Borrowing Brains: Decentralized Ministry

I’ve spoken quite a bit lately about my burden for (a) decentralized leadership and (b) every member ministry. Both are core values at Tri-County Bible Church, which I’m privileged to pastor. The concept is thoroughly biblical. However, sometimes there’s a “disconnect” between what we believe to be right and what actually takes place. Sometimes the implementation of a right philosophy is challenging. So…

Whether you’re a pastor or not, please help the other readers of MTC by chiming in: What are some practical things churches, pastors, and members can do to encourage decentralized leadership and every member ministry? What hinders these things?

Please explain, and be as specific as possible. Looking forward to reading your thoughts. Thanks!

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12 Responses

  1. From a layperson standpoint, let your pastor know you want to be more active. Volunteer then follow through. In talking with my pastor, I’ve discovered that he’s been burned a few times when he depended on someone else. We as members must show ourselves to be faithful. Teaching SS, cutting the grass, taking a meal to a shut-in, if we offer to do something, we’d better be faithful and do it as to the Lord.

  2. I’ll start with some basic things. First, you need to make these things just part of the DNA of your church.

    * Preach every member ministry. Make your equipping role from Eph 4:11-12 a drum you consistently beat.

    * Include it in your purpose statement. Our example:

    TCBC exists to glorify God by exalting the Lord, evangelizing the lost, and edifying the body of Christ. Every ministry we carry out is designed to meet that objective, and every member is essential to its fulfillment.”

    * Announce it each week in your bullet as a header:

    “Honoring the Lord through every member ministry.”

    Or, as we summarize our purpose statement, we just put this on the front of the bulleting:

    Exaltation / Evangelism / Edification / Every Member Ministry.

    * Sign your letters and emails to the church in a way that communicates that you’re part of the body and that they’re essential. I’ll often sign off with “Your friend & co-laborer” or “I love ministering alongside you!” Don’t underestimate the value of such consistent communication—as long as it’s sincere.

    * Have a teachable spirit. This may be the most important thing. Don’t be offended when people disagree, especially in elder/deacon meetings. Don’t be threatened by discussion. Don’t dominate. Don’t expect people to rubber stamp your suggestions. Rejoice and thank them when they have better ideas or when they stop you from doing something stupid. Admit when you’re wrong. Take their advice regarding a hard issue or a recommended sermon series. In short, make it clear that you value members’ (and especially fellow leaders’) ministry and influence.

    * Have an open door. DON’T think that putting out a suggestion box communicates that you’re listening. Quite the contrary.

    That’s a start, anyway. :) More? Feedback?

  3. What Hinders: in my neck of the woods, pastoring is a job….they hired me to minister. This was the attitude expressed when discussing the need for a recognized plurality of leadership. The answer came back, why not hire someone else to help if you need it (Note: please read with the uttmost understanding that I love the place the God has placed me and the people to whom I minister). This attitude has been reinforced by past pastors who wanted/felt the need to be “the man.” (Rabbit trail — didn’t work out to well — that is why I’m here). So for me, the slow process is to consistently point people to scripture and allow the faithful method of expository preaching (my prayer is that it is such) to expose the error of the way we “do” church.

    What is helping: My deacons get it….at least most of them. So I have been allowing many of them to begin to take on the role of helping in “elership” activities without forcing the “name.” Many of them have become our champion voices for shared leadership. I have my deacons speak when I am away so that the church gets used to their spiritual voices. It also helps that I have many faithful minister members

    We have much to do. I like all of your suggestions. Thanks for encouraging this biblical model of leadership. It is much needed in a “circle” use to Big Wigs (I know… every “circle” has Big Wigs…. it just seems my “circle” has more).

  4. Let the vision/burden for a ministry/program rise from members. On the other hand, please, please, please be willing to kill a program that is being done just cuz-we-have-always-dunnit.

    Ministry starts at home first. Train fathers to ‘pastor’ their families (no, not home-churches). Nurture vision in men for their families and it tends to grow.

