Bible School
For the last week of our focus on the local church this month, I'm pulling out another memo I've previously only shared with training team leaders. It offers some great ideas for cultivating leadership. I hope you find it helpful...

The church has been described as everything from a hospital for sinners to a country club for saints. But neither captures the full purpose of the church. A better image, perhaps, is to see the church as a base of operations for ministry to the world.

The church, after all, was organized for service. And it was left with an urgent task--to take the Gospel to the world. To reach its full potential, the church must seek to mobilize, equip, and deploy every believer possible for ministry.

But in many churches there are only a small handful of "cookie-cutter" ministries. And these are often inward focused, ministering to the needs of the church. Few ministries are successful at consistently and regularly bringing people to Christ.

Part of the problem stems from how ministry is managed in the church.

The Status Quo

The various churches I have attended over the years approached ministry management something like this:

Every year, or in some cases every two years, the church goes through a ballot process to elect a small organizing committee. That group is tasked with the job of carefully appointing a balanced and representative nominating committee. Usually this is completed in one brief session, and the group then disbands. The nominating committee then meets several times, and tries to appoint volunteers from the church to fill the various slots on the officer list from the preceding term. Those names are recommended to the church, and approved. Then this group disbands. The new officers are left to themselves until the cycle repeats.

There are advantages to this system, of course. It is purposefully democratic, representative, and fair. It removes most of the politics from the election process. And if led well, the nominating committee can be a spiritual and uplifting experience. But there are also limitations:

  • Terms of office can be short. One year is barely enough time to understand a position well, develop a strategy, and get things moving. As soon as they do, another person is elected and everything starts over again. This makes it difficult to build momentum.

  • There's not much structure for addressing the problem of poor performance. There is no oversight, support, or accountability. The typical approach is to bide your time until the next election process, and choose someone else.

  • Members not elected, are rarely encouraged to develop their own ministries. While positions like personal ministries, health & temperance, and family life are supposed to equip and promote ministry among the members in those areas, more often, any ministry done is conducted by the elected officers themselves. And members who are impressed to start some ministry, rarely have representation, support, access to facilities, church promotion, etc.

  • There is little room for dynamic change. Because the same officer list is used year after year, it is not easy to create needed new ministry positions, or eliminate outdated and ineffective ministries. Rather than being a growing, organic body, the church is largely locked into a mechanical structure established at some point in the past. Few churches are equipped to respond quickly to special ministry opportunities that arise.

  • Finally, there is little support or encouragement of elected leaders. Successes are not always recognized or acknowledged. Training is rare, and support for continuing education (which should be a priority investment) is even more rare. Leaders do not receive feedback on performance, or suggestions for how to advance churchwide initiatives and strategies. And there is little coordination between ministries. Leaders who need help are on their own.

I believe many of these problems can be resolved without scrapping the current system of officer election, by creating a ministry management team.

The Ministry Management Team

This was one of the last things we implemented at the church I pastored, and I only wish I had done this much earlier. I got the idea after talking about some of these issues with pastors of two other large churches in the Chicago area, and discovering they both had something similar in place. I shared the idea with our elders, we pulled together a charter for the team, and it was eventually approved by the church board.

Here's how it worked:

First, we didn't really change the election process. We created the usual organizing committee, and they formed a nominating committee which made recommendations for church offices. And these were then confirmed by the church at large.

The change we made was to then make this nominating committee an official standing committee (as suggested in our church manual) with additional responsibilities. We also gave it the name "Ministry Management Team".

The group was to be led by the pastor, or a specially designated elder with a vision for this work. Their term continued until the next election process. It was tasked with meeting a minimum of once a quarter, to fulfil its duties. We set a quorum, defined qualifications to assist the organizing committed in choosing these leaders, and outlined the group's responsibilities. We encouraged the organizing committee to retain a portion of the ministry management team each new election period for continuity purposes. We also specified that members invited to serve on the nominating committee be told they would continue on as a standing committee with additional responsibilities. All this was included in the committee's charter.

Here are some of the responsibilities given to this committee, besides the initial election of officers for each term:

  1. Serve as the standing nominating committee for the remainder of the officer term. Periodically review current officer list to identify vacancies, and suggest names for vacant positions to the church board for recommendation to the church at large. Special efforts would be made to find assistants for ministry leaders who needed them.
  2. Review the active membership list periodically and try to find ways to ensure every active member is involved in some position of service. Maintain a profile of each member, outlining their strengths, interests, and ministry experience.
  3. Encourage the development of multiple lay ministries within the church, by promoting workshops and other training resources to help members discover, develop, and use their gifts within the church.
  4. Receive requests to recognize lay ministries operated by members of the church, offer counsel and advice, and recommend acceptable ministries to the church board.
  5. Support recognized lay ministries by mentoring new leaders, finding assistants, promoting events, creating structure, and advocating their needs before the church board.
  6. Review current officer list and identify ways to encourage better alignment between the various ministries and church goals and strategies, through coaching, training, and mentoring as needed. It would also explore ways to acknowledge and reinforce exceptional service.
  7. Assist the following term's nominating committee, by providing input on service performed during the current term.

