Discipleship Requires Investing In People
By Gary Macintock
‘I believe we are still here to help men and women to learn to live as each other’s guests.’- George Steiner
It was Carthage, North Africa, in AD 252 that the bubonic plague terrorized the city. Death raced from door to door. The odor was horrifying. People resisted helping each other for fear of contracting the disease themselves. However, a local church, committed to caring for people, made a strategic investment in the lives of the citizens of Carthage. These people chose to put their lives on the line for the cause of Christ. They called them-selves “parabolani” the risk takers. They followed the courageous model of Epaphroditus in Philippians 2:25-27, and their loving acts of service impacted an entire city. History records the decisive fact that Carthage was saved from destruction because of the risk takers of the church.
Our Lord did not call us to Carthage; instead, he has placed us in our present location for the purpose of giving sacrificial service to those both inside and outside our church today. To be sure, the type of risks we face are different than they were for the church in Carthage, but any church involved seriously in serving others must become risk takers. Spiritual risk is the healthy child of biblical faith. It is the day-to-day, responsible, obedient action of the Christian and the church motivated by the love and grace of God. That’s our business as the church and people of God. We honor God by having enough faith to take some risks in the process of investing in people.
Serving others does involve risks. I remember receiving a phone call late at night from a lady in my church who was a risk taker. Bev had been visiting friends and while walking to her car to leave caught sight of a woman sitting on suitcases in front of the house next door. Seeing an opportunity to serve, Bev approached the woman to offer her a ride. As it turned out, the woman’s drinking had led to her being kicked out of her house by her family. She had a car but could not drive and had no place to stay. It was at this point that Bev called me for assistance.
We decided the best way to serve the woman was to provide her with a place to stay for the night. I met them and then drove the woman to a local motel, with Bev following behind in her own car. Arriving at the motel, I entered the lobby with the woman at my side and received a very cold reception from the attendant. Apparently he was suspicious about my reason for wanting to rent a room. Fortunately Bev arrived and, with some embarrassment, we explained the situation and were able to rent a room for the woman we were seeking to serve. Looking back at the incident, I was very naive and put my reputation in danger. But Bev was a risk taker and for that evening had made me one too.
A Culture of Service
People do not make fortunes by worrying about the daily direction of the stock market. Fortunes are accrued by people who are convinced of a growing economic future and who buy stocks that will accurately represent that future. Risk is a part of the investment decision. Those who invest well reap huge rewards. Those who make wrong predictions of the future lose. But the biggest losers are often those who fail to take any risk, for while they limit their potential for loss, they also have no chance to reap the rewards.
One of my friends likes to say that there are three kinds of leaders in the church: risk takers, caretakers, and undertakers. Leaders who are undertakers serve in churches that show great fear of serving others. Leaders who are caretakers take enough risk to serve each other but stop short of going beyond the people of their own church. It is the risk takers who courageously lead their people to serve people in the community as well as each other.
The most challenging risk that leaders often have to take is that of investing the ministry in their people.
Even though we know that the clergy/laity gap is unbiblical, putting into practice the truth that we are all servants of Christ his ministers has proved difficult to do. Too many pastors and other church leaders make the mistake of holding their people down, fearing the mistakes they might make if given freedom to serve. I’m always reminded of this difficulty when I try to help church leaders begin a small group ministry in their church. Unfailingly they want to select leaders for their small groups from people who are already too involved in church activities to do a good job. When I suggest they select small-group leaders from people who are not yet involved their reaction is predictable. They fear the outcomes of placing new people in places of ministry. Letting their fears run wild, they become emotionally blocked from empowering new people with a chance at ministry and end up keeping ministry in the hands of a few trusted leaders.
This is not the case in a church where ministry is everyone’s business. In those churches we all become risk takers. Unless everyone in the church assumes responsibility for serving each other, a culture of service dies. Leaders must be risk takers, encouraging every member to bring their actions and behaviors into agreement with what God has made them ministers of Christ.
One of the surest ways to empower people to serve is to champion their ideas. If any church member approaches you with an idea for a ministry, the answer must always be yes! Does this mean your church supports and sanctions every ministry idea a person wishes to attempt? No, it doesn’t. But it does mean that you champion each idea in a manner similar to the following.
1. You enthusiastically praise the person for coming up with such an original idea. No matter how dumb you may think the idea is, the fact that he or she has taken the risk to approach you with a creative idea is outstanding. How many more ideas do you think the person will bring to you if you criticize this one? When you can’t praise the idea, at least praise the person for being creative and courageous enough to think of it.
2. Ask the person to find five other people who are willing to team with him or her to help build such a ministry. If the person can recruit others, this will tend to improve the idea. If others aren’t recruited, the idea will probably die. When the team has been identified, the person with the idea should come back to you. Doing this has a number of advantages. It empowers the person to begin working on the idea. It requires him or her to define and communicate the vision for ministry well enough to attract others to it. It allows the ministry idea to be confirmed, refined, or rejected by others in the church.
