[This is a bit rambling, but I’m fighting a virus and that’s how the thoughts flow, you know.]
I’d add a fourth incontrovertible principle —
4. We ask the wrong things from our members, and so we ask the wrong things from our ministers.
We live in an age when most husbands and wives both work, and both may well have a long commute. We then ask them to attend 3 or 4 hours of church on Sundays, another hour on Wednesday nights, and volunteer in church activities, lock ins, trips to Six Flags, etc.
We have a congregation of over 700. Our children’s ministry alone requires 350 volunteers per year. We ask a lot of our members. And I’m good with asking a lot. I just think we need to be careful to ask for what’s important and to avoid those things that don’t truly serve God’s mission through the kingdom.
This is an important one. I don’t see the point of, for example, Sunday night church. Why do the same thing twice in one day? And so, why ask the preacher to preach twice in one day?
But what will the members do with their time? Well, maybe if we move our calendars away from a building-centered Christianity toward a missional Christianity, our members will shift their theology away from “how to act in the building” to “how to participate in God’s mission.” And if we do that, what happens to the time the minister had been spending in preparing a second sermon? Well, hopefully he’s working on God’s mission by bringing others along with him as he does missional work.
If 55 hours is too much to ask from the ministers, who are paid, then it’s too much to ask of our members, who are not paid. It’s unquestionably too much to ask if the time is being used unproductively — such as in hearing lessons we’ve all heard before. If we want our members to be more active in evangelism and Christian service, we have to free them from traditional, time-consuming, ineffective practices and take them with us as we do missional things.
You see, I don’t think the minister’s job description should be about preaching so many sermons and teaching so many classes. I think he should be evaluated in terms of the mission of God through his kingdom on earth — but only if we’re evaluate ourselves and our members the same way.
Obviously, the preacher’s role in God’s mission is not the same as the everyone else’s, but his effectiveness should be measured by Kingdom standards. You see, the biggest problem we have in how we do church and how we treat our ministers is in how we envision the purpose of church. We have to get away from church-as-institution-business so we can be effective in kingdom-business. We need a massive shift in church culture and habits.
It’ll involve a lot of hard work for us all. But hard work is good for us — when we’re doing something we enjoy and that is worthwhile. And nothing is more worthwhile than helping bring the fullness of God’s Kingdom. And if we’ll teach our people the right God, they’ll soon be a lot more enjoyable to be with. Our people, our leaders, and our ministers will be more gracious, loving, gentle, and forgiving when they learn a more gracious, loving, gentle, and forgiving God.
Thus, the ministers should be accountable to the elders for their time, not to decide whether they keep their jobs, but so they can be coached on how to effectively use their time in Kingdom business and to balance church work with family time and personal care. The elders can’t keep a minister from wasting his time on low-priority activities, which could be delegated or even avoided altogether, if they don’t know how he spends his time. The elders aren’t likely to agree to share the visitation load if they don’t know how heavy the load is.
And, quite frankly, much of what we have our preachers do does not further kingdom business. They have but so much time.
Now, there are near-infinite ways a preacher can spend his days. But the decision of how he spends his time is about much, much more than whether the elders trust him. You see, as the preacher goes, so goes the church. His work just has to reflect the direction and goals of the congregation.
If the leadership wants to lead the church toward greater community involvement and the preacher spends all his time ministering to the church, it’s not going to happen. If the leadership wants greater cooperation among congregations in town, and the preacher spends all his time on lesson preparation and visitation, it’s not going to happen. The preacher’s work day and the vision of the church have to line up.
But sometimes the minister is too willing, too sympathetic, and just can’t say no to requests, with the result that he has no time left to lead the church where it needs to go. He may well need for the elders to tell him to re-arrange his time commitments, help him delegate, and take some of the load off.
And the elders may have to be the fall guys — they very likely need to be the ones who visit Miss Smith in the nursing home and tell her that she’s still going to be visited, and visited well, but it’ll be by a deacon, not the preacher, because the elders have re-assigned the preacher’s time. And Miss Smith may well be unhappy with her perceived loss of prestige. Or she may tell you that it’s high time you put the preacher to more productive work!