• Getting People Back to Work: Part 1

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The 2012 election came to its climactic end last week, and I’m really missing all those speeches, debates, and those very uplifting political ads, aren’t you? And, man, I’m having withdrawals from not having all those media pundits explaining to me what the candidates were saying and how they were doing in the polls. I’m being facetious, of course, or could you tell?

There was one theme that both political camps repeated over and over again with equal passion, if not equal success: “This campaign is about the economy. It’s about jobs. We’ve got to get people back to work!” 

Somewhere along the way I began to tune out the rhetoric and, maybe as a way of dealing with the political overload, began to make a spiritual application to this political theme. The country has a jobs problem, but so does the church. Nevertheless, the country’s jobs problem and the church’s jobs problem are quite dissimilar.

The country has a jobs problem because there are more people who need a job than there are jobs available. The church has a jobs problem because, although the jobs are there, there aren’t enough willing applicants. (I’m not talking about “for pay” jobs here, and I’m using the term jobs cautiously. I’m talking about the numerous tasks, responsibilities, and opportunities of service that exist in the mission and ministry of most local churches.)

The church’s jobs problem manifests itself in mild ineffectiveness to serious dysfunction to critical failure. It’s the phenomenon of the few and the many. Typically, a comparative few carry the workload in a church while the many enjoy the benefits of their labor. This usually means that the few hold multiple jobs in multiple ministries in the church. 

When the working few holding down multiple jobs in the life of the church remains basically the same year after year, the outcome is predictable. Inevitably there will be burnout, resentment, and joyless, fruitless service no matter how sincere and hardworking the few may be.

There are many possible reasons the church has a jobs problem, and as a rule these reasons are overlapping and intertwined variously in any particular church. The following are some possibilities:

1) Human nature. The Bible talks a lot about laziness, slothfulness, and selfishness as traits of our fallen nature. The Scripture contains strong teachings about the work ethic of the redeemed, which gets lost in its application to the life and mission of the church. 

2) 20th century church culture. The rise of the pastor as a highly educated professional hired and paid to minister and serve the congregation has him performing numerous jobs that should be left to others. If the church recognized this problem, their answer was to hire more professional staff.

3) Consenting, controlling, co-dependent leadership. In some ways, pastors have perpetuated the jobs problem in the church. They have failed to accept one of their primary responsibilities of leadership by not equipping the saints for works of service and leading a discipleship process that puts people to work. They have acquiesced to the church culture in some cases because it gives them a sense of control, promotes their importance in the eyes of the people, and fills their innate need to be needed, which is an example of co-dependency that feeds a consumer mentality.

4) Ineffective recruiting process: In many churches, jobs are filled through an annual process of essentially nominating the same people to fill the same jobs year after year. This process reflects a basic flaw in the church’s discipleship process and a lack of intentional leadership development and equipping people to use their gifts, passions, and experiences for the Lord’s work. It’s a lazy process. It’s just easier to recruit the tried and true.

5) Wrong assumptions: Because some people appear content with non-involvement, it is often assumed that these people have no interest in serving. More often than we realize, some of these people are anxious to serve and are waiting to be asked or given the opportunity. Conversely, these individuals wrongly assume they are not needed and wanted. Today’s young adults typically want to be a part of and desire to contribute to meaningful ministry in and through the church. 

Whatever the reasons for the jobs problem in the church, fixing it is a challenge. That will be the topic of the next post. 

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Hal West
Hal West spent 33 years as a pastor with an emphasis on creating effective change and transition in a traditional church setting. He is the President of Compass Coach and Consulting (compasscoachandconsulting.com) whose mission is to assist pastors and churches find the road to success. He has authored 3 books. His latest is The Pickled Priest and the Perishing Parish: Boomer Pastors Bouncing Back (CrossBooks Publishing, 2011)
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