In 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:
- 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.)
- 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.
- At this point, the church is likely doing pretty well, Maybe it’s time to get the singles program better organized and more active.
- 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.
- Oh, and along the way, I’d bring MRN in to train the missions committee.
- 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.
- 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.