Wineskins Archive

January 6, 2014

Ministry Whenever, Wherever, by Whomever (Nov 96 – Mar 97)

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by David W. Wray
November, 1996 – March, 1997

25Church volunteers, according to Wayne Pohl, are leaner, meaner Christians who expect to be equipped for ministry and who expect to find significance. With a low tolerance for sitting on committees, church members today are a temp workforce that commits to projects rather than institutions.1 These realities, along with many others, are producing an organizational revolution in congregations as they reconfigure ministry structures and strategies.

The Apostle Paul furnished church leaders with the theological principle for ministry long before contemporary administrative specialists began penning words about the issue. Ephesians 4:11-16 provides a clear mandate for church leaders to equip (prepare) Christians for works of service, and in so doing, the body of Christ will mature and awaken to spiritual vitality. Thankfully, preachers and writers have long acknowledged the vision and mission articulated in this passage; however, Bill Easum recently provided a fresh perspective on equipping when he wrote about permission-giving churches.2

Before examining Eastum’s principles of permission-giving churches, there are some bedrock tenets which should be acknowledged. Permission-giving churches recognize that all Christians in congregations are spiritually gifted individuals who are ministers. As ministers they have significant ownership in every aspect of the congregation’s life. Quickly abating are the days when church members are satisfied by only hiring professional staff to establish numerous programs and then filling the various roles with volunteers, some reluctant and other enthusiastic. Instead, Steens and Collins suggest that current ministry philosophy includes empowerment, integration, servant-leadership, interdependence, and member-mobilization.3 It should be apparent to church leaders that congregational structures in the twenty-first century will be less about control and more about permission-giving.

Control environments provide a neat, hierarchical organizational structure. Permission-giving contexts can be messy as Christians struggle to facilitate ministry while working toward accomplishing their agreed-on mission. Control settings have clear authority and communication channels which demand close coordination, procedures and management. Permission-giving milieus tend to flatten organizational structures, and, while various individuals have specific spiritual functions (elders, staff members, deacons, ministry leaders, etc.), the roles are more relational than organizational. Easum, using these precepts, renders numerous principles of permission-giving churches.

Principle One: Permission-giving churches believe that the role of God’s people is to minister to people, in the world, every day of the week, by living out their spiritual gifts instead of running the church by sitting on committees and making decisions about what can or cannot be done.

One congregation, in attempting to put this principle into practice, created a Ministry of Care. Helping professionals (physicians, optometrists, attorneys, therapists, dentists, etc.) in the church were asked if they would provide care for any member of the congregation who couldn’t pay for their services. Without exception each helping professional joyfully said yes. They went on to say, “It is difficult to leave our practices and come to the church building to participate in a ministry program. Thank you for providing ministry opportunities and recognizing that we are daily using our professional training and spiritual giftedness to bless people.” What liberating permission-giving!

Principle Two: Permission-giving churches encourage autonomous, on-the-spot decision-making by collaborative individuals and self-organizing ministry teams.

Let’s note another illustration of how theory turns into practice. Looking around at the numerous widows in his congregation, a man detected signs of neglect. His invitation to 30 men to join him for breakfast and conversation produced more than theological studies and discussions about a congregation’s responsibility to widows. Each man adopted two or three widows and began providing assistance on a weekly basis. When widows were discovered having inadequate resources to cover monthly expenses, the men emptied their pockets and established a checking account on which any member of the ministry team could draw money. The thousands of dollars dispensed yearly by these men caring for widows is done on-the-spot by this self-organized team. Incidentally, these men, all members of the same congregation, have never established a widows’ program, have never been coordinated by a church staff member, and have never asked the elders if they could have permission to care for the widows. The permission-giving church expects autonomous decision-making by collaborative individuals and self-organized teams.

Principle Three: Permission-giving churches encourage ministry to be delivered any time, any place, by anyone, no matter what.

Recently a congregation developed a vision for a domestic church planting in their region. A ministry team was established to provide communication, procedures, and fund raising for the project. During the communication phase of the undertaking, a church member (not on the ministry team) got so excited about ministry possibilities that he invited numerous friends to write an unauthorized letter to church members encouraging them to support the ministry with prayers and money. A church staff member, convinced that the commission process was ignored, complained to the ministry team leader. The ministry leader reminded the staff member that a permission-giving church, while sometimes messy, allows God’s Spirit to work instead of attempting to control every aspect of a ministry. Incidentally, the ministry group requested $280,000 for the church planting and the permission-giving congregation committed more than $310,000.

Principle Four: Permission-giving churches need boundaries and accountability.

Church leaders have a vital role in permission-giving congregations. They must constantly articulate biblical and theological principles which are foundational for the congregation. Precious biblical principles and standards should be understood by every member and ministry team. While permission-giving churches provide a climate of creativity, innovation, and possibilities, the acknowledged boundaries and accountability provide mutual trust and collaboration.

Leadership Network4, when introducing Easum’s writings to their readers, used this story, with which I conclude. In the early years of the 20th Century, the Chinese people were faced with adjusting to life in a world that was radically different from anything they had known for hundreds of years. It became common to greet one another with the question, “Are you living in the new world yet?”

1David Goetz and Kevin Miller, “Megashifts,” Leadership, SVI:4 (Fall, 1995): 111-113.
2 William M. Easum, Sacred Cows Make Gourmet Burgers (Nashville: Abingdon Press 1995).
3 R. Paul Stevens and Phil Collins, The Equipping Pastor (An Alban Institute Publication, 1993).
4 Next, from Leadership Network, 1:3 (October, 1995):1.
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