I wasn’t surprised when only about twenty people showed up at a small evening service where I was speaking. Nor did the remarks a lay leader made during the service catch me off guard. Her task, as part of the annual emphasis on mission, was to promote the ministries of the church’s missionaries.
She reminded the sparse crowd that it was their responsibility to pray for, and financially support their missionaries. So far so good, but unfortunately her challenge became destructive just where most missionary motivational speeches go bad. She told them that because they had normal lives, and God had not called them to be missionaries, their role was to support those God had called into “the ministry” with their prayers and finances. It was similar to a challenge a school might give to encourage students to attend a homecoming game. If you can’t be an athlete be an athletic supporter!
As she spoke, few tried to hide their expression of apathy. When she finished, it was my turn. I began by saying, “Unlike the old country song, my heroes have not always been cowboys, rather, my heroes have always been people just like you.” A few smiled faintly as if to say, “Yeah, right. When have I ever been a hero in the church?” I had to be careful. I didn’t want to attack the lay leader. But, at the same time, it was important to challenge part of her message because what she implied was a lie. Sure, the missionaries deserved the church’s support – that part was true. But to tell these people the best they could do was to support those who had a “real call to the ministry,” was a lie.
Her lie was not intentional, it simply revealed that she was a product of “the system.”
I wasn’t angry at the lay leader; I felt sorry for her. She was just giving the annual “let’s support our missionaries” speech the way she had always heard it given. She wasn’t trying to be condescending. But, unfortunately she was part of a larger system that victimizes everyone in it, including her. The system assumes a few people, i.e. missionaries and pastors, are “the ministers” and everyone else in the church is their supporting cast.
Sure, the ministries of the missionaries she described were exciting and important. It was important for me not to minimize that message. But the folks present that evening needed to know they could do more than pray and give. They, too, could have ministries that were just as significant as those being done by the missionaries.
I continued my message that evening, by telling stories of lay people just like themselves, who were being used by God in unusual ways. The more stories I told, the more their apathy gave way to genuine interest. Before the message was over, most were hanging on every word.
I spoke about moms, a fireman, doctors, financial planners, educators, and others who made an impact as they pursued God’s ministry calling on their lives. Toward the end of the message, I could tell that some had found the courage to begin to dream how God could use them. Afterward, a couple of people even boldly shared their ministry dreams with me.
While I encouraged them to pursue their dreams, I knew it wouldn’t be easy, given the mindset of the typical church. Fortunately, more and more churches are willing and even eager to help lay people have significant ministries. But such churches remain a minority and the vast majority of lay people are trapped in systems that do not recognize their ministry potential.
When it comes to mission, the most important resource any church has is the ministry calling of each of its members. But few churches are aware of that fact. Yes, somewhere in the church’s purpose statement you may find the words, “every member a minister.” But the way they “do church” makes it clear that they do not really believe their greatest asset is the ministry calling of the average person. Rather, they think their greatest assets are their pastor, facilities, location or perhaps their “style.” In reality, however, the best thing your church has to offer is the good news of the gospel wrapped in the ministry calling of each of its people.