I believe it’s my calling to come every week to hear you preach and make sure that what you say is right.”
That was the statement of welcome from a member of a church where I had just begun ministry—an unsettling introduction indeed to the new community and church family to which my family and I had just pledged our best energy and ministry investment.
At another church I pastored, our nominating committee was discussing who might be our new head elder. One member rose to say, “I believe it’s the head elder’s job to keep the pastor in check.”
Neither of these voices represented the view and practice of the vast majority of members in either congregation, but both vividly reveal a mindset that undermines healthy collaboration between pastor and parishioner. It’s my experience that the number of people with such a mindset does not have to be large to detour a church’s ability to be the hands and feet of Jesus in a community.
The Acts Christians
I’m struck by the words of Acts, describing that time of incredible growth in the early church. Peter’s Pentecost sermon led to the conversion of many, and those who were converted made some crucial decisions about how they would relate to one another:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-47, NIV).
The last sentence is jolting: “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” This turns outreach and evangelism on its ear! First of all, it takes a huge weight off my shoulders to see it is the Lord who brings people in: “the Lord added…”
When I noticed that, it led me to ask why He would do that. In verses 42-46, we see a picture of a fully collaborating church: they were together. They ate together, prayed together, shared together, worshipped together—and were glad about it!
Could it be that the reason they enjoyed the favor of all the people (verse 47) is that they had acquired the reputation of being a people who knew how to be together in healthy and helpful ways?
And can it be today that God adds numbers to certain church communities because it is safe to do so? Is it possible that He feels more free to bring new people in when He sees that they will be well cared for?
Creating Safe Communities
I’ve known churches that were, as a practical matter, organized around the principle of making sure the pastor was working hard enough for them. Don’t get me wrong. Pastors should be fully dedicated to their mission—and rest assured that the vast majority are!
But I wonder what sea change might be felt in some churches if the pastor were freed up to fulfill his or her Ephesians 4 mandate: to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” and then find all working in partnership and collaboration with one another to be Jesus to their community?
One of my prayers for the great Mid-America Union territory is that all our churches will be safe communities to which the Savior can trust those He chooses to bring in. And I also pray that each one of us can find ways to work collaboratively with our pastors so that we all might know the profound joy of partnership with Jesus in the salvation of those around us.
Guest author Mic Thurber is the ministerial director of the Mid-America Union.