This article is part of the series “Building GenNext.” You can read the previous post by clicking here.
The preacher looked wearily at the building as he shifted into park. When he had begun the work here, he’d had such high hopes of helping the tiny church grow into a massive group of believers. Over time they could establish elders and deacons and have the youth participate in community outreach.
He pressed his fingertips into his eyelids and slowly rubbed his temples. What is the point in going on? He had been doing all the visitation, hospitality, preaching, building repairs, teaching classes, evangelizing—and to what avail? He hadn’t been on vacation in four years. His wife had taken the kids to her mom’s house, with no mention of a return date. He slid a crisp sheet of paper from his laptop case and wrote out his resignation.
A young man shifted in frustration as he read the assignment sheet for August. Another month without his name anywhere. He had tried volunteering to fix things around the building, but had been rejected in favor of contractors and other men. Only the “A-Team” was permitted to do anything. He had tried to get involved, but the deacons and elders had repeatedly shut him out. Sometimes he was “too young” or other times too “inexperienced.” And the worst was offering to help and being put off, only to find out that person did it themselves behind his back.
He let out a soft snort of derision. Thirty-five years old and these people think he’s too young to serve? Too inexperienced to fix plumbing when he’d been doing that for years professionally and personally? Too dumb to observe what was going on? He shook his head, rose from the pew and exited the building, tossing the crumpled assignment sheet into the trash.
He didn’t look back.
It had only been a month, and already she felt at home in this new congregation. She’d been asked into people’s homes, been invited to join with a few members to sing for the elderly people at the nursing home, and encouraged to sign up on the teacher rotation list. She had visited with the preacher a few times, but the majority of these activities were initiated by other members in the church. She was delighted at how quickly she was made an active member in the congregation.
Those three scenarios show a dying congregation, a weak congregation and a strong congregation. As we discussed in this previous post, relationships are important to growing the church. But, just like with our children, older members and new converts need to be involved in the important for the vitality of the congregation.
In the first scenario, every duty was dumped on the preacher. He had hoped to breathe new life into the congregation, but had failed to train and delegate new workers. The members also lacked motivation to be involved.
In scenario two, there were young men (and probably women) who wanted to get involved, but were repeatedly shut down and left out by the older or “in-charge” members who did not want to relinquish control. This is one of the biggest mistakes a church can make!
The third scenario was the ideal. The culture of the congregation was such that the members took initiative to participate, tasks were delegated, and people of all ages were involved in the work of the church.
So, what are some steps we ought to take to involve new converts and current Christians in the work of the church?
Stop being a control freak
As a parent, I tend towards this behavior when it comes to cooking and cleaning. I know if I get my kids involved, it is likely to be messy and imperfect. On the other hand, if I don’t start teaching them now, they will be less skilled (and possibly less willing) when they get older. I will also go into burn-out mode.
In the church, there are leaders and members who want everything to run perfectly so they do everything. They are concerned about something being said or done in error. This is a valid concern, but that is why we need to educate first and entrust second. Mistakes will be made, but that is an opportunity to teach and strengthen the person for future work.
Make like Elsa and let it go—let go of the controlling mentality and start training people to replace you.
Paul wrote to Timothy:
You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
~ 2 Timothy 2.1-3, ESV
This is excellent advice! If Timothy was to avoid burn out, he had to share the load with his fellow Christians. Apply this in your own congregations.
Testing 1, 2, 3
One of the honed skills of a good parent is testing your child’s abilities prior to entrusting them with additional responsibilities. This is a repetitive process. You give them some task that ought to be within their ability range and see if they “pass” or “fail.” Success translates into additional responsibility (and privilege); failure demands that additional training be given.
In the church, those who are in charge ought to first train and then test. Allow people to try something out in a situation that will not have dire consequence; if they succeed, give them greater responsibility. If they fail, encourage them to do some more training and try again.
The shadow knows (mentoring)
Children are not the only ones who require mentoring. New converts and even current Christians occasionally need someone older to come along side and guide them into new responsibilities. In Titus 2, the older women are encouraged to “train the younger women.” Why? Because being a wife and a mother is a whole new phase in life with a whole new set of responsibilities.
If we want to have a culture of effectiveness within our churches, we need incorporate mentoring. Those who are in charge need to encourage this. If you know men or women who are skilled in a particular area, give them a nudge to take a new person under their wing, learn their skills, and train them to do new ones. Shadowing is an important part of training.
For example, if a person is skilled at teaching new converts, he ought to bring someone with an aptitude/desire for teaching along to the classes to observe. Experience is a great teacher.
Delegating isn’t for dummies
A good leader oversees an operation, but they do not perform every part of that operation. A CEO, for example, does not start his day in the mailroom sorting mail or in a cubicle calling customers or out in the field selling products. He delegates those responsibilities to managers who delegate to their respective teams. When profits are plummeting, the CEO will investigate the source of the problem. Is the sales team in the field? Are departments overspending? If something goes wrong, it’s the CEO who takes the hit. If a manager is not treating employees properly, he or she is relieved of duty and a replacement is hired. The CEO is not supposed to start managing that department.
Why should it be any different in the church? Elders are also called “overseers” in the scriptures. They are in the trenches with us, teaching and extending hospitality, but it is up to them to cultivate a culture of participation within the church. They delegate many tasks to deacons who, in turn, delegate to members. The deacons meet regularly with the elders to ensure the proper working of the local church.
If a church has a thousand people and only one is working, what good is that?
We need more than one person to be the core of the church. We are supposed to be like the human body. The hand cannot see and the eye cannot carry. A healthy body demands that each of it’s parts does it’s particular job.