This is a question nearly every Christian has asked at some point, but many still haven’t found the answer. Many of us are eager and willing to serve, but how are we supposed to know where and how we can serve? Do we need special training or church programs to be able to serve?
One of the greatest books I’ve read on the nature of church ministry — which includes the personal ministry of every believer — Is The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift That Changes Everything by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne (my review). I just began reading it for the third time (this time with a group of godly men from several different local churches), and have been reminded just how good it is! I love its emphasis on “people work” — the ministry of one believer to another as they grow together in God’s Word and proclaim the gospel with others.
Today I’d like to share a few paragraphs from one of the opening chapters that gives a foretaste of what the type of ministry advocated in the book looks like in real life. You can preview the first two chapters in their entirety by clicking here.
Imagine a reasonably solid Christian said to you after church one Sunday morning, “Look, I’d like to get more involved here and make a contribution, but I just feel like there’s nothing for me to do. I’m not on the ‘inside’; I don’t get asked to be on committees or lead Bible studies. What can I do?”
What would you immediately think or say? Would you start thinking of some event or program about to start that they could help with? Some job that needed doing? Some ministry that they could join or support?
This is how we are used to thinking about the involvement of church members in congregational life—in terms of jobs and roles: usher, Bible study leader, Sunday School teacher, treasurer, elder, musician, song leader, money counter, and so on. The implication of this way of thinking for congregation members is clear: if all the jobs and roles are taken, then there’s really nothing for me to do in this church. I’m reduced to being a passenger. I’ll just wait until I’m asked to ‘do something’. The implication for the pastoral staff is similar: getting people involved and active means finding a job for them to do. In fact, the church growth gurus say that giving someone a job to do within the first six months of their joining your church is vital for them to feel like they belong.
However, if the real work of God is people work—the prayerful speaking of his word by one person to another—then the jobs are never all taken. The opportunities for Christians to minister personally to others are limitless.
So you could pause, and reply to your friend, “See that guy sitting over there on his own? That’s Julie’s husband. He’s on the fringe of things here; in fact, I’m not really sure whether he’s crossed the line yet and become a Christian. How about I introduce you to him, and you arrange to have breakfast with him once a fortnight and read the Bible together? Or see that couple over there? They are both fairly recently converted, and really in need of encouragement and mentoring. Why don’t you and your wife have them over, get to know them, and read and pray together once a month? And if you still have time, and want to contribute some more, start praying for the people in your street, and then invite them all to a barbeque at your place. That’s the first step towards talking with them about the gospel, or inviting them along to something.”
Of course, there’s every chance that the person will then say, “But I don’t know how to do those things! I’m not sure I’d know what to say or where to start.”
To which you reply, “Oh that’s okay. Let’s start meeting together, and I can train you.”
Now if you’re a pastor reading this book, your reaction at this point might be something like this: “Okay, right. Now I really know these guys are living in a dream. In their fantasy world, I’m supposed to have time to meet individually with all the members of my congregation, and personally train and mentor them so they can in turn personally minister to others. Have they seen my diary? Do they have any idea of the pressure I’m under? If that’s what they mean by a mind-shift, it sounds more like a brain-explosion to me!”
Well, we haven’t seen your diary, but if it’s anything like most pastors’ diaries, we know very well the pressure you’re under. And in due course, we’ll get to the nitty-gritty of how these sorts of mind-shifts play out in the day-to-day life of real churches.
However, there is some vital biblical work to be done first. To understand the scriptural foundations for re-focusing our ministries around people rather than structures, we have to go back and re-examine our core assumptions about what God is doing in our world, how he is doing it, who he is using to do it, and what it all means for Christian discipleship and ministry.
This really is a fantastic book! If you’d like to join us in our group discussion, we meet at Perk Up on Tuesday mornings at 6:30. Even if you can’t make it to that group, you should grab a copy. You can get it here.