Advice to a New Elder: Getting Started (Other Ministries and Programs; the Involvement Minister’s Real Job)

shepherd3In theory, all ministries of a church are important and all have the same issues as those ministries headed by a minister. But you wouldn’t have hired a full-time, salaried person to run the worship service or the teen program unless you’d decided that these are extremely important ministries.

The easy mistake to make is to assume that all other ministries are therefore less important. Some are. Some aren’t.

In a given church, adult education, small groups, spiritual formation, children’s ministry, campus ministry, or singles ministry may be just as important — or more so — despite being led by volunteers. And that’s okay — so long as you remember that these ministries are important and require the same attention as the minister-led programs.

That is, there’s a natural tendency to try to oversee the church’s ministries by overseeing the church’s ministers, but the ministers may only direct three or four out of literally dozens of mission-critical ministries. And as a result, the elders get caught up in coaching and dealing with the ministers while other equally important programs languish.

The solution is the Ministries Team concept we considered earlier. Or to have a minister supervise these other programs. Or to have an administrative team of some elders plus, typically, the preacher responsible for these programs.

Or many churches hire an “involvement” or “spiritual formation” minister to oversee adult education and small groups — which is fine. But my view is that a church large enough to have these ministries is likely large enough to have volunteers who can be trained to  oversee these programs quite well.

That is, ultimately one of the key tasks of the elders is to equip the church for ministry (Eph 4). The trick is to avoid having the paid staff doing the ministry or doing all the leadership and leaving your members just to set up and break down for events. I mean, to me, the ideal involvement minister trains people to lead in these ministries, gets out of the way, and then trains people to lead in another ministry. The involvement (or spiritual formation or education) minister should be constantly working himself out of his job and looking for a new place to raise up leaders.

A disastrous involvement leader takes over the running of key ministries, evicts the members with a passion for leading the ministry, and treats the congregation as people to be served rather than people to be trained and put to work. Seems like a good idea — serving the church by taking on the burden of leadership — but it’ll kill a church in nothing flat.

There’s a world of difference. One builds a church. One destroys a church.

Some jobs will always be too big to be led by volunteers. Few churches of 200 or more will be able to run a youth program without a paid minister. But even very large churches can generally run a very effective small groups ministry or adult education program with minimal time from the staff — who should be looking for gifted people to lead these programs.

Now, that means the “minister of spiritual formation” can’t justify his paycheck by picking curriculum and faculty and doing work that the members can perfectly well do for themselves. Nor do a few classes on lectio divina get the job done.

Rather, if I were hired to do involvement, spiritual formation, education, and any of the other “catch all” job titles, I’d proceed along these lines:

  1. I’d find me some leaders for the adult education and small groups programs and train them. I’d help them for a time, and then I’d turn it over to them. It might take a couple years or just an afternoon, depending on the background of the leaders. (The biggest problem is finding volunteers who are familiar enough with the Bible, evangelical literature, and how to organize a ministry. Organization can be taught, but you really need someone who has years of Bible study behind him or her. And so sometimes a paid minister has to be involved as a resource, to help the volunteer leadership find good material. But even then, the volunteer leaders need to be making the calls on curriculum and faculty, subject, of course to the elders.)
  2. I’d then set up a committee or other structure to assimilate new members. (Assimilation requires a healthy class system and small groups program.) I’d find motivated, talented members to head the assimilation effort, and I’d coach them up and get out of the way. The preacher probably needs to teach the new members class, rather than me, but I might help design it and prepare curriculum.
  3. At this point, the church is likely doing pretty well, Maybe it’s time to get the singles program better organized and more active.
  4. Then maybe it’s time to work on outreach programs — various benevolence programs. Again, I’d train leaders, help them recruit volunteers, and get out of the way.
  5. Oh, and along the way, I’d bring MRN in to train the missions committee.
  6. By this time, I’ve probably had some key leaders ordained as elders or move out of town and need to repeat steps 1 – 5.
  7. And then I’d start working on relationships with other churches in town. Prayer lunches for pastors. Missional planning efforts. That is, I’d try to get the church so well run by volunteers that I have time to do what churches never have time to do — reach out to other churches and plan joint activities — maybe even joint communion services.

