The Key to Understanding Today’s World and the Role of the Church

 Two metaphors will guide us – The National Park and The Jungle.  Everyone born before 1980 was born in the National Park world.  Everyone born after that was born into The Jungle.  Here are the differences:

The National Park

•        Is neatly laid out

•        Predictable and slow to change

•        Warn you about dangerous animals

•        Provide adequate shelter

•        National parks change very slowly

•        You are entitled to the experience

•        National parks can be traveled alone

•        No compass is necessary

•        You can see the horizon

The Jungle

•        Nothing is neatly laid out

•        Nothing is predictable and changes are fast

•        Predators are everywhere

•        You are on your own for shelter

•        Changes from day to day

•        You are not entitled to be there

•        No one goes into the Jungle alone

•        You need a compass

•        The horizon isn’t visible

The Two Keys to Effective and Faithful Ministry in Any Size Church in Any World

Any effective and faithful church must be biblically sound and culturally relevant. Without this combination something always goes wrong.

The function of effective and faithful church leadership is always driven by the needs of the mission field and not by the convenience of the members of the institutional church.

Modern Day Christianity’s Basic Failure

The biggest failure of Christianity is the failure to understand the proper roles of the Pastor (staff) and laity.  One of the reasons for this is the Bible did not make a distinction between clergy and laity as we do today. The term “laity” did not appear until the third century. Until then, everyone was the same except for their gifts.

But we make that distinction today. As long as we ordain clergy (ordination is not in the New Testament) instead of acknowledging the equality of all of the gifts, we are stuck with this distinction. Some groups make their way around this distinction by raising up most of their pastoral leaders from within their church without seminary training.

Some groups, like the United Methodist Church and many others, understood the role of the laity on the frontier when we had circuit riders before the day of seminary trained “professional” clergy. What happened: Laity turned ministry over to the “professional” who became the congregation’s hired gun who was to play pastor fetch, do all the ministry, and change all the spiritual diapers. Is it any wonder the UMC is in such deep trouble in the U.S.?

Failure to encourage and promote the proper role of the pastor and laity is the primary reason our God’s people have not matured or “gone on to perfection” and our churches are riddled with conflict.

The results are debilitating for the church.

  • Pastors are expected to be chaplains to the congregation and “hit men” for the church. The primary role for pastors has been to take care of the members and to “do” the ministries of the church.
  • Layman’s Sunday is a testimony to our failure to understand the biblical role of God’s people.  One day a year, Laymen take over the Sunday worship. Just think what that says about ministry. It says that real ministry happens on Sunday, in the pulpit, and that lay people can do real ministry only once a year.
  • We have made domestic house pets out of laity and they seldom leave the sandbox. This is an immoral situation. Laity are the most incredible people on the planet.  You give yourself without any pay. It’s way past time to release the laity to be the people God intended you to be.
  • Instead of fulfilling their primary role, too many laity become sidetracked into irrelevant offices and tasks. We spend time “dialing for people” to accept tasks they do not want to do. Instead of fulfilling their primary role of being the priesthood of the believer, they waste time going to or running administrative meetings, representing the congregation at denominational events, or leading responsive liturgies. Spiritual leaders do not want to do any of those things, and congregations who insist that these are their primary tasks end up appointing power brokers instead of servant leaders.

How Two World View Metaphors View All of This

·         The National Park wanted a

Clergy Person with denominational and academic

credentials ……

Who  had  oriented  themselves around the polity and

doctrine of a Church Institution ……

Who had been trained to manage ecclesiastical  work and take care of people ……

·         The Jungle wants a


Lay Person with personal authenticity and spiritual
integrity ……


Who has answered for herself or himself the Key Question:

“What is it about my experience of Jesus Christ this community

cannot live without?    ……

Who exercises spiritual gifts from God and equips others for ministry

Who has been equipped by the church with inter-personal skills and

Biblical  insight ……

The New Testament View of Pastors and Laity

Three texts are important for undoing this situation:

  • Ephesians 4:11-12

“And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”

·         Romans 16:1-4

RSV  I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the church at Cenchreae,  2 that you may receive her in the Lord as befits the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a helper of many and of myself as well.  3 Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4 who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I but also all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks.

