“How can more people be more engaged in the work of ministry?” This is a question often repeated in congregational life. Many congregations find themselves struggling with ways to reach a higher level of member commitment through the concept of every-member ministry.
We live in a fast-paced time, with “to-do” lists that range from daunting to overwhelming. We live in a high-density time, when even the most remote place is connected by internet server. We live in a time when religious life too often is crowded off our calendars, and we leave spiritual work to the paid professionals to do for us.
Corinne Ware, in her book Connecting to God: Nurturing Spirituality through Small Groups, writes “So long as lay people expect pastors and priests to seek God in their stead and make no effort on their own, they will be disappointed and stunted.” (p. 9) Many of us feel that disappointment, stunted by a faith that hasn’t been actively explored since the eighth grade, and do not have a ready path towards seeking God and doing the work of ministry.
Here are four strategies that can help every member engage in ministry:
- Articulate the deep “why” of every ministry: People standing at the door of the church or synagogue saying hello are doing more than filling in a slot on a duty chart. They are extending a welcome and a ministry of hospitality to the stranger. They are welcoming back the lost, they are greeting the least, they are connecting the congregation with God’s love. Training for ministry tasks needs to name boldly its theological, mission, and vision components.
- Provide forums in a wide range of formats (workshops, retreats, reading lists, mentors, small groups, tests) for people to find where they sense God’s pull on their life. It may be an area of gift and strength, or it may be an area that moves them out of their comfort zone. People’s approach to identifying their ministry is as diverse as the people themselves. Some may take a six-week course. Some will go away on a weekend or come one Saturday morning. Some will need “independent study” models or ministry mentors.
- Create ongoing monthly ministry “mutual supervision” groups where lay ministers can reflect on their ministry, how it is working in their life, what they need to learn, and how they can share their learnings with others.
- Recommend annual spiritual checkups. We go to the doctor every year and the dentist probably more often than that. But too often we never stop to ask how our spiritual life is going. See below ten questions that could help with this type of annual review.
Lay ministry—every-member ministry—is essential to the vitality of the religious institution. Even more importantly, it is essential to our own growth as persons of faith, living our journey.
Patricia Hayes is a consultant with the Alban Institute. She is the leader of the 2005 seminar “Each One Called: The Power and Promise of Lay Ministry” and leads workshops, renewal retreats and congregational discernment and vision work in a wide range of congregations.
A Model for an Annual Spiritual Checkup
Here are ten questions any person could use as an annual review of his or her discipleship and ministry:
How has your prayer life been this year? Blossoming? Fading? Faltering? Open? Routine? Is this an area that needs more focus for you?
What have you studied this year (formally or informally)? What have you learned?
Are you worshipping at least weekly? How has that time been? Highs? Lows? Are you taking time to prepare or “just showing up”?
- Leader Skills
Do you sense that your capacity to lead has increased? Are you observing the leadership of others? What are you learning?
- Community Building
How are you helping your congregation to thrive, formally and informally?
Where have you been visible in your faith? What blocks you from action?
- Serving Others
Where have you served God this year?
- Sense of Growth
Where do you feel you have grown this year-spiritually, emotionally, in terms of relationships, or in terms of knowledge?
How is your sense of living a balanced life? Do you keep sabbath?
- Growing Edge – Stretching Beyond the Comfort Zone
If we accept that we are not living in the fullness of the kingdom, where are you called to focus in the coming year?
Patricia Hayes, former Alban Consultant
Letting Go: Transforming Congregations for Ministry by Roy D. Phillips
Pioneering thinkers have been saying for decades that the key to church renewal lies in nurturing the ministry of the laity. Based on his 30-plus years experience in parish ministry, Phillips makes the case that in order for lay ministries to flourish, pastors need to let go of their traditional views about their role in the congregation. Letting Go forthrightly explains what it means for pastors to do less, so their members have the opportunity and freedom to grow.
Reflecting with God: Connecting Faith and Daily Life in Small Groups by Abigail Johnson
Untangling the day-to-day issues in our multifaceted lives can seem daunting. Time to sit quietly and reflect is rare. If we are fortunate, we have good friends or close family members with whom to talk things through and find clarity, but many times we feel isolated and lonely. As people of faith, we add another layer to our reflections when we wonder where God fits into our lives.