You see, I’d keep my ambitions far, far bigger than what I could ever do by myself. To have any prayer of success, I need volunteers to be in charge and running these other ministries, to free me to help my church break new ground and be truly different — and very attractive.

The role of an involvement minister is train someone else to do the jobs that churches need doing and then let the volunteer members run the program. He should be always working himself out of a job — knowing that he’ll always have plenty of jobs to train others for. I mean, it sounds like a short-term, dead-end job, but nothing could be further from the truth. A growing church will never stop needing more leaders — and more leadership training.

Now, the truth is that many of these ministers will need a full-time minister to serve as a resource, and that doesn’t have to be the involvement minister, but normally it would be. But there’s no reason that the teen minister, who holds an M.Div and is working on his D.Min. (for example) couldn’t be a resource for the adult ed. committee. But most of the time, it’ll be the involvement minister, and so over the years, his plate can get full just because of time he needs to spend helping the existing programs run. The solution is (a) to be very careful not to be an enabler, (b) to involve other ministers as resource people (and it’s for the church for the youth minister to work on some adult projects, and good for him, and (c) to find church members to put on the committee who have the experience to fill the gap.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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10 Responses to Advice to a New Elder: Getting Started (Other Ministries and Programs; the Involvement Minister’s Real Job)

  1. Larry Cheek says:

    Yes Jay, that all sounds picturesque. But, the truth of the matter is the church is not supposed to be an organization which makes soo much work for their members that they do not have a life outside of the organization. The church is not an organization that was commissioned to elevate the members to the tenth degree of Holiness. The church was to edify and build up the members, exactly what does that mean. We in this generation of Christianity are clueless, you see we are not persecuted in the same manner as the majority of the Christian World. We can live most of our lives never being looked down upon as the scum of the earth because of what we believe. We can go the majority of our lives without having our closest friends and family members shun us because we believe in God. Even though Jesus told us very plainly that we would experience those rejections and abuse from our immediate earthly families. Very few of us would experience life and think of our relationship with God as Elijah did after his encounter with Jezebel. He was scared to death and thought he was the only individual on earth that was trying to live a life of serving God. In many places on earth Christians can still be influenced to believe that about themselves. The church is the fellowship which is commissioned to hold us together, a place of safety from those feelings. The church becomes our family of the spiritual nature. The church was never viewed in NT as a place of labor, education, a child care facility and most of all, the only source of God’s blessings.
    The majority of what is going wrong in our churches is that instead of guiding the parents to teach their children and their neighbors children about Jesus and God. The church attempts to provide that as a service to the parents. Attempting to keep them so involved that they would not find time to associate with their piers, therefore not influenced by them. When in reality it would be lack of exposure which leads them in a correct path, which does not prepare them to stand firm in a commitment of beliefs. Then when they encounter them in an unprotected environment (they at some time will come face to face with a worldly environment, through the need to be their own providers) you know (work) they will not have developed their own abilities to ward off the enemies of God. Yes, churches have done a great service to the world in creating schools and hospitals, education and health. But, the church assembly should be like a family reunion each time we meet. Because of this joyous occasion at our meetings we could easily invite friends who would not feel like they were attacked in a lecture to “repent” even though they did not see the need. They would soon learn of the hope and safety within the family from the strain of worldly life. Which seems to me would be shining Jesus’s light to the world.
    Of course, large churches are at a disadvantage in this mission, too much work to pull it off, and nobody can do much more than just greet another person whom they cannot know. Therefore they just congregate in a little corner with those whom they have become acquainted. Although this sometimes happens even in small assemblies.

