Raising the Bar
I fear that many Christians today have an inadequate view of ministry. They imagine that ministry is the responsibility of a few professional leaders. I fear that the greater part of the church has ingested this falsehood.
Biblically speaking, ministry in the assembly is the duty of every believer. I think, therefore, that it is the task of church leaders to do all they can to encourage people in their congregations to be involved in ministry. Christians are growing up in our churches without a sense of responsibility. And a large part of the problem, it seems to me, is a leadership mentality that suppresses every-member ministry through secular models of leadership and structure. They donít expect participation from ďlay people,Ē and often fear it. The church must not buy into this worldly model. Pastors must be willing to equip the saints for works of service. They must help people learn that they can make a difference for God. In a world where individuals are increasingly feeling marginalized, leaders must present ministry as the privilege and responsibility of every Christian.
I applaud the fact that the emerging church movement, with all of its glaring weaknesses, is calling attention to the deficiencies of the modern church in this regard. Iím glad that many Christians have begun to rethink their ecclesiology. But people remain largely ignorant about New Testament principles of ministry. They forget Ė if they ever knew in the first place Ė how Paul described the meeting of the church in 1 Corinthians 14. Iím not the only one who thinks this is important. New Testament scholar Gordon Fee, in his book Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God, shows how the Corinthian order of service is both typical and normative. I will not endorse everything Fee says in his book, but I believe he is right in calling attention to the highly participatory nature of the New Testament assembly.
Our passivity is not limited to areas of ministry, however. In many of our churches the responsibility of Christians to feed themselves from the Word of God is downplayed. I donít think that congregations have a strong conviction about the necessity and value of personal Bible study. I know people who will drive for hours to hear a man preach because they wanted to ďsit under the ministry of the Word.Ē Iíve often wondered, why didnít they just walk to their end table, pick up their Bible, and begin reading it? I believe it is the job of Christian leaders to encourage every believer to be involved with the Word. This is partly a matter of teaching people how to study the Bible for themselves, and partly a matter of equipping them with basic tools for study.
I recall a pastor I spoke with recently. He had several deacons he was encouraging to begin a time of personal Bible study. He said it was like pulling teeth. He told me that their greatest complaint was that they lacked a formal Bible education. I told him, ďI can honestly tell you that about 99 percent of all I know about the Bible did not come from my formal education. It came from my personal reading, studying, and memorizing of Scripture. Nothing can replace the benefit of getting into the Bible for yourself. But we must give people the tools to do that. Why not take the principles you learned in seminary and teach them to your deacons?Ē
What about you, pastor friend? Does your life revolve around your pulpit, or do you see yourself as a player-coach who enables others to get in on the action? Good intentions will not get you started in helping others to know and teach the Scriptures. It takes a willful, conscious commitment on your part, followed up by decisive action. Ask yourself, what changes do I need to consider? What can I do to get people involved in personal Bible study Ė not as end in itself but as a means of knowing God better? And how can I identify and train those who have the gift of teaching? As I said earlier, put the ball in their court. Then help them learn how they can do it. I know of one congregation that has multiple elders who rotate the teaching responsibility from Sunday to Sunday. Iím sure some of these men were scared spitless when they taught for the first time. All they needed was the encouragement that comes from others who were with them in the process.
I know some wonderful Bible teachers. Many of them are my personal friends. My appreciation for their teaching ministries surges off the graph. At the same time, Iíve noticed how easy it is for people to become overly dependent on this or that Bible teacher. If there is one determinative factor in Christian growth it is a passion for the Word of God Ė not vicariously, but personally. Iím going to suggest that for every minute you spend listening to a Bible teacher you spend at least the same amount of time in the Word of God yourself. Moreover, if you have a pastor who thinks itís his responsibility to do everything for his congregation, including thinking for them, I suggest that you fire him, then hire him back immediately as your CEO Ė chief equipping officer (see Eph. 4:11-12).
As one who makes his living teaching people how to study the Bible, Iíve discovered it doesnít take an expert in theology to become a solid student of the Word. I hope that all of my readers have a deep hunger to dig into the Book for themselves. If you donít, why not raise the bar today? Why not serve and love Him with all that you have?
April 4, 2006
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.