·         John 21:18

Jesus saidFeed my sheep.” Modern day people have lost the meaning of this text.  Peter never saw a shepherd feed a sheep. So what did this text mean? Taking this text as Peter would have heard it meant that the role of the Shepherd is four fold:

o        To keep the sheep mobile and on the road to mission with Jesus.

o        To insure that the sheep had plenty of good pasture so they could mature and reproduce.

o        To keep them safe from the predators.

o        To go out and find any lost sheep. This couldn’t be achieved if the sheep couldn’t take care of themselves in the shepherd’s absence.

The role of the pastor (staff) is to equip the saints. The role of the laity is to be the ministers. It’s that simple. Laity are not complete saints until they have been equipped. Paid staff steal the essence of sainthood from people when they “do” the work of ministry.

The role of all of God’s people is to be the priesthood of the believer. In most mainline cases, too much emphasis is placed on the role of the paid staff to do most of the ministry. Too much emphasis is placed on the non-biblical practice of ordination which perpetuates the idea that clergy are more special than laity.

The Great Shifts of Our Time

The effective and faithful church is realizing that the roles of clergy and laity are rapidly changing in those churches that are producing for the Kingdom.

Credentialed clergy Authentic laypeople
Clergy oriented around polity Laity with an experience
Clergy who take care of people Laity with spiritual gifts
Clergy with historical and liturgy gifts Laity with biblical insight
Authoritative clergy with Kingdom keys Humble laity on a learning curve

Christianity’s Greatest Challenge

Throughout history, any renewal in the church has begun with a rediscovery of the laity. Therefore, one of the most important issues facing the church today is the rediscovery of biblical leadership and ministry. In a nutshell, it is this:

  • Pastors are the Elders of the church and should have primary spiritual and administrative oversight for the congregation. When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed”. (Acts 4:23) Also we see in the Jerusalem Conference that Peter and James were the primary decision makers in the church.

We have placed so many checks and balances on leadership that we have hamstrung it to death. We are afraid of strong, biblical leadership. In our desire to keep bad things from happening, we have insured that nothing good can happen.

  • Laity are the ministers. The role of the laity is to be the priesthood of God, serving one another and ministering to the unchurched.
  • Christianity is a “lay” religion.  The ministry of the laity is no different than that of the clergy.  Our Lord did not intend for apostles, evangelists, and pastors to be “professionals”; nor did He intend for laity to be seen differently form clergy.  Both are equally called by God.
  • The great lesson from the early church is that the apostles couldn’t do it alone. Paul needed Prisca, Aquila, Onesimus, Tychicus, Justus, Luke. The single most important task of the transformational pastor is to choose his or her traveling companions, both staff and laity, wisely on the road to mission.
  • The church reaches maturity and unity when pastors equip and laity minister.

The Jungle Culture Demands a New Way of Achieving Ministry

The type of world we now live in suggests two things about effective ministry in the 21st century – ministry must be swift and decisive. Two words define the first part of the 21st century – speed and flexibility. The top down, command and control, committee structure of the last 50 years will not deliver effective ministry in the new world.  It will be a permission-giving, lay empowered team based approach, as opposed to the pastor and staff being the hired guns who do all of the ministry. Those who decide what ministry will be done will be the same people as those who carry out the ministry. Permission-giving, servant empowering environments produce stronger spiritual giants and stronger churches.  This means allowing people to live out their spiritual gifts without asking for permission from a centralize authority as long as the act remains within the predetermined boundaries of the church’s mission, vision, and values (DNA). As long as two or three have the same interest, let them pursue it.

In other words lay driven teams are replacing the committee structure of the last fifty years.  Today we need staff led churches and lay driven ministries.

Churches that do not have these abilities will disappear over the next 25 years.

The emerging church looks at leaders as if they are spiritual midwives.  Spiritual midwives do for the church what midwives do for pregnant women.

Spiritual Midwives:

·        Provide an environment in which “expectants” are encouraged to give birth to the potential within them.

·         Take most of their leadership clues from the “expectant.”

·         Work primarily with people who expect to be more than they are.

·         Spend most of their time with those most likely to carry on the vision of transformation.

·         Never ask the “expectants” if they wish to give birth; it is assumed.