  2. Dwight says:

    Yes, Larry we have elevated the church to Temple status as the place of God, even when this wasn’t so in the OT. The Passover feast was done in the home among family members, mostly, but it was Godly and spiritual and it reminded the people of God’s deliverance. Sound familiar?
    Much of worship wasn’t to be done at the Temple, even though it was considered the pinnacle of what worship to God was on a ceremonial and nationalistic level. Otherwise the people were to be Godly and pray and sing and grow, etc.
    All in all the assembly/church is neither a mission, nor does it have a mission beyond lifting up and improving those that make up the assembly. A mission of the saint is to bring the lost to Jesus or the Kingdom, not by baptism, but by bringing Christ to them.
    Although I believe Amway and such are poor examples of how to sell products, it is a great example of a way to present Christ. Each person tells another, because it is the best product ever and we actually are supposed to love and care for those around us, then those people do the same. You are not gaining anything, except a brother or sister, but Christ is gaining those whom He loves and died for and they are gaining salvation.

  3. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Dwight,

    During Jesus’ day, the Passover was celebrated in Jerusalem. As result, Jews from around the world crowded into the city walls to sacrifices 10s of thousands of lambs. Special tents has to be set up to house the pilgrims. It took weeks of preparation to have enough places for everyone to spend the night and have enough food to eat. It was crazy. Over 200,000 people would be in a city built for 30,000. So every room was taken, and many slept outdoors. The officials had to purge the entire city of anything unclean or leavened — one reason corpses had to be buried before sundown on Friday before Passover.

    So the Passover helped unite Jews from all over the globe as they shared space for at least a week together.

  4. Larry Cheek says:

    Jay,
    A little research on the number of Jews at the Passover reveled a staggering number, far above your estimate.

    https://www.templeinstitute.org/passover.htm
    Under the heading, Vast Numbers of Pilgrims, the next paragraph tells about a message in the Talmud. I did not copy because of copyright warnings.

    This one really is astounding.
    http://www.bible-history.com/backd2/jerusalem.html

  5. dwight says:

    Yes Jay, the Passover unified the Jews, even though they had their own Passover meals in small groups. This I believe was the purpose of having each of the feast on a particular day.
    We could learn something from this, like as we partake of the Lord’s Supper we are unified with those in the next church, in the next town, etc.
    One interesting thing is that there were two Passover meals, one regular and the other for those who couldn’t make the regular.
    There is a question of whether Jesus partook of the Passover a week early so that he could be the Passover lamb on the traditional day during His crucifixion.
    One study argues that Jesus didn’t partake of the fourth glass of wine during the Passover, instead to partake of it on the cross, “I thirst”, thus to drag it out and seal it with His death.

  6. Alabama John says:

    Like the money changers in the temple Jesus threw out, it would be interesting to know if the charges, price, for all that was needed and used in Jerusalem by far off fellow Jews was at a fair price or was this a home town money making event.

  7. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Dwight,

    Not disagreeing with any of your points. Just imagine a Passover with so many people in town that the streets are filled with people, every patch of earth covered with tents and booths for visitors. All the residents consumed with helping provide food and water for the visitors. Sharing ovens and front yards with strangers for the sake of Passover.

    What would be the modern Lord’s Supper equivalent? Not what we do — eating in separate buildings cut off from each other. It would be renting a football stadium, filling it with Christians, and taking communion together in the presence of each other. Baptists serving communion to Presbyterians. Pentecostals serving Anglicans. Everyone together and surrendering their preferred ritual for the sake of a common meal.

  8. Larry Cheek says:

    Jay,
    That sounds like a gathering of Christians, in opposition to churches gathering. Churches don’t have a right to being separately identified. Remember the communication in Paul’s writings.

    1Co 1:10-14 ESV I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. (11) For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. (12) What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” (13) Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (14) I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius,

  9. dwight says:

    We indeed have a problem seeing the person in the next building as family simply because they are not in our building or with our group. We can’t imagine any state that can incorporate large and small at the same time. I some time think this may be our greatest hurdle into getting into heaven is the fact that heaven will be full of people we can’t imagine being there and will not be full of people like us who think we should be there.

  10. Alabama John says:

    Amen Dwight and that same thinking extends all the way back to the beginning for all the nations other than the Israelite (Jews).

    God was being worshiped as best they could by many all over the world not written about in our bible, who by the way are by far most of us on heres ancestors.

    Will be great to hear then tell of their experiences with God throughout the ages that we know nothing about, when we all get to heaven.

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