3. When you meet with the team, let them know how enthusiastic you are to learn of their commitment and willingness to serve. Encourage them to think through how the new ministry fits with your mission and direction as a church. They should especially think through how their new idea fits with your church culture.
4. Support the team with all the training they need but encourage them to find their own funding. It is the responsibility of leaders to provide the training for ministry (Eph. 4:11-12) but not necessarily the funding. Placing responsibility for funding the ministry on the team developing it ensures that only ministries with a large enough vision to attract funding will likely be started. This is another way of verifying the appropriateness of the new ministry.
5. Assure the team that the church will support them in every possible way, especially promoting the ministry through your church if they abide by the following guidelines.
* The new ministry must maintain legal, moral, and ethical integrity.
* The new ministry must be biblically based and doctrinally in agreement with your church.
* The leaders of the new ministry must attend your church’s ongoing leadership training events.
* The leaders of the group must report to the church a record of how many people attend their ministry, the parts that are going well, and the difficulties they are experiencing.
Taking the risk to empower people for ministry in this way will take a few years to develop. If your answer in the past has always been no when people approached you about starting a new ministry, it will take a few years to convince them that you are serious. Once you prove to them that you are willing to be a risk taker and allow them to begin their own ministries, people will approach you for encouragement, direction, and training.
In the beginning stages, it is not likely that you will find a large number of people standing in line to discuss a new ministry they want to start. Thus you will need to establish a systematic way to recruit, train, and motivate people to serve.
One by one
Getting people involved in an area of service seems simple: recruit the right people, train them, and keep them motivated. But doing so in practice is extraordinarily difficult, apparently too difficult for many leaders to master. Part of the challenge has been the way we have traditionally recruited people for ministry. Institutional-based recruiting worked well for churches when the United States was a churchgoing culture. Years ago people attended church out of a sense of duty. When the church issued a call for service, people responded because it was the correct thing to do. If there was a need for a third-grade Sunday school teacher, the pastor would announce the need from the pulpit and someone would volunteer to fill the position. In an institutional-based recruitment strategy, the emphasis is placed on the need of the institution more than on the need of the individual who is serving. In the example just mentioned, the emphasis -was, more on the need of the church for a third-grade teacher than on the need of the individual to serve.
Today an institutional-based recruitment strategy doesn’t work as well. Most people no longer attend church out of a sense of duty, nor serve from the same motivation. Instead, in our world today, churches must use a relational-based recruitment strategy, which places more emphasis on the needs of the individual than on the needs of the institution.
The best way to recruit people is to start by serving them and their interests. You will need to recruit people one by one, using an interview approach. Use what is termed a “behavioral” interview, seeking to discover what experience (or behavior) individuals have had involving frequent contact with others. In what ways have they served people before and how did they enjoy it? In addition, get to know the person. What are their gifts, interests, and talents? The object of the interview is not to fill a need at your church but to get to know the individual very well. Once this has been accomplished, then potential ministry opportunities for service may be offered to the person, based on what you discovered during the interview. With as much skill as possible, attempt to match the person with the service opportunity, so there is a good fit. Encourage people to make their own decisions for ministry. Ask them to select a ministry that sounds interesting to them or one for which they have some passion.
You should select people whose personalities are predisposed to provide the kind of service you want to express in your church. A few months ago I was walking through a shopping center when I noticed a sign in a store window. Printed on the sign was a message regarding a job opening. At the bottom, in large letters, was highlighted, “We hire friendly people.” The manager of this store had some inside information: it’s easier to hire friendly people than to train people to be friendly. It’s also easier to recruit people who agree with your church’s values than to select those who don’t and try to change their values later on. You can’t teach people to be nice. You can’t just say, “Monday morning, begin caring for others.” Caring for and serving others must be in their hearts. Select nice people.
Recruit to a team; never place people in a ministry alone. People serving together in teams respond to ministry opportunities better than those working alone. In time of discouragement, they support one another. At other times they hold each other accountable for fulfilling their calling. People prefer to serve on a team and report to each other rather than to a boss.
Recruit to a project that has a limited time span rather than to a never-ending responsibility. The basic principle is recruit for the short term and renew for the long term. Declare war on bureaucracy: keep policies, procedures, and formal control mechanisms to a minimum, relying instead on cultural control and people’s commitment to their team to control the ministry.
