The happiest people I know are people engaged in meaningful work of some kind. My dad is a 92-year-old retired lawyer. He’s no longer able to walk. He gets around on wheels – a wheel chair, a power chair, and a golf cart! Everything he does these days is a chore. Just getting dressed is hard work, but it’s not meaningful work.
Dad always has some project going. Invariably when I stop by to visit, he’s out in his shed working on something. Recently, he’s been splitting wood with a wedge and hammer from his power chair and hauling it into the house for his wood-burning stove. As long as he feels productive, he’s a happy man.
Dad doesn’t need the wood to stay warm. He needs the wood to stay busy. Observing him in recent years has been a lesson in basic human life. God created man in his image. It’s in our DNA to work. In fact, knowing this, he commanded us to set aside one day out of seven to rest from our labors. Otherwise, we’d get so consumed by our labors that we’d neglect our need for resting in him and showing him how much he’s worth to us.
I’ve also observed two consistent realities in the church: (1) the most joyful people in the life of a church are those who are engaged in meaningful acts of ministry, and (2) the bigger the percentage of working church members, the more healthy the church.
Pastors have struggled for years to get people involved in the work of the church. They have preached their heart out; they have begged; and they have bargained. They have attempted the guilt method, the reward method, and the doomsday method. Many are still searching for a method that works.
Let’s put those methods aside and attempt a different approach. If you are a pastor frustrated by the unfulfilled jobs in the church, I would suggest a short-term approach that results in a long-term solution to the jobs problem. In other words, rather than focus and fret about the current problem, focus on the process of developing people.
1) Make discipleship a priority of your leadership, not just a preaching point. Equipping your people for works of service is a process that has to be a priority of your leadership and an intentional process built into every dimension of the life of the church. If people aren’t working, it is largely because people aren’t being spiritually developed, and if people aren’t being developed, the church, specifically the leadership, is failing in the Great Commission of making disciples.
2) Take a fresh, hard look at every program and ministry of the church. If you’re having a difficult time filling jobs in a ministry that was once thriving, it’s probably a sign that particular ministry has run its course and no longer justifies the resources and manpower it demands. Ask these questions: “Does this ministry still support the vision?” and “Are lives being transformed?” If those questions are not in the affirmative, give it a dignified funeral and lay it to rest. It’s already dead!
3) Don’t beg. Brag. Begging people to accept a job almost always results in putting people in a position they are not gifted to do or passionate about. That’s a practice that only satisfies the annual nominating report. It seldom meets a ministry need with any satisfaction. Also, when leaders are viewed as beggars, it sends a very negative signal. Begging is not leading. Instead of begging people to get involved, brag on those who are involved. Celebrate success where you see it. Tastefully honor those who are serving, while giving glory to God for his favor and faithfulness.
4) Distinguish between needs and opportunities. It’s a subtle, but powerful distinction. A friend of mine is the lead pastor of a 15-month old church that started and still meets at an elementary school. The church has experienced phenomenal growth. In the excitement of this new church start, a Set Up Team was organized and led by a very enthusiastic young man. This leader ably organized and orchestrated the necessary weekly set up. About a year into this demanding job, he began experiencing some drop out due to the expected “set up fatigue.” He began sending out pleas on The City for people to help fill this need, but without success. My pastor friend counseled him to try a different approach – to frame his pleas as opportunities for service and as a way to help the church continue to make an impact, rather than as needs to be filled. The response was immediate.
5) Expand the job market. Traditionally, jobs in the church have been tied to the organizational structure, limiting the available jobs to whatever the organization required. Expanding the job market might include serving on a mission team or a ministry project. For example, I remember one occasion when our church heard about a family that had a need for insulation in their rural home. Their heating bill was astronomical, so the power company alerted us to this need. The family couldn’t afford the heating bill, nor could they afford the work. When we reported this ministry opportunity, many of the twenty-something people who responded had no other job in the church. I can tell you this: These people worked hard for two weekends and experienced the joy and the reward of serving together as they served the least among us. The missional job market is virtually unlimited.
6) Don’t overlook the menial. Menial and meaningful don’t have to be mutually exclusive. There is a sense in which even the most menial jobs in the church can be meaningful to those who are gifted and called to do them. A number of years ago, our church helped a couple through a financial crisis. Neither had been involved in church as adults. In gratitude, they wanted to give back in some way. They had no transportation, so they walked to church several times a week to help the music minister organize his music library. They got involved in Operation Christmas Child, receiving the shoeboxes as they came in. They took on one menial job after another. After all this time, they’re still on the job, still faithful, and still growing in Christ and serving him with joy.
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)