  5. Excellent.

    Small groups are a must, IMO. Not because they’re “the thing to do right now,” but because they’re essential to both goals—decentralized leadership and every member ministry. We have 5 elders in the church, including me. So we have 4 small groups for Sunday School, each led by the others elders and each also home to at least 1 deacon. They’re “directed discussions,” which means they’re not lectures, but they’re not shared ignorance, either. The name of the groups is EMMs (yes, every member ministry).

    They’re more than SS classes, though. They provide the “shape” of our oversight ministry. Each elder and deacon especially “eld” and “deac” the people in their group (though not exclusively, obviously). They’re vital to what we do. So when a lady in our church took her daughter in for a surgery, my wife and I were there, but so was the elder from her EMM group.

    And we train people that if they get hospital visits from 5 people, none of whom is a pastor, while that’s success, not failure. Of course, we try to get there. But our people have been taught, encouraged, reminded, asked, etc. to have that sort of ministry be theirs, as well.

    As a church gets bigger, it has to get smaller. Our EMMs help accomplish that, and we do them on purpose, to accomplish something. Praise the Lord.

  6. David said, “Let the vision/burden for a ministry/program rise from members.”

    I agree. We’re trying to turn the corner from EMM meaning that people are ready to carry out the pastors’ ideas to people are developing them more proactively and creatively.

    What does that look like in real life, though. Can you give an example, how an idea was developed by membership, brought to the attention of the church and its leaders, then implemented? Is it asking people to lead proactively and think creatively? On their own? In a committee or task force?

    These are answers we’re needing right now.

  7. I have had a burden for what you call EMM for a while, but I am a fairly young and new pastor. I feel that there are times I have pushed toward a less decentralized leadership and have gotten kick back as assumption of laziness on my part and so I have backed off seeking to teach methodically and implementing slowly. But I was wondering, How long has the implementation in TCBC taken to get where it is. We are a church with a long history (31 years) but only one member having been here longer than 10 years. most everyone else less than 5 years. (church is less than 100, but growing slowly). I have got so much to introduce the people to as a “different” way of doing church, but struggle with where to begin? How fast? etc. Any advice would be appreciated. (note, we did suffer the loss of some membership because some didn’t like “the direction of the church”) (read–we didn’t use to do things that way).

  8. What’s the biblical basis for decentralized leadership? In the NT, it seems that leadership is intentionally set apart, with a strict set of qualifications that intentionally limits who can be a part of it. If everyone leads, then no one leads. It becomes a nightmare.

    I agree with decentralized ministry, but leadership? I am not sure I follow that reasoning.

  9. Ditto what Larry said. I was just looking at this today and thinking, decentralized ministry is basically whole body involvement (every member ministry). I’m all for that. But having the entire church body lead? Who’s gonna follow? That seems impossible, if not impractical.

    Chris, do you make a distinction between decentralized ministry and decentralized leadership? Or are you using the latter as a rough (and rather imprecise) synonym of the former?

  10. I don’t use the terms synonymously at all. Sorry for the confusion.

    When I speak of every member ministry I mean the whole body functioning, serving, edifying, etc.

    When I speak of decentralized leadership I mean a group of biblically qualified elders who shepherd the church. I don’t mean “everybody leads.” I mean that leadership is intentionally moved from one man to a body of godly elders, and even a body of godly deacons, though their ministry is focused on service.

    Per another question I received via email, I’m not opposed to the reality that there will be a leader among the leaders, as well.

    In short, I don’t mean every member leadership. I mean every member ministry and decentralized (e.g. plurality of) leadership. Make sense?

  11. Oops. My unintentional combining of the terms in the title of the post didn’t help things. Sorry about that.

    To clarify again: We work toward (a) decentralized leadership (meaning a plurality of leaders, not one, but also not everyone) and (b) every member ministry.

  12. I probably added to the confusion with my questions in which I used decentralized leadership to describe what Chris is talking about. I didn’t intend that, it was a brain typo. I am on the same page as Larry and Mark, with gifted, godly leadership truly leading by serving Christ and the body. But I wonder if the goal of leadership is not to create more followers, but to develop more leaders. Maybe not in the position of elders and deacons, but at least in family, work, ministry type involvement.

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