Train, Train, and Train
In 1968 I began working for Radio Shack. At the time I knew very little about electronics or stereos. Honestly I was surprised to be hired with my limited knowledge but accepted the job when it was offered to me. The manager of the store required that all employees come to work an hour early on Saturdays. I expected that we would be cleaning the store or restocking shelves during that time. I was surprised to find that was not the purpose of the meeting. Instead, every Saturday morning we attended a class, which the manager taught, on basic electronics. It was in this class that I learned all the details about tuners, amplifiers, and speakers so that I could serve our customers well. He taught us the basics of electronics so we could converse intelligently with the more technically minded customers. After a couple of years I learned enough about electronics and store management that I was offered a position as manager of my own store. Before I left for my new position, my manager took me to lunch to celebrate my promotion. I asked him why he had hired me in the first place given my lack of electronic knowledge. He told me, “Gary, I hired you because you have a good attitude. I can teach anyone about electronics, but I can’t teach them to get along with people.”
The principle is recruit people for attitude; train people for skills. Seek a balance between formal and informal training. Formal training should be used only when the ministry position is highly standardized. Otherwise, provide training in a seminar format offered in short bursts or blocks of time. Many people attend seminars or workshops for training in their business and are very comfortable with this style of learning. More informal training can also work well. For example, if you have a person in your church who is excellent at providing care and service, have others work along with this person so that they can be trained informally.
Above all, teach over and over again the mission, values, and philosophies that undergird your style of ministry. People need to understand the whys and wherefores of your strategy. They need to be clear on your church’s mission and how-their minis-try aids in its fulfillment. Don’t assume your people know and understand these things; teach them.
In every church I’ve attended, there is a common ritual that follows a meal at the church. After the meal, the pastor stands up and asks for the cooks to come out of the kitchen so the people who have eaten can express their appreciation for the meal. Once the cooks and kitchen help have been coaxed out, the people applaud them. The moral of this story? People are motivated to do what they are rewarded for doing. So be sure you are rewarding those who produce the results you want to see continue and increase. If you want people to serve in the kitchen, then reward them for doing so. If, however, you want them to serve in other ministries, you’d best find a way to applaud them as they serve there.
I’ve heard of many creative ways to reward people for service well done. My favorite award is the Golden Banana Award. One day at Hewlett-Packard an employee burst into his manager’s office with the solution to a problem the group had struggled with for weeks. Realizing the magnitude of the employee’s contribution, the manager groped around his desk in a frantic search for something to give the employee to show his gratitude. Finally he grabbed a banana from his lunch and handed it to the employee exclaiming, “Well done!” The Golden Banana Award became one of the company’s most prestigious honors for inventiveness.
Serving people is hard emotional labor, often demanding great effort. Rewards give people that extra burst of energy that keeps them serving with a smile. With a little thought, I’m certain you can develop your own Golden Banana Award, which will have meaning for your people. One church I visited handed out the Giant Killer Award, named after the famous battle between David and Goliath. The essence of the award was to thank those who had faced the biggest challenge in ministry and won.
The best reward may be simply showing gratitude in a systematic way, thanking people for their service to others. A handwritten memo of appreciation tops them all. At first thought it might not sound like much of a reward, but when someone takes the time to handwrite a letter or note, it means the person really cares.
of course, motivation comes from a positive culture or environment set in place by leadership. People who feel they are truly part of something important will desire to be vitally involved. The most powerful Golden Banana Award is the knowledge that they’re following in the steps of Christ by serving others in a sacrificial way.
Ultimately, growing churches seek to empower everyone in the church to serve other people’s needs. Tell everyone in your church that if they encounter another person with a need, they should attempt to solve it. If they can’t solve it, they should go to someone like their Sunday school teacher or small-group leader. If that person can’t solve the problem, they should take it to a pastor or committee chairperson or associate pastor. Then, if they can’t solve it, take it to the senior pastor (take it to the senior pastor last). The idea is to encourage people to minister to others. All problems don’t need to be taken to the pastor or other church leaders. Give members permission to serve others by solving problems themselves. They can do it, if you give them permission and authority to do so.
The London Observer reported a few-years ago that a platoon of Chinese soldiers was stationed in the middle of the Gobi Desert at a little place called Quingsha. Their only job was to keep the railroad track clear of blowing sand. No passengers travel by train along the track to Quingsha except for an occasional soldier. The only freight the railroad carried was supplies for the soldiers stationed there. The soldiers’ only orders were to maintain the railroad track, and the railroad’s only function was to supply the soldiers. Sounds like some churches that have forgotten their primary mission and spend all their energy caring only for themselves.
Questions to Ask and Answer
1. What can you do to help your guests become involved in your church?
2. What entry-level ministry opportunities are available now in which new people may serve in your church?
3. What barriers do new people experience as they attempt to get involved in your church’s ministry? How can you begin to remove those barriers?
This article ‘Invest in People’ written by Gary Macintock is excerpted from Beyond the Visit.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, ‘Eat the meat, throw away the bones.’