Sharing Ministry Through Teams

By Dale E. Galloway

Ten ministry activities often fill a parish pastor’s day. Check only those options that laity could not do, in your opinion:

Pray for the congregation
Care for the sick
Disciple other believers
Train ministry leaders
Study and teach the Bible
Tell others about Jesus
Represent the church at community events
Visit newcomers to the church
Run errands for the church office
Encourage people through hard times

If we pastor’s truly shared ministry based on people’s giftedness, would we find anything that lay people could not do in ministry? And if team ministry is the most effective delivery system
for lay involvement, could teams not do any of the above? Church history teaches that whenever clergy become the elite ministry doers, the congregation they serve stagnates and dies. But when lay people join each other in meaningful ministry, the church thrives.

After observing many cutting-edge churches, I conclude that in such churches the ministry of laity and clergy draws together in partnership. It becomes hard to discern the difference between the pastor and people. A chasm disappears as all God’s children, both clergy and lay people, focus on doing ministry or developing more leaders for ministry. As church consultant Bill Easum affirms in his latest book, Growing Spiritual Redwoods (Abingdon), “All Christians carry the same genetic code.”

Only what we share multiplies. When we’re serious about advancing the kingdom of God and expanding his church on earth, we will build teams of lay people and work through those teams. These five steps can strengthen your base of team-driven ministry.

Step 1: Enlarge Your Vision.

Has God ever given you anything worthwhile that you could do by yourself? The church’s primary vision is to fulfill the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20) to reach people for Jesus Christ. Our
primary motivation for that is the Great Commandment (Matt. 22:37-39). The Great Charge (1 Pet. 5:1-4) reminds us how to involve everybody in ministry. Whatever your congregation’s particular role in obeying those directives, the greatest fruit will come when God’s people collaborate through groups.

High-impact churches result from team efforts, not lone ranger individuals. This acronym shows one way to describe what happens with teams: Together Everyone Achieves More. Discouragement and isolation probably amount to the biggest causes of ministry dropout. It is important that people do ministry alongside one another.

Twice a year my office convenes an advisory council composed of certain distinguished pastors from across the country. Their task: to give advice on the direction of the Beeson Center. When the eight of us gathered recently, the chairman began by leading us in a time of ministry to one another. The prayer and encouragement in a team format noticeably impacted each of these successful, talented leaders. I walked away from that meeting, changed as well, concluding, “No one should ever do ministry alone.”

Pastoral leaders must create the vision of ministry groups. As Carl George says in his newest book, Nine Keys to Effective Small-Group Leadership, “Groups and teams of 5-10 people, effectively networked together, are fundamental to virtually every healthy church around the world” (Kingdom Publishing). In The Coming Church Revolution (Revel!), George asserts, “The church of the future will enlarge the kingdom of Jesus Christ by a multiplication of care through shared ministry with lay pastoral caregivers.”

Be a leader; catch the vision for sharing the vision through teams–and then cast that vision! People will volunteer for ministry only when they catch the vision. They will drop out when they lose the vision. If you want to see God multiply your congregation’s impact, begin to establish a leader-making culture that makes heroes of lay people who lead groups that do ministry.

Step 2: Change Your Thinking.

George Hunter’s writings point out that Christianity began as a lay movement. Neither Jesus nor any of the apostles nor any other early leader was “ordained” in the sense now meant by various denominational traditions today. Jesus’ followers, according to their gifts, ministered to each other and to other people. They penetrated the Mediterranean world as the salt of the earth, the light of the world, and emissaries of Christ who turned the world upside down.

The New Testament teaches that in the church, everyone is a minister. It also emphasizes that ministers must work in concert with each other as various parts in a body. (See 1 Cor. 12-14 or Ephesians 4.) Melvin Steinbron’s recent book, The Lay-Driven Church (Abingdon), draws several helpful comparisons of clergy centered mindsets versus lay-driven perspectives:

Old: Ministry is the task of the pastor, supported by the people.

New: Ministry is the task of the people, supported by the pastor.

Old: The people assist the pastor in doing what they believe God is calling the pastor to do.

New: The pastor assists the people in doing what they believe God is calling the people to do.

Old: The pastor has all the gifts required to nurture and care for a congregation.

New: All the people together have the gifts required to nurture and care for a congregation.

Old: The pastor bears the burden of the ministry. The people hold up the pastor in prayer.

New: Both people and pastor bear the burden of the ministry. They hold up one another in prayer.

When people put their pastor on a pedestal, the temptation is not only to enjoy it, but to hold onto it at all costs. When people said to me, “No one can do ministry like you, Pastor,” I loved it! But if you buy that idea, you prepare for your own downfall. For shared ministry to happen, pastors must give up their elite status–being the center of everything. In the spirit of John the Baptizer who said, “He must increase, but I must decrease,” we must turn the spotlight onto the people of the church.

Pastors will adapt some of these concepts as they move toward a ministry base of lay teams:

1. The vision of what God wants to do in our church is too big; I cannot do it by myself. I cannot hire enough professional staff to do all ministry needed.

2. The number one job description for every person on the pastoral team is to recruit, equip, and motivate teams of lay people in ministry.

