Motivating Members For Ministry

By Patrick Sammory

Ramon Cortez in an active participant in a new congregation on the West Coast. He and the other members of his congregation are excited about a building the congregation has just purchased. His excitement, however, is tempered by some frustration. Ramon has been put in charge of organizing a painting bee for the next several Saturdays and he does not know where to begin. Where is he supposed to buy the paint? And the equipment? How can he go about recruiting some willing workers? He sighs deeply . . . he would rather spend his time visiting some of the single-parent homes in his neighborhood to offer his services and a word of encouragement.

Cindy Peters has a problem. As a member of the forty-year-old Bethel Church in an eastern U.S. suburb, she is trying to recruit twenty people to distribute vacation Bible school fliers in the church’s neighborhood. So far three bulletin announcements have netted her three volunteers-all of whom are already active in a variety of church activities.

Meanwhile, Pastor Tim Faber is growing increasingly disillusioned with his 300-member congregation in Ontario. The council of the church gave him permission to organize shepherding groups in the church, but so far only a few people have shown interest and none of them is willing to help him organize the groups. It is the third project that is going nowhere in Pastor Faber’s three-year ministry with this church, and he is thinking of looking for greener pastures.

We can find many other examples of this kind of frustration. Why is it so hard to motivate people for service? Why do some projects in the church never get off the ground? Why do 20 percent of the members often do 80 percent of the work? Why do some churches flourish with a turned-on membership and others languish because the members are largely passive consumers? Probably one of the most frequently asked questions in the church is “How can we inspire our members to be enthusiastic witnesses for Christ?” There are no easy answers to these questions and no quick fixes. It is usually too simple to say, “If only our members were more spiritual, we would have no problem getting things done around here.”

What Is Motivation?

There are several theories of motivation and, hence, several definitions. Basically, motivation stimulates a person’s inner drive or desire to accomplish a goal which satisfies that person’s needs. A hungry person will look for food. A person whose basic physical needs are met may have a need to belong and to be loved; he or she will look for relationships that meet that need. Someone whose physical and belonging needs are met will look for activities that fulfill the desire to become a more worthwhile person.

The motivational leader has the ability to help others succeed. Such a leader is able to inspire others to agree on goals that must be met. Allan Loy McGinnis points out that a manipulator persuades people to do things that are not in their best interests but in his. The motivator, on the other hand, finds goals that are good for both sides and then welds together a partnership to achieve those goals.

What Does the Bible Say?

Although the Bible gives no direct teaching on motivation, many passages reflect indirectly on this subject. Jethro saw in Moses the early signs of burnout and helped his son-in-law to reorganize the administration of justice (Exodus 18:13-26). The apostles quickly delegated some of their work to deacons (Acts 6:1-6). Throughout the Bible, faith in God’s promises inspires believers to obedient action. The heroes of faith were motivated by the vision of “the city with foundations” (Hebrews 11:10). We in turn are helped by these great models to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1). Supremely, believers fix their eyes on Jesus and so do “not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:3). Faith affirms that God always acts for good toward his children; they experience even painful discipline as a school for holiness that produces “a harvest of righteousness and peace” (Hebrews 12:11).

Jesus motivated people to change and to follow him. In word and deed he gave his followers vision for the kingdom. He trained his disciples by being with them and sending them out to preach and to heal (Mark 3:14-15). He met people’s basic needs by healing and feeding them. He helped people deal with their failures and inspired them to go on to greater things. His last act of public ministry was to send out his disciples to make new disciples (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8). As he did so, he promised he would continue to be with them and empower them. He kept his promise by sending the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is the great motivator. He sovereignly grants new birth and with it a heartfelt desire to love God above all and our neighbor as ourselves. He pours God’s love into our hearts and grants each believer one or more spiritual gifts to develop and use in kingdom service. He inspires Scripture, which is “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It is the Spirit who guides the church and its members, who calls people to specific service, who energizes and directs so that “all over the world this gospel is producing fruit and growing” (Colossians 1:6). When the apostle cries out, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13) and says that he labors and struggles with the energy of Christ “which so powerfully works in me” (Colossians 1 :29), he is referring to the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. It is God’s will that every believer and therefore every church be Spirit-filled (Ephesians 5:18). In the Spirit-filled church the leaders “prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:12).

