Can the Pastor Do it Alone? by Melvin J. Steinbron, is the title of an interesting book that I read recently. As I read, I was reminded of an article written years ago by Ellen G. White entitled "The Duty of the Minister and the People" in which she said, "The minister and the church members are to unite as one person in laboring for the upbuilding and prosperity of the church. Everyone who is a true soldier in the army of the Lord will be an earnest, sincere, efficient worker, laboring to advance the interests of Christ's kingdom. Let no one presume to say to a brother who is walking circumspectly, 'You are not to do the work of the Lord; leave it for the minister'" (Review and Herald, July 9, 1895).
Equipping laypeople for ministry is the challenge of pastoral ministry (see Eph. 4:12). The leadership role of the pastor has been strengthened in the past two decades by church members who expect a pastor to motivate, stimulate, challenge, enable, equip, and empower them as church leaders. The contrast is seen in how well the pastor can involve others in leadership rather than trying to do everything alone. The rewards of pastoral ministry are many. The workload of planning, coordinating, implementing, and evaluating church programs and services is distributed and shared when using the talents of the people.
It is not easy to move from the traditional Superman/Lone Ranger style of ministry to a more shared pastoral ministry. In his book, Steinbron says, "Lay people can be the 'love with skin on.'" He suggests that people should be helped to identify their pastoral gifts. There are people in every church who are gifted and caring, capable of loving, available to "be there," and perhaps even waiting to be called into this kind of ministry. Steinbron says, "Peter was not an installed pastor. Yet Jesus told him, 'Feed My sheep.'"
The pastor-dominated church is fast becoming a relic. Laypeople can do pastoral work. Members will accept pastoring from laypeople. Using the small-group concept, Steinbron suggests calling together 12-15 people to work with the pastor in a "ministry group." There is a very good guide in the back of the book that I recommend for pastors and church leaders who want to better understand the biblical model of lay ministry.
Let's face it! There are reasons that we have so few people involved in ministry. The analysis given above by Ellen White is as true today as when she first wrote it. "There are a few who devise, plan, and work; but the great mass of the people do not lift their hands to do anything for fear of being repulsed, for fear that others will regard them as out of their place. Many have willing hands and hearts, but they are discouraged from putting their energies into the work. They are criticized if they try to do anything, and finally allow their talents to lie dormant for fear of criticism, when if they were encouraged to use them, the work would be advanced and workers would be added to the force of missionaries" (Review and Herald, July 9, 1895).
"Many of those who stand in places of trust cherish a spirit of caution, a fear that some move may be made which is not in perfect harmony with their own methods of labor. They require that every plan should reflect their own personality. They fear to trust another's methods" (Review and Herald, July 9, 1895). It would be good if this message could be shared with the local church as it plans for service.
The Lone Ranger style of ministry is not getting the work of the gospel done. "Ministers should take the officers and members of the church into their confidence and teach them how to labor for the Master. Thus the minister will not have to perform all the labor himself, and at the same time the church will receive greater benefit than if he endeavored to do all the work, and release the members of the church from acting the part which the Lord designed that they should" (Review and Herald, July 9, 1895). The church exists for ministry, not administration. This is an important distinction.
It is fulfilling to see young people to whom you have ministered remaining loyal to the church and serving as lay leaders in the church and community. And it is distressing to see capable young people inactive in the church or leaving the church because of confusion, disillusionment, or conflict. We can find ways to walk with our young people in their troubled times and help them discover their spiritual gifts. Achieving this may not be as easy as it sounds, but here are a few suggestions:
Share the vision of laity in ministry. Visions are much akin to faith. Visions are "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." By envisioning, elders gain a good report, and by sharing their faith and their vision, they understood that the worlds were formed when God spoke" (Heb. 11:1-3, paraphrased).
"Where there is no vision the people will perish" (Prov. 29:18, paraphrased). The objective is that people will not perish, but rather have everlasting life. "Vision" in Proverbs 29:18 is prophetic hope. So let's envision.
Envision that it is God's will for people to grow. Convey that message to the membership. Remember, the concept is more caught than taught. Let the preaching, teaching, bulletins, newsletters, prayers, and general conversation impart the message, "We can grow."
Make sure councils and committees are coordinated with the vision of the congregation. Coordination means teamwork. Coordination enhances clarity of purpose. It is always a plus when people know what their responsibilities are and where accountability lies.
Many people in the local church can do what pastors do. The pastor's task is to equip these people for ministry and to support them by example. Steinbron calls this the "pastorhood of all believers."
Harold L. Lee, retired president of the Columbia Union Conference. He was executive secretary of that union when this article was written.