Napoleon once pointed to a map of China and said, "There lies a sleeping giant. If it ever wakes up, it will be unstoppable." Today the American church is a sleeping giant. Each Sunday, church pews are filled with members who are doing nothing with their faith except "keeping" it.
The designation active member in most churches simply means those who attend regularly and financially support the church. Not much more is expected. But God has far greater expectations for every Christian. He expects every Christian to use their gifts and talents in ministry. "Our vision for maturity is very clear: to bring glory to God by presenting Jesus Christ with as many Christ-like disciples as we possibly can before he returns!"
If we can ever awaken and unleash the massive talent, resources, creativity, and energy found in the typical local church, Christianity will explode with growth at an unprecedented rate.
I believe that the greatest need in evangelical churches is the release of members for ministry.
George Gallup once took a survey and discovered that only ten percent of American church members are active in any kind of personal ministry. He also discovered that forty percent of all members have expressed an interest in having a ministry. They would like to be involved in ministry but they have never been asked or they don't know how.
I think a healthy pastor nurtures a healthy church by creating an intentional, well planned system for uncovering, mobilizing, and supporting the giftedness of its members. People must be given a simple process that they can follow which will lead them to deeper commitment and greater service for Christ. They need a track on which they can move forward. Get them into the ballgame!
At Saddleback, we call this our Life Development Process.
By using the baseball diamond as a visual illustration of where people are in their spiritual progress, everyone can know how far they've come and how far they have to go. Do you remember Abbott and Costello's famous routine "Who's on First?" Many churches have no idea. At Saddleback we know exactly who's on first, on second, on third, and who has made it home.
We celebrate every time someone moves forward to the next base. This encourages commitment. We use the baseball diamond as an analogy for growth because it is universally understood in America. People can easily understand how we want them to mature by assigning a milestone of spiritual growth to each base. We explain to our members that our goal is to help them move around the bases of life. We want each of them to score!
We also explain that you don't get credit for runners left on base at the end of the inning! For that reason, we have assigned a staff pastor to each of the bases: membership, maturity, ministry, and missions. Each pastor serves as a "base coach," - someone who helps the runners make it safely to the next base.
At first base, we teach the basics of membership; at second base, we teach the basics of spiritual discipline; at third base, we teach people how to identify their S.H.A.P.E. for ministry, and when they hit home plate, we get members involved in missions.
Our entire structure is purpose driven, designed to nurture a healthy church, and I think that's one of the key roles of the pastor. Your coaching must provide application.
Many churches make the common mistake of emphasizing Bible knowledge to the exclusion of teaching the practical application of that knowledge. For instance, church members are made to feel guilty for a weak prayer life but no one takes the time to explain how to make a prayer list, how to praise God's character by using His names, and how to intercede for others.
Exhortation without explanation leads to frustration. Whenever we exhort people to do something we are responsible to explain exactly how to do it. If you want a healthy church, then you must become a healthy pastor who teaches the necessary skills for Christian living and ministry. Remember that skill, not dedication, is the key to effectiveness at anything. "If the ax is dull and its edge unsharpened, more strength is needed but skill will bring success." (Eccl. 10:10)
Here are five questions you need to ask about your Christian education program:
1. Are people learning the content and meaning of the Bible?
2. Are people seeing themselves, life, and other people more clearly from God's perspective?
3. Are people's values becoming more aligned with God's values?
4. Are people becoming more skilled in serving God?
5. Are people becoming more like Christ?
If you convince people of the importance of scoring and you give them a coach at each base, it's much easier to get people to home plate. Likewise, if you lead people to commit to growing spiritually, teach them some basic habits, and give them guidance as they progress around the bases, you can expect to see them grow. Don't put a pitcher in the outfield. One of the most common excuses people give for not getting involved in ministry is, "I just don't have any abilities to offer."
Nothing could be further from the truth. Many national studies have proven that the average person possesses from five hundred to seven hundred skills! The real problem is two-fold. First, people need some process of skill identification. Most people are using abilities they are unaware they have. Second, they need a process to help them match their abilities with the right ministry!
