Equipping the Saints…when they don’t want it

So the well-intentioned pastor is in a catch-22. He wants (and is really required) to equip the saints but they don’t seem to want it! They are content, complacent even. The pastor knows that part of his call is to equip the saints but he is stuck. They don’t see the need, so the elders, the council and the voter’s assembly are not going to back him on it and support any of his new initiatives. To make matters worse he is busy. Because the lay people are slow, reluctant or resistant even to participate in ministry he has had to pick up the slack! If he doesn’t, who will? And when he hasn’t done that then he has certainly heard about it: from the grumbling comments he overhears to the overt accusations at the meetings he attends. “It’s your job pastor.”

There seem to be a few choices the pastor can make:
1. Keep trying to work hard and do it all. Someone has got to notice, appreciate what you do and maybe they’ll catch on.
2. Keep arguing his case. I can’t do it all. Luther talked about the priesthood of believers. Paul spoke of “equipping the saints for the work of ministry…” so lay people have got to pitch in! Let’s take a vote on how we can move in that direction.
3. Stop doing something and intentionally let it fail. Say “no” to something someone is asking or expecting you to do.
4. Start doing something very different, serving outside the church modeling the behavior you as the pastor want to see in your members: volunteer in a food pantry, partner with a social service agency, tutor kids at the elementary school, volunteer as a coach for a community league or team, etc. (the possibilities are endless and are conditioned by the pastor’s gifts and the community’s needs).

Let’s evaluate these options:
1. How’s that working for you so far? Can you do it all? Is someone noticing? Are they catching on? You are in denial if you think this is really going to work.
2. How likely is it that arguing your case will produce widespread support and wholesale change in the culture of contentment and complacency where the members “receive” and the pastor “gives”? While some may be sympathetic, the likelihood of producing changed behavior in this way is zero.
3. If you stop doing something then get ready for (false) guilt and pushback. (False) guilt because you may feel you are neglecting your “call” and pushback because people will be all too willing to put the blame on the pastor when something doesn’t get done. Yet to stop doing something is essential! The pastor needs to wisely, carefully and strategically let things fail because he can’t do it all. Intentionally saying “no” with courage is a place to start. It will also free up some time in the pastor’s schedule.
4. Do you need permission to do off church property, other than church member ministry? Probably not. So don’t try to head off the criticism by seeking approval and consensus first (see number two) before you start doing something. View your surroundings, interview people who have their pulse on the community. Choose somewhere that you will plug in. You will come back with stories for your sermons, stories of God at work and energy for ministry. And by the way, you will be modeling powerfully what God wants from each of us to the congregation.

Get ready for the discomfort that comes from the disequilibrium that this new behavior brings. But have courage! Discomfort is like the law that leads to repentance and opens the way for the gospel that empowers healthy change. Fight the tendency toward being a people pleaser and manage the tension from the disequilibrium that will bring about transformation for your ministry. More to come.

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Christian Catch-22

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