A friend of mine had dinner with a pastor.
The pastor was describing all that was happening in his church. He was particularly excited to share that the executive VP of a Fortune 500 company was attending. My friend replied, “that’s fantastic, is he serving in the church?” The pastor gleefully reported that the man in fact was serving and he had put him in charge of collecting the offering.
My friend was kind and supportive but also surprised. What he wanted to say was… “you mean you took one of the highest capacity leaders at one of the largest companies in the world and you put him in charge of picking up the buckets?”.
Most of the churches I’ve attended have not been seeking to empower individuals to find their purpose in life. I’m not talking about coming into relationship with Christ. I’m talking about the next step. The step where you begin to ask God “what did you wire me to accomplish?”
Many churches have a pre-determined grouping of ministries and outreach opportunities which were selected either by the pastor or lead staff. Some of these ministries were picked because the pastor himself felt called to reach these people. Some of them are selected because the church has fallen into “every church needs this ministry to be a relevant body in our culture”. But both approaches fail to realize that the church is made up of individuals that God has wired to accomplish a specific task.
How many churches struggle to staff their children’s ministries? Constantly we resort to anything short of a blatant guilt trip to try to get volunteers. And many times we chalk that up to the congregation needing to develop their servant's heart. They need to be more service minded. But could it be that we’re trying sometimes putting the square peg into a round hole? The church has determined what it wants to do before asking the question, but what are these individuals called to do? What if we built the ministries not around what the leadership or the pastor wanted to accomplish, but around the process of helping the individuals in the congregation discover what they were created to do?
There are high capacity leaders sitting in most congregations in the US that are bored and unchallenged. Most pastors, if they would dare risk it, could charge these men and women with tall tasks for the kingdom and these leaders could probably tackle the tasks better and more efficiently than the pastor could. Why are we afraid to help the individuals in the congregation find their calling? Is it going to mess up the churches idea of what church should look like? Pastors in general are a bit terrified of freeing up leaders to go find out what their calling is and start working on it. And to be fair it can be both dangerous and messy. But it could also be the key to building the kind of influential communities that bring the gospel back into everyday conversation.
Frank Tillapaugh wrote a book years ago title The Church Unleashed – Getting God’s People Out Where the Needs Are. It didn’t sell many copies and it’s out of print. But it described an incredible discovery on the part of one pastor.
He realized that it wasn’t that he had low-level leaders. In fact, in humility, he finally realized that some in his congregation were better trained in ministry than he was. He realized that it wasn’t that the church was over tasking or over-challenging people it was the opposite. The church wasn’t dreaming big enough dreams for its people. And that is what the book is about, unleashing the individuals to find their calling and then resourcing them to accomplish the task which God created them to do.
Tillapaugh became an “angel investor” of sorts into the entrepreneurial ministry pursuits of the leaders in his congregation. And before I lose all the pastors reading this, you have to know this didn’t mean he spent more time at the church. In fact, he spent less.
He describes how an individual came to him and said he felt like the church needed a ministry to recovering addicts. Tillapaugh instructed him to gather anyone in the congregation that was interested in helping with this effort and to call a meeting to discuss and pray about this venture. The layman assumed Tillapaugh would be there and would lead the meeting. The pastor gently told the man, “I’m afraid I’m busy that night – I have tickets to the baseball game and the seats are too good to pass up. But you don’t need me there. If I show up you will all look to me to lead the meeting and cast vision but God has called you to this ministry. And the church will support you by giving you space to meet and if needed we’ll consider budgeting materials for your outreach. But this is your calling and you need to go and become what God has called you to be.”
For high capacity leaders in your congregation, this is how you call them up to service.
Don’t coddle them.
Call them out. In the end, you’ll discover a few things. Number one, a layman that is in pursuit of his calling will accomplish incredible things with very little input or support. And secondly, in our church we’ve found that when people realize their calling, they don’t even ask the church to give them budgetary support for ministry materials, they pick up their own tab because they are so bought into their newfound purpose which in turn frees the church to better support other ventures.
Churches we need to quit pigeon-holing our people into the ministries that we’ve decided are important and start asking people – what is it you are called to do and how can we resource you to achieve that task?
Sam Cobb is the founder and CEO of Real Wood Floors. They manufacture and distribute quality wood floors and are set to open their first retail stores, but that's just the start of the story. They have built houses and orphanages in China and are leveraging their influence to encourage other companies to do things that truly matter.