One of the things that makes church leadership difficult is that your primary workforce is made up of volunteers. There’s no economic incentive or leverage and little social pressure for people to volunteer for your church’s ministry. All effort is discretionary.
And the reality is that most of our volunteer recruitment – or “assimilation” – efforts amount to little more than enlistment. We have a certain number of spots we need to fill, so we need to find a certain number of bodies to fill them. The sharpest churches make some effort to match aptitude, interest, or spiritual gifts to the jobs that need to be filled but even that effort usually adds a layer of administration that can be cumbersome and exhausting.
It’s little wonder that when pastors compare notes about common struggles “having enough people to get the ministry done” is near the top of most every list.
What if our problem is in the way we frame the challenge?
We assume that our problem is recruiting enough bodies to fill ministry slots or finding folks who are willing to be “assimilated” into some sort of ministry machine or monster.
But maybe that’s not it.
In our work, we tackle this issue on a number of fronts. One is through a unique process of helping people to discern their vocation – their Intentional Difference – and then helping churches be great stewards of those vocations, both inside and outside the church walls. People are made different to make a difference, not made to fill a slot in a ministry org chart.
But even before a process, we talk about a new way of thinking:
Our job is not to enlist members of our congregation to perform ministry tasks and roles or to “assimilate” them into a predetermined system, but rather to collaborate with them to unleash their purpose and passion to accomplish great things together.
A thriving church culture creates an environment where people, teams, departments, ministry areas, staff and volunteers alike can converge and build something together. Collaboration suggests that creating and doing something together that is bigger than any one of us is the main purpose of ministry and that it doesn’t matter who (outside of God!) gets the credit.
The goal of collaboration is not the process, not the sum of the parts, but rather the outcome that would not have been achieved without each individual contribution.
Ministry collaboration invites people into partnerships that require commitment. But because people are being involved rather than enlisted this commitment is given freely and with maximum discretionary effort.
A healthy ministry culture of collaboration means that church leaders voluntarily relinquish power whenever possible and in any event use whatever power is necessary for the benefit of others. It means that volunteers are not there to carry out the vision and plans of professionals but rather have skin in the game from the outset and are involved in the very crafting of ministry objectives, strategy, and vision.
Pastors, then, support, encourage and shine the spotlight on the efforts of teams and members of those teams who are crafting the ministry together.
This rules out “celebrity pastors”, an unhealthy disconnect between clergy and “laity”, and in some healthy ways undercuts the professional nature of pastoral ministry.
It’s risky, and adapting this way of thinking doesn’t solve all of our problems.
But it gets us started. And collaboration is a lot more fun than enlistment!