The Heidelberg Catechism

The Heidelberg Catechism, written over four hundred years ago and still a confessional statement of many churches, points out some biblical truths that motivate believers to give their best. It emphasizes that believers are called Christians because they share in the anointing of Christ. Every believer is therefore ordained into the threefold office of prophet, priest, and king:

I am anointed to confess his name, to present myself to him as a living sacrifice of thanks, to strive with a good conscience against sin and the devil in this life, and afterward to reign with Christ over all creation for all eternity. (Lord’s Day 12)

In churches where the office of believer is neglected and the special but temporary offices of evangelist, pastor, deacon, and elder are emphasized, members are less likely to be motivated for ministry. How much better to acknowledge that the church’s ministers are the members themselves. Even when some are called to leadership in special office and there may be only one pastor, the basic biblical teaching of “every member a minister” will promote a healthy and active church life in which each believer will find a meaningful and satisfying task. Such tasks, or ministries, will frequently be done in accordance with the gifts the Spirit has distributed (1 Corinthians 12, 1 Peter 4:11).

The Heidelberg Catechism reflects this emphasis The Heidelberg Catechism when it answers the question, “What do you understand by ‘the communion of saints’?”

First, that believers one and all, as members of this community, share in Christ and in all his treasures and gifts.

Second, that each member should consider it his duty to use his gifts readily and cheerfully for the service and enrichment of the other members. (Lord’s Day 21)

The recovery and practice of these teachings will help church members move from passive consumerism to active ministry. To that end it is a good idea also to get rid of the word laity, which has overtones of amateurism and lack of qualification. Every believer is fully ordained and qualified by no one less than the Holy Spirit. This emphasis will also enable the church to regard the special offices as ministries of leadership, encouragement, modeling, and equipping.

Why Do People Say No?

It is important for leaders to identify why people say no to requests for service-and to discover that sometimes a simple no really means “No, but I would like to do it if . . .” Of course, it can be perfectly appropriate to decline an opportunity to serve. No one should be coerced into serving. Leaders should avoid using guilt as a motivating force. It is manipulative to say things like “You don’t have any other assignment anyway” or “If you don’t do this, the project is not going to go through” or “You have children in Sunday school; it’s only fair that you take your turn.” Such
techniques may produce reluctant volunteers who don’t do the job very well and who resist further assignments.

Some people say no because they have not been asked. When Cindy Peters put an announcement in the Sunday bulletin to recruit distributors for vacation Bible school fliers, only three people volunteered. Cindy said, “I guess people prefer to take a Sunday afternoon nap.” But she would have had much greater success if she had used the bulletin notice simply as notification and had recruited people personally. Even better, she could have delegated one or two persons to talk with church members before and after the worship services.

People say no for a variety of reasons that may be easily overcome with some good planning. They say no because a job is not well defined, because no training is offered, or because no time line is given. They may hesitate because they are not convinced the task is important, because they have received little appreciation for faithful service, or because it’s a one person job rather than a team effort. Leaders should also recognize that everyone can be motivated, but rarely can everyone be motivated at the same time, in the same way, or by the same person.

Who Says Yes

How are members motivated for ministry? One way is to listen to who is criticizing what and for what reason. Frequently such members have useful insights to share and spiritual gifts to help solve the problems involved. Another way is to look at the characteristics of members who are already well motivated.

Motivated members

* feel at home in the congregation. They are well assimilated not only into the church’s membership but also into its fellowship. The church meets their belonging need. Alternatively, members who are not yet assimilated into the congregation can sometimes be motivated for a task or ministry that meets their need for belonging-one that will enable them to get to know other members of the congregation and form friendships. Such members may say yes when it is made clear that the task is shared by others and will give them an opportunity for fellowship.

* share the vision of what the congregation and its leaders believe God is calling them to do and are convinced that the assigned task will make a difference in accomplishing that vision.

* have identified their spiritual gifts and are asked to serve in ways that use these gifts to the best advantage.

* have been given well-defined tasks-described in writing-and measurable goals so that they know when their tasks are accomplished. This produces a sense of accomplishment.

* are trained for their tasks. This training may involve several formal sessions or may consist of working alongside someone who already knows the task. Or it may be as simple as a half-hour conversation.

* know where to go when there is a problem and they need help. They also know when and where to give an accounting of the work done and the goals accomplished.

* are recognized for tasks accomplished or well done. They are convinced that the pastor and other leaders in the church know what the members are doing and appreciate it.

* are not saddled with too many tasks.

The Motivating Congregation

Just as individual believers differ in their levels of motivation for ministry in the church, so congregations differ. Some are a beehive of activities and ministries. Others have a very low level of ministry to the members and the community; they have a few standard maintenance activities that have been the same for many years, accomplished by the same people.

