It’s a common thing for church people to feel underappreciated. Many friends I’ve talked to in the last year have complained about not getting enough chances to use their potential in the church. “Elijah, the leaders just don’t care about raising up potential,” they say. “My pastors don’t give me opportunities to lead and exercise my skills in the church.”
I’ve wondered why this perception exists. From my vantage point as a pastor’s son, I know that many leaders are crying out for help in the ministry. They find it nearly impossible to fill open roles in Sunday School and other church functions. It’s true that American churches generally do a poor job of empowering the entire congregation to serve. Anabaptist churches are not usually much better at engaging every member in living out church. Too often, the pastors and deacons do 90% of the work, while the church members keep the seats occupied. But that’s not nearly the whole story.
The people who complain about not having enough ministry opportunities are often doing exactly the things that prevent themselves from being trusted by their pastors. Regardless of how well a person loves God, if they are terrible at building trust, they are likely to remain a benchwarmer instead of being given leadership. If we as church members learned to build trust with our leaders, we could fill those open roles in the church and carry the ministry load with our pastors.
Here are five ideas that you should seriously consider if you want to be most impactful in your local church:
- Don’t wait for your pastors to find you.
Make a point of asking to sit down and chat with your pastors. Often, pastors are busy and don’t know how to reach around, and yet I don’t know of many pastors who wouldn’t jump at the chance to meet with someone who came and asked. Those church members who care enough about their pastors or elders to build relationships with them are the ones who will be trusted with ministry opportunities. It’s really not that complicated.
- Take the low-profile jobs.
If you just want the “big seat” in ministry, forget it. The “big seat” in the kingdom of God is actually all about humbly serving, as Jesus made clear from the beginning.¹ Pick up whatever menial task is open and do it for God’s approval, putting creative energy and skill into the process. Trust me, faithful people are eventually noticed and given more responsibility.
- Don’t be a terrorist.
I’m talking about those people who criticize everything, mistrust Anabaptist culture, and endlessly joke about the flat spots in church. Those whose public persona is always the sledgehammer will find it much harder to be trusted. Your words matter. What you say, even just to friends, will be repeated. Whether it is anti-church rhetoric, or gossip, or cruel jokes about the leadership, or just a cynical attitude about church in general, it will decimate your potential to serve. That’s not an accident. Leaders generally watch for signs of terrorists and avoid asking them to help lead. It’s too dangerous for the church. Instead, learn to be a church-builder. Find ways to verbally support your ministers often. If you disagree with them on issues, carefully gauge the importance of the issue before disagreeing loudly. Unless it’s something on the top tier of importance, don’t risk damaging your future opportunities to minister by foolishly laying out all your thoughts. It must not be a matter of selfish reputation. View it as a matter of positioning yourself for maximum positive impact in the short life you’ll live.
- Love God in public.
This might be one of the most difficult minefields to discuss because of the pernicious nature of hypocrisy. Never do things merely for man’s approval, but do make a point of participating in church activities and sharing what is really going on with you and God. Be real and be honest with the joys of knowing God. Vibrant, Spirit-filled people are vectors for ministry opportunities.
- Respect your leaders’ desires.
Yes, it is crucial to treat your minister’s desires with extra weight. You have authorities weighing in on your life because God believed it was best to give a charge to ministers to watch out for your spiritual lives (not to discount the necessary function of personal fellowship with God in any sense). Read 2 Timothy 4:2 and see how Paul instructs the letter’s namesake to exhort his people “with all instruction.” Or Acts 20, where Paul encourages the Ephesian elders to “watch carefully…over the flock.” This idea of leadership was established in the structure of the church from the beginning. Those who continually make excuses and neglect the counsel of their leaders find no opportunity to lead or serve prominently themselves. Those who reject the yoke will not find opportunities to plow.
Being needed is one of the most thrilling feelings in life. Naturally, it comes with a price tag. But those who are willing to embrace selflessness and take the path leading there will find themselves never lacking in opportunities to serve for the cause of Christ.
¹ Matt. 20:26