Having a functioning Ministry Management Team (MMT) could make a huge difference in a church. There are no doubt different ways to structure this, and your job description might differ in various ways. But moving your church in the direction of managing ministry in your church more effectively is strongly encouraged.

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What about your church? Do you feel it manages ministry well? Why or why not? What would you do to encourage more individual ministry in your church? To provide greater support to existing leaders? Share your ideas below...

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Posted by Dan Vis on 08/31/21 - Coach
Thanks for your comments Paul! I think you are right that the empowerment and engagement of workers boils down more to the overall culture of the church than just a structural change--and it is reflected in many ways. Your example of SS classes is just one great illustration. I think any steps we can take toward that enabling culture is important. Great post!

Loved your question Valerie, "Has the church implicitly created spectators instead of participants in ministry due to how it runs its various offices?" Though, I'm not sure I like the answer. :( Also, your point about the importance of making sure no part of the body "atrophies". Praise God though, that dry bones can live again, amen? :)
Posted by Valerie Wise Burrell on 08/31/21 - Coach
Upon reading this article, I thought of how the Church can be made into a living vibrant organism by following what you suggest. Having a MM team can ensure that there are no parts of the body left unattended. When there is a body part that is not used, it atrophies. And so it goes for the body of Christ. When there is less attention to all its members, there can be a tendency to overwork one part while the other part withers away.

I certainly see this being enacted in my present church. It seems clear that many of the members are used to someone else leading, teaching, and directing but as they wait for "someone else" to take up the mantle, the church is dying on the vine.
Posted by Valerie Wise Burrell on 08/31/21 - Coach
Your feedback is excellent! I took special note of the comment on Sabbath School. As a SS teacher and former college instructor, I agree with your point. It makes a difference if there is teaching or facilitation. It makes sense to me as I experience people who rarely engage even when asked for an opinion or thought. Has the church implicitly created spectators instead of participants in ministry due to how it runs its various offices? In reflection, I think so and I am clear that there are many who do not come to church to participate in it but to be there as an obligation. However, your point from this article about SS is worth considering.
Posted by Paul Carson on 08/30/21
This comment relates to the second point of responsibility for the MMT. I will address it in two parts.

1. try to find ways to ensure every active member is involved in some position of service.
While there are many avenues of service it seems that desire for involvement is predicated on the base culture of the church. One way in which this culture can be ascertained is by observing how Sabbath School classes are conducted. Is the class taught or facilitated? Individuals who are not encouraged to share in that group setting are less likely to believe that their contribution to any ministry activity will be appreciated, or even allowed. Individuals who are encouraged to participate in class discussions are validated and affirmed; are more likely to receive the vision of service; and then are more likely to respond to the call to serve.

2. Maintain a profile of each member, outlining their strengths, interests, and ministry experience.
While this is not an information-gathering dossier it can be very helpful for individuals to answer a few simple questions about preferences and past experiences of service. The very act of asking an individual to share this information can be an encouragement toward a sense of belonging and purposeful involvement. If the individual profiles are competently considered by a prayer-focused, Spirit-led MMT, the potential for effective ministries increases significantly, even exponentially.
I personally am inspired by I Timothy 4:12Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. - to be an example of the believers. Yet that in itself is not going to coagulate individuals into active ministry. As we allow the LORD to direct our hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ - II Thessalonians 3:5And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ., there is need for a faithful MMT to oversee, encourage, disciple, prove and resource every member and potential member for service - II Thessalonians 3:9Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us. - leading by example - not passively but intentionally, in the most God-honoring ways we can.
Posted by Dan Vis on 09/07/18 - Coach
Glad you liked this Qing. It was one of the last things I did at my church, but I wish it had been one of my first things, so I could have really established this team. I can only they will continue with it into the future...

And I'm with you 100% on your thoughts about promoting lay ministry, and having a way to formalize that within the church. We talk about lay ministry, but aren't really setup to encourage that structurally. As a result, we end up with a lot of people wanting to do something for God--but then they don't get elected to a position, and end up figuring they will just have to wait till next time. Or if the church doesn't have a position for the specific ministry they feel burdened to do, they abandon those dreams. Neither is optimal for the church.

Of course, sounds like you have a lot of amazing things happening in your church! Really exciting...
Posted by Qing Ling on 09/07/18 - Coach
some fantastic ideas here Dan. the sample charter is very useful too to kick off discussion and get the ball rolling with forming an MMT.

similar ideas are brewing here at my local church, but your article suggests additional aspects that make great sense too... like the one about recognising ministries conducted by lay members and affirming them through formalising them as church ministries, which allows the church to support them through promotion and recruiting additional assistance (financial or human resources). can't wait to see if most of what has been explained in your article can be actualised in my local church. change takes time, but with the right leadership team, and obviously with God's power, all things are possible :)

I believe the more inclusive we get about promoting ministries of lay members, the more inspired our church body will become, to think about how they too could have a lay ministry that fits in with their sphere of influence and talents -not just join a ministry that somebody/the church is already running.. but actually talk with God and partner with HIM in outreach through their own unique personal circumstances. It's all about "modelling".

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