to the lay people and say, "How can I help you in your ministry?" That's the 180-degree turnaround required between clergy and laity. Clergy used to own the ministry and mission, and now they are beginning to understand that their primary role is to be equippers and supporters of the laity in their ministry. It's a dramatic role reversal.[1]

For example, Matt Chandler recently pointed out the importance of lay ministry to his church:

My job, and the job of vocational ministers, is not to do the work of ministry, but rather help you see, spot, be trained in your giftedness and then unleash that giftedness on the world around us that you have been called to ministry,” he said.

We’ve got it all backwards. Y’all [sic] think we have been called to ministry and that’s why the manifold wisdom of God isn’t seen globally, because it’s not that The Village Church has 50 ministers, it’s that The Village Church has 6,000 ministers. That’s how the manifold wisdom of God is seen.[2]

Unfortunately, some pastors still fall victim to a Henry Ford mentality. Henry Ford was the revolutionary founder of Ford Motor Company. His dream to, "build a motorcar for the multitude", changed the face of twentieth century American life. In 1903 Ford was producing nearly fifty percent of all the automobiles in the United States.

According to John Maxwell, "Henry Ford was the antithesis of an empowering leader. He always seemed to undermine his leaders." [3] One of those reasons was that he refused to let anyone else tinker with his Model T. As Maxwell notes, "One day when a group of his designers surprised him by presenting him with a prototype of an improved model, Ford ripped its doors off the hinges and proceeded to destroy the car with his bare hands." [4]

For almost twenty years the Ford Motor Co. offered only one design. People joked that Henry Ford would provide a car in any choice of color requested, so long as the choice was black.

By 1931 Ford's market share had shrunk to only twenty-eight percent. By the time Henry Ford stepped aside and allowed his grandson, Henry Ford II, to become president, the company hadn't made a profit in fifteen years! At that time, the company was reported to be losing the staggering sum of a million dollars a day! What a contrast to 2019, when you can drive into a full parking lot and not find one single car that is precisely identical to yours.

That reality is symbolic of the fact that most people have multiple choices in every area imaginable. Those in church leadership need to understand this and how it factors into the issue of mobilizing people and their gifts for ministry.

Given this huge array of choices in our culture, it should not be surprising that the people who have grown up in this consumer-driven culture expect to be offered attractive choices in such areas as, learning more of the Christian faith; being engaged in meaningful fellowship experiences with other believers; utilizing their gifts, experiences, and skills in ministry with others, and moving to a higher level in their own spiritual growth.

So, what can the church do to keep pace with these expectations?

1.Reject today's consumer driven culture and demonize it as ideologically incompatible with the Christian faith. The church could focus on people born before 1960, who are comfortable with a two-choice, "take -it-or-leave-it" approach.

2. Wait for the year 2050 and define consumerism as a passing fad and plan to outlive it.

3.Reject “choices” altogether. The church could be satisfied with a small congregation that reaches and serves people who value their small fellowship more than having choices like intimacy, community, connections, caring, predictability, and simplicity. (This is the alternative chosen by well over one-half of all congregations in North America today).

4. Micro niche by offering only one choice for each of the above, and expand the geographical area served by the congregation to a forty-five-mile radius. Draw the one half to one percent of the population who find their limited array of choices to be right, relevant and fulfilling for them.

5. Expand the options and range of attractive choices as a central component of a larger strategy to reach (a) a younger generation and/or (b) a broader slice of the population.

6. Redefine pastoral roles to equip, train, nurture and support teams of lay volunteers who, in turn, create new ministries in response to new needs that emerge.

7. Maximize the options and rejoice in the fact that their congregation is blessed with the discretionary resources and leadership required to offer people an exciting array of options in learning, discipling, fellowship, doing gift-based ministry, and enriching one's own personal spiritual pilgrimage.

Churches that exercise the last three options have lay ministries that flourish. Churches such as these tend to emphasize the use of spiritual gifts and have pastors that encourage people to take initiative in ministry.

Achieving the empowerment of lay leadership is not easy. But it begins with a conscious choice on the part of pastors to give their leadership away and to literally push the ministry of the church out the door and into the community. It results in the mutual empowerment of people in ministry, but it requires the hard work of pastors cultivating the soil of the congregation’s culture to be receptive to the changes.

Pastors are the key to cultivating and empowering the laity. Without their support, the laity will often stumble along looking for a place to utilize their gifts. When a pastor leads this charge to empower the laity for ministry, and they find a willing laity that wants to be empowered, that church is on its way to becoming healthy church.


[1] Loren Meade, The Future of the Church, Change Conference, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Burnsville, Minnesota, 1997. Audiocassette.

[2] Leah Marie Ann Klett, Matt Chandler warns Church is no longer about discipleship but 'being entertained, Christian Post, Wednesday, May 15, 2019.

[3] John Maxwell, 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 122.

[4] Ibid.

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