3. If my span of pastoral care covers more than ten people, I have limited my ability to lead a church in ministry.

4. God calls lay people to service, just as he calls pastors.

5. If I build people in their ministry, they will then build the church.

6. We must regard every Christian as a first-class servant. No second-class places of service exist in Christ’s kingdom.

7. All believers have spiritual gifts needed in the church. All gifts are valued. All people are valued.

8. People receive self-esteem from doing ministry.

9. The more people involved in ministry, the higher the overall satisfaction level in the church.

10. It takes all the people of God to do all the work of God.

In short, lay ministry will happen in a church only if intentionally given the “triple A” treatment: attention, appreciation, and affirmation. That purposefulness begins with the pastoral leaders’

At New Hope Community Church, every level of our growth required me to change before we went to the next level, including my skill at legitimizing lay ministry and developing team leaders. If you’re not a growing pastor yourself, your laity cannot go to new places. You need to change your vision to include teams of lay people in ministry. This usually involves a switch in your thinking, your focus, and your time use in developing more people for ministry.

Step 3: Involve Everyone in Gift-Based Ministry.

If you’re not helping lay people discover their gifts and getting them involved in their God-given ministry, you rob them of the joy of service and neglect the primary job God has given you to do. As 1 Peter 4:10 (NIV) teaches, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”

Probably more than anything else, we pastors need to develop a permission-giving environment that makes it easy for people to join one another in ministry, as Bill Easum’s book Sacred Cows Make Goumet Burgers (Abingdon) urges and explains. All churches effective in lay ministry know how to bless people to live out their spiritual gifts without their having to ask permission. People who are so empowered will grow and excel.

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. In short, to multiply the number of people involved in your church’s gift-motivated service and ministry, you must do these four things:

1. Place a high value on lay ministry. Make lay mobilization a core value. Membership classes often provide a good place to model and teach this.

2. Put in place systems connecting people to their calls and gifts, and match people with their ministries within the church body. In teaching these outstanding Beeson Pastors each year in our on-site Doctor of Ministry program, I encourage them to focus on their church’s purposes and then to think through developing processes and systems to get the desired results. Our watchword: Build leaders, and they in turn will develop ministry teams.

3. Make sure every pastor, lay leader, and layperson in ministry implements gift-sensitive lay mobilization.

4. Catch the concept of whole-life ministry, where people see their vocation as a place where they do ministry. Teach them that their employment offers an opportunity to carry out ministry. They may change jobs, but their vocation and calling are to do ministry wherever they are.

Be careful, however, not to block people from taking the first step just because they don’t yet see the tie-in to spiritual gifts. Instead, get people involved wherever they’re willing to get started. One of the most effective pastors at New Hope took his first step in ministry when someone asked him to help pass the offering. Later he became an apprentice in a small group and then an outstanding leader for one of our care groups. As he identified his spiritual gifting and became increasingly involved in training others for ministry, we brought him onto the church staff.

Step 4: Connect Everyone in Ministry to a Team.

I recently heard Bill Hybels talk about the early years of Willow Creek Community Church. He described how after a service, the ministry team members would go out for pizza together. They’d ask how each other was doing, and each member would go home encouraged and healthier.

I had the same experience in the early years of New Hope Community Church. Amazingly good results came from doing ministry and also experiencing “body life” as a small group. These are some reasons people work better on teams:

Groups provide encouragement, accountability, and affirmation to their members.

The Body of Christ functions and works together, as taught in Scripture.

Everybody becomes a caregiver and everybody receives care.

So much more is accomplished because people work together and synergism takes place.

Grouping people together in teams–with the first responsibility to minister to each other and then together to minister outwardly to others–is very important. One reason so many cutting-edge churches have discovered the small-group movement is its multiple impact: People mobilize for ministry and at the same time nurture and disciple one another.

The best results inevitably happen when people do ministry in groups.

Step 5: Depend on the Holy Spirit.

Melvin Steinbron, observing the changes in the lay ministry’s role over four decades, concludes that a new reformation is afoot. He says, “In the first reformation, the church gave the Bible to the people. In the second reformation, the church gave the ministry to the people.”

Elton Trueblood, a pioneering writer in the field of lay ministry, wrote in even stronger terms: “If the average church should suddenly take seriously the notion that every lay member–man or woman–is really a minister of Christ, we could have something like a revolution in a very short time.”

I believe this “new” reformation is one led by the Holy Spirit. True empowerment comes only from the Holy Spirit. Zerubbabel reamed that God’s will is accomplished: “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty” (Zech. 4:6, NIV). People empowered and released by the Holy Spirit become as bold and fruitful as the lay leaders described in the Book of Acts.

Now is the time for such a Spirit-motivated revolution. The need is urgent. The job looms too large for any individual, even the most highly trained and competent clergy-person, to do alone.

Galloway is the founding pastor of the 6,400-member New Hope Community Church in Portland, Oregon. He now serves as dean of the Beeson International Center for Biblical Preaching and Church Leadership, one of the schools of Asbury Theological Seminary, Wilmore, Kentucky.