This fall our Thursday blogs will focus on the five shifts that we have identified as significant for living out the mission and vision of ECO. Every third Thursday, Dana Allin will be writing specifically about one of these shifts, and then the following two Thursdays we will hear from people who are making that particular shift in their local contexts.
For the past months, I have been reading more about Christian movements throughout history. In every breakthrough movement in which exponential growth has occurred, a key element in that movement has been allowing the whole Christian community to be equally active in ministry. The church in China is a clear example of the importance of the laity owning the mission. In China, when clergy were killed, exiled, or imprisoned, the future of the movement in China rested completely upon the laity. The laity stepped up, and the church grew within a relatively short amount of time from two million to 60 million! It's interesting that the places in the world where there's phenomenal Christian growth are the places where there's less of a professionalized role for clergy and more emphasis on the laity.
Now, I am not suggesting that we get rid of pastors… but it does cause us to wonder why there's an inverse relationship between the education and professionalization of clergy and the effectiveness of ministry. It should cause us to ask if there are ways to continue to value education and professional ministry. Could the focus of professional ministry be to fuel a movement within the totality of the body of Christ, unleashing God’s people for ministry in the environments in which God has placed them?
When I speak about unleashed laity, I'm not talking about having more of the “church work” done by volunteers.
In fact, I think often it is this “church work” that's the leash holding people back from a bold calling God may have on their lives. We as church staff and pastors, often have as our goal to staff all of our programs and ministries with volunteers, so much so that we may miss the good works which God has prepared in advance for His people to do (Eph 2:10).
What if, instead, we set a new vision, a new scorecard, an expectation for our church body? What if we could redirect people’s time and energy from running a program or attending a bible study and engaged them in God’s mission? For example, most church choirs meet weekly. What if, once a month, we release the choir from practice and instead told them to take that time to invite their neighbors over for dinner or get involved with people who are not yet believers? Instead of developing a labor-intensive weekly program of dinner and education at the church, what if we helped people redirect their energy to be actively involved in God’s redemptive purposes in the areas where He has placed them? What amazing possibilities there are when we empower God’s people for His purposes in our world!
Here are some reflection questions to ask yourself as you think about how to unleash your people for ministry: