Faith & Encouragement | The Business of Ministry

When Ministry Isn’t Management

March 5, 2013

“That little church in the town over needs a worship leader!  You should apply,” she said.  “They’ve had you fill in several times when their regular leader was gone so I bet you are a shoe-in!”

After having served for most of my life in one ministry capacity or another, I am quite familiar with the job requirements and personal sacrifice of those who serve in our churches.  However, despite all that I may have in experience and ability,what I lack is measured in blank walls and an absence of 8 ½ x 11 framed paper.  I knew I couldn’t submit my resume, even if I’d wanted to do so.

In today’s corporate churches we hire administrators, assistants, and human resource personnel.  Those we look to as shepherds must have, not only a desire to lead in the Body, but degrees in divinity,  theology, psychology, business, or counseling. They are required be insured and bonded as counselors and aware of libel and slander while being sure legal counsel is retained.

In fact, the bigger the church, the greater the culpability in the event one of your flock goes astray.  Even our worship leaders have administrative assistants, degrees in music, and a choir loft full of prima donas waiting their turn on the big stage.  The endless pull of the next American Idol waiting in the wings. Do they write their own music?  Have the “right look”?  The possibilities are endless. So is the pressure.

Those who fill the pews and  folding chairsor those padded multipurpose chairs linked together with unmanageable metal hooks and loops pay with their time, abilities, financial resources and sign up for ministry opportunities like  “Sound Booth Ministry” and “Coffee Ministry” as though having a cool name badge and title makes you equal in importance to the ministries that really matter.

We all know what those are.

Utilitarian Temptation

While we look at each other and compare our value based on our checking accounts, cars, homes, children’s success, marital status, and the network of friends within our fellowship, pastors look around at their peers and struggle with inadequacy if they don’t have a Masters in Divinity, a degree in Psychology, a book in print, and a beautiful wife.  With eyes squeezed tightly shut and sweaty hands clenched on steering wheels they pray their children  and marriages will somehow survive the 80+ hour weeks and their own exhaustion.

Our communities are groaning under the current economic stress and these men and women fear the distinct possibility of “failure”.  What if they strive, stretch, and strain only to find Sunday numbers dwindle and a once adequate income shrivels down from weeks full of counseling appointments to a second job managing Walgreens or driving a school bus in order to keep the dream afloat.

Ministry isn’t about the number of degrees. It isn’t about who has the widest sphere of influence.   It most certainly is not about who looks best on stage or sells the most books.

Ministry is both more complex and far simpler than that.

Serving the Body of Christ is about the people in front of you streaked with tears, doubled over in laughter, withdrawn in depression, aggressive with pain and fear.  I can find no reflection of Jesus in the bullet point test you took to determine which compartment you fit into when you attended the New Member class.  

The checklist is people management and best serves it purpose as an acceptable evaluation and application of assets.

In a nutshell, it’s good business.   It’s well-planned, rehearsed, compartmentalized, management.

We are continuously tempted to give in to the utilitarian vision of our age that wants to make us simply a cog in the wheel and not uniquely designed for Divine purpose. We exist in a world where only the ones who keep the machine running, those whose form follows their function, those who prove themselves faithful to the corporate vision are successful.   If you serve well, you get more… Everything.

Join me for some thoughts in this series, “The Business of Ministry” about how we can be aware of our temptation, in our Western Church Culture, to follow the status quo and miss the people in God has put in our path.

  • Doom

    Don’t worry about the tom-foolery of titles and such. Minister to those around you, as you have been informed to do. For me, the bible isn’t the end all of such notions, as it was created by and for the Church, so I look to the Church as well for guidance. The Church can only entertain just so many, which is fine because the rest of the world needs to hear and be tended as well.

    I cannot minister, greatly, because I am doing good to get out of bed, even as I improve, some days. But I can minister to those who visit, those few I visit, those I meet, and in little ways as I may. And I do. But then, I don’t feel called to that sort of ministry. Of the types of God’s callings, if there was one that seems right, it would be that of a family man, perhaps if that was possible then a deacon, if what I see is true though, that may not come to pass. I may have… other things to do. You, as a wife and mother, are attending God’s notions. Extra would be just that. But you don’t have to do it in an official capacity. Help people, where they are. Pray for them, the world, and to God.

    Who doesn’t want to be superman, or… wonder woman? That was job is taken, by Christ. :p

  • @Doom, I think you may have misunderstood the purpose of this piece of writing. I don’t resent the titles or the requirements of what is needful to run a large church. I simply want to bring attention to the attitudes of those who both run the machine and those who prefer a machine to a living organism with all its flaws and foibles. I believe there is a better way, if we are willing to take the time and make the effort, to function as those who at least appear to have been called to follow in the steps of a kind, thoughtful, compassionate Creator.

    Keep reading this series of thoughts and I think my intent will become more clear. Even from an incomprehensible, silly woman.

  • Doom

    Gah! Don’t, you know, actually quote me! “…incomprehensible, silly woman. ” Half of that is God’s will, a quarter is my fault… the rest you know. :p

    Okay, yeah, I sort of see where you are going with that now. The problem is “academia”, “law”, and a few other things have made organic religion nearly non-viable in the forms you are seeking it. What you are discussing is, what would today be called, missionary work. It isn’t allowed in the states, save with very strict oversight.

    Europe got rid of religion by having the government take over the old roles that the Church played, social and civil affairs like food and alms for the poor, counseling, clothing, and such. It was an end-around attack. It is in full swing in America as well. That, I do believe, is what you are describing when you discuss the walls before you as you attempt to approach ministry.

    Did I get it a bit better this time?

  • Much closer to my intent. 🙂