·         Always work in teams. Think of all the people involved in the birth of a child.

·         Exercise a strong nurturing presence before, during, and after the birth.

·         Give the new birth back to the “expectant” and do not take care of them.

·         Lead by authenticity and influence.

·         Embrace change because they know it is the prelude to growth.

·         Are always servants.

·         Are always encouragers.

·         Avoid the following like the plague:

o              Barrenness – churches that refuse to grow and give birth to new ministries.

o              Abortion – churches that give birth to something new and then kill it before it has a chance to grow.

o              Stillbirth – churches that spend enormous energy giving birth to a program that is already dead.

Effective Large Churches Must Have a Farm System for Planting Churches and Raising Up Leaders

Denominations no longer have the expertise or will to plant churches. Without annually planting churches equal to 3% of the denominations, the denomination will eventually die.  We are seeing more and more large churches developing a staff position for church planting.

The key is for the church to develop a culture of equipping where the entire congregation is mobilized for ministry rather than the normal twenty percent. When you move away from committee work to small groups that multiply, and hands-on permission giving ministries, the number of people in ministry increases.

Farms systems are necessary for raising up leaders.  Farm systems recognize that there are various levels of leadership (these are not hierarchical as much as they are various levels of servanthood).

·         Leader of Leaders – lead pastor

·         Leaders of Leaders – highest level

·         Leaders of Systems – like lay mobilization

·         Leaders of Major Ministries – like a small group system

·         Leaders of programs, Short and Long Term – like Sunday School or VBS

·         Leaders of Committees – Lowest level of leadership

·         Apprentices in Training – everyone else

A good farm system requires a workable process that every leader in the church knows how to work.  It must include elements of the following:

•          Identify the potential leader

•          Invite the potential leader

•          Discern the potential gift

•          Equip the potential leader

•          Match and place the emerging leader

•          Coach the leader

•          Recognize the results of the leader

The Goal of Christianity

Christianity has one big over arching goal – to make disciples.  Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all people groups, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”    Matthew 28:19-20

The goal of ministry is to grow people, not churches.  This means that making disciples is more important than making decisions.  The role of laity is not to hold an office in the church, to make decisions, and to run the church.  Ask any long-term member of a mainline church about ministries they have performed over the years, and the majority will recite a long litany of positions they have held within the church.  The problem is that, many times, holding office may not be the ministry God has designed for them, and often they spend so little time in so many offices of the church that they never become effective enough to train their replacements.

Jesus told us that we would do greater things than he ever dreamed of doing. “Greater things than I have done, you will do.”  John 14:12.  Surely we don’t think that such greatness happens in committees.

Bureaucracy, representative government, committees, and voting were not part of the early church.  The only place you find these is in the Jerusalem church, and it was so weak Paul had to raise money for it.

If making disciples is the key issue for the church, and if laity are the primary ministers of the church, then the primary role of laity is to invite their friends to Christ.  Here is the weak link in the chain.

The Rest of the Basics

·         The fewer committees a church has, the more laity that will be equipped.

·         The less emphasis on bureaucracy, representative democracy, and voting, the more laity will be in ministry.

·         Effective lay ministry focuses on accountability instead of control.

·         The primary way lay ministry is effective is through team based ministry.

Committee                                     Team

Committee Elected                                         Individually Called

Committee Nominated                                    Leader Invites

Standing Group                                               Has an Ending

Maybe a Mission                                             Clear Mission

Someone Controls                                          Autonomous

Need Permission                                            Act On Their Own

Not Responsible For Action                         Responsible for Action

Silos                                                                Connected

  • The two primary changes needed in most churches:


    • The willingness of clergy to give up power and their monopoly on ministry. I find this one of the hardest things for most staff members.  It is just easier to “do” ministry than to “equip” the saints for ministry.
    • The willingness of the laity to give up the notion that the role of laity is to make decisions and go to meetings.
    • This means that there are fewer people doing administration and making day to day decisions and more people doing ministry.  This is a very tough transition for both parties.


    • One of the key places we see this living out is in the area of hiring and firing staff.  The more this area is left up to the lead pastor and the key staff the more effective the church will be.


  • The lay ministry we see most often in thriving churches is a small group ministry that is designed to multiply by raising up new leaders.