There are people in your church with all kinds of abilities that are not being put to use: recruiting, researching, writing, landscaping, interviewing, promoting, decorating, planning, entertaining, repairing, drawing, and even feeding. These abilities should not be wasted. "There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord." (1 Cor. 12:5)
Your placement process should focus on empowering people, not filling positions.
Focus on the shape of the individual, not the needs of the institution, and you'll have a much higher success rate with those you place in ministry. Remember, ministry is about people, not programs. How many baseball teams do you see just meeting? My guess is that the average church would be healthier if it eliminated half of its meetings.
It would definitely allow more time for ministry and relational evangelism. One of the reasons church members don't witness to their neighbors is because they don't know them! They are always attending church meetings. The most valuable asset people can give to your church is their time. Since people have less discretionary time, we'd better make sure we use their time in the best way when they offer it. If a layman comes to me and says, "Pastor, I have four hours a week to give to my church in ministry," the last thing I'd do would be to put him on some committee. I want him involved in ministry, not maintenance.
Teach your people the difference between maintenance and ministry. Maintenance is "church work": budgets, buildings, organizational matters, etc. Ministry is "the work of the church." If you are serious about mobilizing your members for ministry, you must streamline your structure to maximize ministry and minimize maintenance!
The more organizational machinery your church sets up, the more time, energy, and money it takes to maintain it. That is precious time, energy, and money that could be invested in ministry to people instead. The kind of structure your church has does not cause growth, but it does control the rate and the size of your growth. The best way to learn the game is to play it.
Once people begin serving in a ministry, they need on-the-job training. On-the-job training is far more important and effective than pre-service training. At Saddleback we require only minimal pre-service training. We feel that people don't even know the right questions to ask until they are actually involved in ministry. In our church we want to involve people as quickly as possible in ministry.
A long, drawn-out pre-service training course causes most people to lose their initial enthusiasm. We wear them out even before they get started. I've found that the kind of people who are willing to train for 52 weeks before beginning to serve are usually not very effective when they finally start serving. They tend to be professional students who enjoy learning about ministry more than doing it. We want people to dive in and get all wet. Then they are highly motivated to learn how to swim! The best way to begin is to begin!
A good coach continually renews the vision Always keep the vision of ministry before your people.
Communicate the importance of their ministries. When you recruit to ministry, always emphasize the eternal significance of ministering in Jesus' name. Vision motivates people. Guilt and pressure discourages people. Help people see that they're investing for eternity, that there's no greater cause than the Kingdom of God.
At Saddleback, our vision for maturity is very clear: to bring glory to God by presenting Jesus Christ with as many Christ-like disciples as we possibly can before he returns! Never try to motivate people for ministry by using guilt or pressure. They will resent serving instead of being inspired to serve. Explain that ministry is an opportunity to make a lasting difference in the world. It is a privilege God has given to us. Do not hesitate in challenging people to a big commitment. Help people see the big picture.
Motivation is intrinsically tied to significance. When people see the significance of a great cause, they want to be involved. I've often said to the members of our congregation, "Imagine dying and fifty years from now somebody in heaven comes up to you and says, 'I want to thank you.' You reply 'I'm sorry, I don't think I know you.' Then they explain, 'You were a lay minister at Saddleback. You served and sacrificed and built the church that reached me for Christ after you died. I'm in heaven because of you." Do you think your effort is worth that? If I knew a more significant way to invest my life than in service for Jesus Christ, I'd be doing it. There is nothing more important. So, I make no apology for telling people that the most important thing they may do with their lives is to join Saddleback church, get involved in a ministry, and serve Christ by serving others.
The effect of their ministry for Christ will outlast by far their career, hobby or anything else they do. The best kept secret in the Church is that people are dying to make a contribution with their lives. We are made for ministry! The church that understands this, and makes it possible for every member to express his or her shape in ministry, will experience amazing vitality, health and growth. The sleeping giant will be awakened and it will be unstoppable.
This article is used by permission from From Rick Warren's Ministry ToolBox, a free weekly e-newsletter for those in ministry. www.pastors.com.