Choking Ministry with Red Tape

Pastors are called to equip the entire church for ministry (Ephesians 4:11-16). I think we’re sometimes afraid of all that implies, however, especially the loss of complete ministerial control. It’s more comfortable telling people what to do than unleashing them to use their gifts independently of us. Getting Christians to serve in meaningful and innovative ways requires relinquishing our white-knuckled control of everything that happens in and through the church. Part of what makes that so difficult, I think, is our tendency to see our local church as a brand (think logo, letterhead, and website) rather than a body (think people, relationships, and real-life-is-messy ministries). We fear that letting go of absolute control of every single ministry might tarnish the church’s reputation (or maybe even our own), especially if something goes wrong.

True, biblical de-centralization involves some risk-taking. Certainly those who have been called by God to oversee the church must oversee its ministries; we can’t wash our hands of our responsibility. We need to strike a balance, and it’s not easy. But if we’re not careful we’ll inhibit ministry by being too possessive. Oversight will become obsession. Management will become micromanagement. Gifted ministers will be sidelined by church bureaucracy.

All this has been going through my mind lately, so the following comments from Donald G. McDougall caught my attention:

Church leadership is about releasing and confronting, not controlling. The typical leadership meeting spends much time making sure that the leaders do not lose control. If doctrinal issues are at stake, this is proper and necessary, but excessive control of opportunities for ministry is detrimental. First Corinthians 12:11 teaches that God sovereignly bestows gifts on all Christians, and 1 Corinthians 14:26 describes individual members coming to a time of worship with a song or a teaching. The fourteenth chapter then establishes the guideline by which the church works together in love to allow the expression of worship by appropriately gifted people while maintaining orderliness in their worship (vv. 27-33). Much of the giftedness of God’s people, whether in worship or in ministry, is not currently evident because leadership has stifled the exercise of many of the gifts, being unwilling to release people to use their God-given gifts, (within the guidelines of Scripture and orderliness, of course) preferring instead to control the ministry of people in a categorical fashion.” (“The Pastor’s Prayer Life—the Ministry Side” in Pastoral Ministry by John MacArthur and The Master’s Seminary Faculty) 



6 Responses

  1. Reminds me of a conversation I had some years ago with a missionary who said that almost everything he was getting a church member to do, he could do better than they could. But they would never grow if he did it, and the church would never grow.

    It is hard to let go.

  2. Hey, Larry. Good comment. I heard a guy say that if you can get someone else to do it 80% as well as you, let him.

    The kicker is, there are tons of people that can do things better than their leaders, or things that their leaders can’t do. Part of it’s just realizing that the church is as much theirs as the pastor’s.

    Have a great Lord’s Day, bro.

  3. This is off-topic, but I just wanted to let you know that His Robes for Mine and Your Beauty Fills our Eyes have been a huge blessing to me. Pastor Brian Graham has taught them to our church, and they have exalted Christ in my eyes over and over. Thank you so much for writing these beautiful hymns.

  4. Don’t think it’s limited to church settings either – a successful business always gets to the point where the guy that started it (and is largely responsible for its success and growth) has now become the limiting factor to success and growth. There’s a difference between motivating yourself to achievement and leading others to the same end. I personally don’t like the term “let go”. If you have the authority, accountability, and responsibility for something – don’t “let it go”! Doesn’t mean you have to physically do it. Doesn’t mean you have micro-manage it. But ultimately it means that you have to have the ability to track, monitor, and assess the overall effectiveness of whatever it may be.
    By the by, the transition is always the most painful for the entrepreneur or founder. The longer the transition takes, however, the more the pain is multiplied over the entire organization. It’s a great study in organizational behavior.

  5. […] Missions with Red Tape Posted on June 13, 2011 by Chris I recently wrote about how difficult it is for pastors to pry their fingers off of ministry and allow the entire […]

  6. One of our main problems is that, sometimes, pastors are too insecure to allow someone else to succeed. Our jobs are being done properly when we work ourselves out of a job, so to speak. Excellent article.

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