Much has been said lately about leadership in the church, and much of what has been said is good and important. We know that we are living in a time in which scandals in leadership seem to be at an all-time high, and whether that's because things are more corrupt in this era than they have been previously or because we're better at exposing things, it's hard to tell. Some like to blame the "celebrity" culture of pastoral ministry, where some pastors are coming to gain fame from their pulpits, but I think that's a bit too easy. After all, America has always had its famous pastoral voices; fame for ministers is not a new phenomenon.
(It is an interesting one, though. At a time when the church seems to be struggling and when the "nones" are the fastest-growing religious demographic, it's interesting that we want to now start attacking "celebrity" as a big problem of the church. I just think of guys from revivals past who were well-known across the entire country at a time when Christianity was enjoying prominence and widespread acceptance. But anyway, I digress....)
But I don't want to talk about pastors. I don't want to talk about the guys and gals in the pulpit.
I want to talk about Joe, who decided to lead that small group. And Betty, who decided to step up into that service ministry. And Dave, who has taken on a leadership role with the youth ministry. And even Zoe, who volunteered to put together the bulletin every week.
I want to talk about the actual leaders in our churches, the men and women - the brothers and sisters - who are stepping up to do the real ministry work that meets our communities in the quieter places. I'm talking about the volunteers, the folks who say, "Yes! I will do that!" when a need arises or those who are bringing their own ideas for opportunities to the pastor and the elders and pitching to start something new.
I want to talk about them because in so many of our churches across this country, the standards for this kind of leadership are dangerously low. In many churches, the only standard for leadership of this type of ministry is, "Is someone willing?" Because so many of our churches are struggling with buy-in and participation, that's all it takes - if you're willing, you're "hired." Congratulations! You have just become one of the faces of this church.
But that's exactly the trouble. These folks who are willing become the folks who are the faces of our congregation. They are the ones our members and visitors are meeting most often. They are the ones who represent who we are and what we're about.
Shouldn't there, then, be some kind of standard about what kind of person, what kind of Christian, these persons are? Shouldn't we have some kind of accountability beyond, "Just how willing are you?"
In a lot of ways, we hold these persons up as measures of true faith. Look at so-and-so, leading two small groups and teaching a class! Look at this person, who agreed to take over X ministry! These are great examples of the kind of Christian you should be!
But...are they really?
The sad reality is that too many of the willing among us are not serving out of a deep love for God or even a strong faith in Him. They are serving out of a broken flesh that is unsurrendered and thus, they are looking for approval from men that they haven't sought (or accepted) from God. And there are a few primary places that this comes from.
This, I think, is a problem in the church that must be addressed, especially when we know how much these persons become our representation in our communities.
I'm not saying that we turn these persons away from leadership. Lord knows the church doesn't need more gatekeepers. But what I am saying is that we need more accountability to keep growing them and stop just turning them loose without any insistence on developing true spiritual maturity.
We'll talk about it. We'll look at a couple of the big things that are really going on with the ministry of the willing, and we'll talk about how we can do better in shaping leaders among us.
Full disclosure: there were seasons of my own life and "service" during which I was guilty of these very things. Looking back, some the interventions I'm going to propose are the things I wish someone had done for me much sooner.