Back in my early twenties, I worked at a United Methodist church here in Springfield as the Director of Youth and Adult Ministries and Church Growth. I initially wanted the job to do youth ministry, but as I got deeper and deeper into my roles, I found that my heart put church growth first.
Part of the traditional view of properly growing a church is not just getting people to join a church, but to get them participating in one or two (or more!) ministries or programs. Unfortunately, many churches, despite this goal for new members, still suffer from the 80/20 rule: 80% of the people only do 20% of the work. The opposite is true as well: 20% of the people in the Church do 80% of the work in the Church.
Since I graduated in May, I’m catching up on all the reading I didn’t get to do while I was getting my master’s degree, and I’ve been reading like a fiend. Since May 15, I’ve read almost 15 books: ten fiction, and five non-fiction. Number 15 is “Making Poverty Personal: Taking the Poor as Seriously as the Bible Does” by Ash Barker. I’m only on chapter one, but there have been several moments that I had to pause and really think about what Barker is saying.
This is the one I chose to blog, because it resonates so loudly with me and how I feel about true church growth. Barker writes, “What I really wonder is if a form and style [of church] copied from television and the theater could be stopping many people from feeling like they can make a contribution. ‘Lord, I don’t really have the skills, image, and confidence for this.’ Does the tiny proportion of people involved in ministry compare to the number who watch it all happen safely from a distance have something to do with the images that are being projected (and thus valued) consciously and subconsciously by our churches? Could this amplify the excuses for lack of involvement and make it easier to opt out?” (Barker 47-48)
In this chapter, Barker is arguing against the excuses we all have for not doing our part to take care of the poor in this world, going so far as to invoke the excuses Moses gave God in front of the burning bush. But for every excuse we can give God for why we can’t do something, God will tell us that we can if we do something through His power. Not only that, but Paul describes the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives us and why they are important to the Church.
Helping people understand spiritual gifts is really important to me and to how I see true Church growth, which isn’t about how many new people join a specific church (dear pastors: it’s not a competition with other pastors, even though your denomination might award prizes for the churches who enroll the most new members. I’m looking at you, UMC…) but about how many people repent of their sins and come into a relationship with God through His Son Jesus. A growing Church is a church that is loving people into the Kingdom of God, not filling pews on Sunday mornings. And once people begin that relationship with Jesus, we as a Church need to train them and teach them: how to read the Bible, how to pray, and how to serve others (and why we do those things). We love and serve others by using the charismata (spiritual gifts) the Spirit gives to us.
I’m under the impression that many people in the Church either don’t know about, don’t understand, or don’t care about spiritual gifts. If they don’t know about them or don’t understand them, it’s our responsibility to teach them what they are and why they’re important to the Body of Believers. But I think there are a lot of people who simply don’t care. Some probably think that the charismata are a relic of first century Christianity and not something that the Holy Spirit gives believers in 2010. Some people only believe in the more “supernatural” gifts (prophesy, speaking in tongues, interpretation of tongues, healing, etc) and that gifts like helps, administration, and giving, to name a few, aren’t really spiritual gifts. And some people simply believe that what matters most in Christianity is saving souls, not serving others.
Which gets us (mostly) back to Barker’s question about people watching from the sidelines while others are ministering to people in need. Some people truly DO feel inadequate and ask God, “Well, how can I help? What skills and gifts do I have that I could put to use for You? I don’t see how anything I could do could make a difference for Your Kingdom.” God doesn’t ask us to be pretty or popular. He doesn’t expect us to be talented or fascinating. Christianity is not a dog and pony show; it’s a Body of Believers who love God. All God expects of us is that we obey His commands. First, to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Second, to love our neighbor as ourselves. And Jesus went on to say that if we love Him, we will obey His commands. If I’m not mistaken, one of those commands was to serve others.
Some of us are just plain lazy though, which is why 20% of the people in the Church do 80% of the work.
None of us is so important that we are better than others, and none of us is so unimportant that we can’t do a job, no matter how small it seems. None of us, if we love Jesus and want to obey His commands, is allowed to sit on the sidelines and watch other people minister and serve. We all have a job to do, and we all need to do it.
If you want to see the Church grow, 100% of the people need to do 100% of the work.