Recently, while I was teaching a class on pastoral leadership, a student pushed back hard when I shared that membership care, hospital visitation, and most church administration are not primarily the functions of clergy – that the church members should be responsible for those kinds of ministries.
“I got into ministry to do ministry,” he complained. “Besides, look at the early church. They made sure everyone was taken care of.”
I used to think the same thing. Certainly my formative years in the church modeled that kind of ministry and my seminary prepared me well to do Pastoral Care ministry, teaching me how to do shut-in visits, take communion to the sick, and do pastoral counseling. On the other hand, they didn’t prepare me for clogged toilets, social media marketing, live streaming, or how to deal with church bullies … but I digress.
From the beginning, the church’s membership has tried to offload both their callings and responsibilities onto the paid staff.
Take Acts 6 as an example.
There was a problem with the food pantry. The Hebrew speaking clients were getting preferential treatment and the Greek speaking clients weren’t getting notified about when the commodities were coming in … or something along those lines. The results were that the Greek-speaking church membership were being “overlooked” in the daily distribution of food. And who did they expect would deal with the problem? Church staff.
It looks like the church in Ephesus was having issues along those same lines, at least in terms of who were expected to engage in the church’s hands-on ministries. Paul wrote them a note and laid out the first church-staff job description:
11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.Ephesians 4:11–13
Paul lists out what are today often called the “offices” of the church, but one would rightly say they were the church’s paid, or at least “official,” leaders. And their job was to equip the church members to do the “works of service,” that is, to do the ministries. Paul reiterates this in his reminders that every member of the church has work to do in the church as a part of the body of Christ (Romans 12:4–9 and 1 Corinthians 12).
Back to the Acts 6 passage. Even though the congregation expected the leaders to step up and take care of the problem, the apostles self-differentiate well. For all practical purposes they responded with, “That’s not our job. That’s your job,” and then they equipped the people for works of service. “Choose seven from among you who are known to you, and known by you to be Spirit filled and who are wise” (6:3). The apostles extricated themselves from playing Pastor Fetch from the beginning.
Nonetheless, ever since then, congregations have been trying to shift their responsibilities to the staff. During our careers, we’ve probably all heard, “But Pastor, that’s what we pay you for.” Except we’re shown by example in Acts 6 and by instruction in Ephesians 4 what we’re paid for … and it’s not Pastor Fetch.
- How are you self-differentiating yourself and your job?
- How are you offloading those tasks that rightfully belong to someone else?
- What are you going to do with the time that you’ll be saving?