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Breaking the ministry mould

by on August 28, 2013

As I wandered around Canterbury this morning collecting vacuum cleaners, biscuits, milk and other things needed for our ESL class, I detected a certain frustration in my soul which was more than the usual not-a-morning-person grumpiness. I interrogated this feeling a little, and this is what it said.

“Here I am, a four-year-theologically-trained minister of the gospel, I have specialised skills, and here I am spending my morning vacuuming rugs etc. Which is totally unskilled work, which anyone could do. And I do this sort of thing every week. And is this a good use of me? It isn’t exactly what I was trained for.”

I should point out that my mundane efforts were enabling three teachers to run an ESL ministry, plus one babysitter to do her babysitting ministry. Four people engaged in local ministry instead of one. But I think I would have felt more comfortable if I’d been on my own doing, I don’t know, door to door visiting or something. Something that felt like frontline mission or ministry.

So there’s the problem I have. I subscribe to a ministry model where I train and support and facilitate God’s people for their ministry. That’s the theory. But my instincts are otherwise. And my own education makes it harder not easier. All those years of study encourage me to feel like I’m, you know, destined for higher things. I’m the one who knows stuff. I can do stuff other people can’t do.

And it’s not just my instincts. On a few occasions I’ve been admonished by church members for spending too much time packing the dishwasher after church lunches etc: ‘It’s not a good use of your time.”

I can’t help wondering if an academic, theological training is a good sort of preparation for a lot of the work I want to do as a pastor/mission team leader. Aren’t we more likely turning out guys who want to do the ministry themselves, rather than enable others to do it? Cause let me tell you, enabling involves a lot of pretty mundane, unskilled, unglamorous work.

Is it possible that this church planting gig would have been easier if I hadn’t gone to college? Probably the answer is, yes and no. In some ways my education helps. But it gets in the way too, like I’ve been describing.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for my college education. There’s stuff I need to do, that I couldn’t do if I hadn’t had it.

But what’s not always realised – and what was not made clear at college – is how much of my job is taken up doing relatively unskilled work. Like packing up the toys, cooking the snags, sweeping the floors, chatting to mums about their children, chatting to dads about their children, making coffee, etc (and no you don’t need a degree to make coffee!). I spend a lot of my time not being the main man.

But I feel conflicted about that. And I’ve got a hunch that I’m not Robinson Crusoe in this regard. Maybe some other guys are feeling the same effect, finding their big education pushes them to prefer being the main man, doing high level ministry activities rather than the ones that might empower others?

In fact now that I think of it, isn’t this recognised as a common problem among church ministers: spending most of their time doing the ministry, rather than enabling others to do it? I remember Archie Poulos telling us at college that ministry in our churches is becoming increasingly professionalised, and taken out of the hands of the ordinary church members, as we employ bigger and more highly trained staff teams.

What’s the solution to this conundrum? How do we break this ministry mould? We want to train up and send out leaders who will facilitate and train and enable their people for ministry. But maybe the training we do makes it hard for us.

I’d love to hear people’s ideas.

From → General

  1. maybe it could be a case of training up lay preachers (if you have people in your church who could serve that way)… that way you could be training people to serve, they could be gaining new skills, and while they’re preaching one week you could do some door to door… maximise the return for the same number of people…

  2. David Finch permalink

    Having been in many volunteer roles in the church from when I received my MCs (Masters in chair-stacking) in the 1980s, through to my current role as Warden…(and pretty much everything in between) I consider myself an expert in my own opinion on these matters..
    Seriously though, I’m interested in when you were “admonished” for doing the dishwasher.
    Did that person:
    a) Help you? (Good)
    b) Take over? (Better) or
    c) Get someone else to take over from you (Best!)

    If I see the minister doing something menial this is obviously an opportunity to do it myself, but even more to educate and encourage others to help out. It can be difficult to ask someone to go and set up chairs/tables but if they see the Minister himself is doing it, then they recognise that it is important, and also not beneath them to do it.
    Over time this understanding should develop so they get a volunteering mindset.
    I am reminded of someone who said to my wife “You shouldn’t do that, The Church should do it” regarding a menial task…her response was (of course)…”I am part of the Church…how else do you think these things get done?”. This was someone from another church who had absolutely no understanding that Church membership was anything more than a chance to leech of others.

    I was intrigued by one comment you made: You included “talking with parents about their children” along with the packing up toys and sweeping the floors. Whilst I agree it is generally a role that requires little or no training, it is a critical part of relationship building that keeps people coming back if they can see that the “Main Man” at the church has an interest in their personal life. As the Main Man, you are in a powerful position, Cue: Quote from Spiderman…or was it Voltaire…”With great power comes great responsibility”

    So question(s) for you (and I’ve discussed this with our Minister): If our churches need leaders, evangelists, teachers, pastors, musicians, chair stackers, encouragers, pray-ers, handy-men, treasurers, computer geeks, cleaners etc…. which of these do you see your role as? And how has that changed since you both began and ended College? And finally….did Moore prepare you for this role?

  3. Melinda Howes permalink

    Hi Jonathan,
    You certainly aren’t Robinson Crusoe. I also have a uni education plus postgraduate actuarial training. I’m the CEO of a small but prestigious professional body. And do you know what I spend most of my time doing?
    Enabling my team to do stuff, admin, fire fighting, adjudicating arguments, and drudgery: today I cleaned up a bunch of dirty plates after a lunchtime meeting.
    What you’re describing is the tension a technician has when they become a leader of other people. It’s nothing like what you imagined. It’s 20% drudgery, 10% terror and 50% watching everyone else get to do the fun stuff. Oh, and 20% of you getting to do totally cool stuffthat a technician’s role would never give you. So enjoy those parts!

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