Some generalizations may be helpful in this connection. Usually, the newer the church, the higher the membership participation. Many people like to be included in the satisfaction and adventure of starting a new congregation. The older the church and the more established its traditions, the more likely it is that 20 percent of the members do 80 percent of the work. Smaller churches also have higher membership participation. There are fewer people to do the work, and most people gladly do their share. The larger the church, the more likely the congregation is to be passive and consumer-oriented with salaried staff members doing most of the ministry. The leadership can change such a situation, however, if it works toward developing the following characteristics:

A motivated church will

* see itself as a community of grace that recognizes the congregation as renewed by the sovereign, life-giving power of Jesus Christ and the anointing of the Holy Spirit. The sinfulness of human nature is confessed and recognized but is not a dominant emphasis.

* be energized by a concrete vision of what God wants it to be and to do in this place at this time. This vision is written in a concept of ministry; its accompanying goals are widely owned by the membership, which frequently refers to these goals in setting priorities and in finding its ministries on behalf of Christ.

* have positive, uplifting, inspirational worship services that clearly articulate the good news of the kingdom; sermons are life-related. Members are glad to bring unchurched and unbelieving guests to the worship services.

* make sure there is good communication between the membership and the leadership. Members are always informed on what the church’s council is discussing and planning; there is opportunity for congregational participation in major decisions.

* have a high degree of self-esteem. Members hold their pastor in high regard and, without putting down other congregations in the area, think of their church as the best for miles around.

* have a systematic way of discovering and using the spiritual gifts of the members. As part of the assimilation of new members, their gifts are identified and they are given opportunity to serve in the area of their greatest strengths. The congregation clearly expects members to minister and sees that expectation fulfilled in a wide variety of activities that serve both the church and the community.

* recognize people for the work they do. The congregation sets aside regular occasions in which to express appreciation and publicly commission its members.

* be always ready to meet human needs-whether physical, emotional, social, or spiritual. Needs are seen not as problems but as opportunities for people to serve in Christ’s name.

Finally, the leadership leads not simply by handing down decisions but by modeling, encouraging, and equipping.

A Word for the Pastor

The last item brings up the pastor’s or the pastoral staff’s crucial role in helping fulfill the congregation’s vision and destiny. In a sense you, as pastor, are one minister among many. You have weaknesses and strengths; you need to be motivated and to fulfill your own role not only as pastor but also as human being, parent, spouse, neighbor, and friend. Nevertheless, you play a crucial role as the designated leader and therefore first among equals. You are the most visible member of the church, the one toward whom many look as their role model.

As a motivating pastor you

* know your gifts and work hardest at the things you do best while gladly delegating a number of tasks to others.

* do your own job well and cheerfully. You do not constantly complain that you are too busy; you make good use of your time.

* see your task primarily as that of equipping the members of the congregation. You are willing to teach and, especially in areas where the congregation is weak, readily model how a particular ministry is done. If, for example, the congregation is not particularly strong in the area of evangelism, you not only encourage people but also demonstrate how it is done. Sometimes you take members with you as you do a particular task.

* are enthusiastic about the congregation, its members, and your own commitment to Jesus Christ. You expect and therefore often get the best from people. An important element: you fully share the congregation’s vision and constantly hold it before yourself and the members.

* are liberal and genuine in giving recognition, appreciation, and thanks to people. You know how an honest compliment whispered in someone’s ear or a simple note of appreciation for a job well done keeps motivation high.

* clearly love people and are therefore always ready to listen to them. You practice good listening skills; and while you know that you cannot solve every personal and organizational problem, you are nevertheless willing to listen to a member’s frustrations and disappointments. You know from your own experience that ministry is not always easy.

* Your strength and vision come from the heavenly Father. You are well able to pray with and for God’s people so that each member may do his or her ministry in the strength that God supplies.

How to Recruit

There remain some relatively simple but effective steps in recruiting members for ministry. As noted earlier, it is usually ineffective to recruit by way of a bulletin or pulpit announcement only. Too few people respond to this method, and sometimes the wrong people respond. Here are the steps:

1. Define the ministry task clearly and carefully. Do this in writing, if possible.

2. Indicate how long the task (or the particular assignment) will take.

3. Indicate the significance of the task in the life of the doer and the congregation. It is helpful if this is done in terms of the congregation’s concept of ministry.

4. Decide what particular spiritual gifts will be helpful in accomplishing the task and look for people who have the right gift or gift mix. Remember, however, that while a gift emphasis is helpful, it is not the only criterion that should be used.

5. Personally ask people to serve.

6. Offer training and support.

7. Indicate how to measure success. (Specify what measurable goals are to be reached.)

8. Where appropriate, publicly announce the names of those engaged in a particular ministry and commission them for the task.

Check periodically to see how those involved in a ministry are doing, and offer help if necessary. Express appreciation. At the conclusion of a term or assignment, express the thankfulness of the leadership and congregation publicly. Whenever possible, celebrate accomplishments.

(The above material was published by Christian Reformed Home Missions in Grand Rapids, MI).

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