It's time to do less for your church members

The idea certainly sounds appealing, but you ought to be warned that it will wipe out one of our favorite pastoral activities——making plans for other people. The result could be a radical revision of your, concept of what it means to be a pastor.

As a pastor, I've never been able to get too excited about somebody else's pro gram. Not even if it comes from the conference president himself.

But when it's my program, something opens up within me, and I invest incredible amounts of time and energy to achieve its success! Why has it taken me so long to see that the members in my churches are no different? How many years I've wasted trying to get them to do things they had no desire to do, while practically ignoring the potential of their own hopes and dreams concerning their church and their Lord!

I have been guilty of a self-centered approach to pastoring, but I suspect I am not alone—and I'm willing to share my guilt with you. In ten years of ministry I have heard pastors and church leaders ask the same question again and again: How do we get our members to do what they "should"—that is, what we want them to do?

We ask the wrong question because we have all been cast in the same mold and can no longer discern its shape. We think that the function of our leaders is to tell us what to do, and that our role is to do it. Likewise, we believe that if we are to be the leaders of our church, we should tell our members what to do, and their role is to do it. Then we wonder why motivation is lacking!

There is an alternative which, for me, has involved a radical revision of my ideas about what it means to be a pastor. The alternative? Doing less for my church members! When you become acquainted with this concept, you may want to do less for your members too. According to this idea, the right question to ask is not: How can we get our members to do what we want them to do? It is: How can we help our members fulfill their own needs for involvement, commitment, and successful ministry in the church?

I've learned that people are already motivated. Motivation theorists such as Abraham Maslow pointed this out long ago.1 Practically everyone we deal with in our ministry is already motivated in ways essential to the task of the church. For besides the biological needs of food, shelter, and companionship, we all have basic needs for achievement, self-esteem, and recognition. This means that our members want to see the church grow, because they believe in it and want to see their beliefs affirmed. They want to make a personal contribution to its growth because of their faith in the gifts and abilities that God has given them. They want to achieve recognizable success because they need the reinforcement and reassurance that their Christian brothers and sisters give.

Our job as pastors, then, is to help them recognize, express, and fulfill these needs, within the context of church fellowship. Our churches are vast, yet virtually untapped, reservoirs of human energy and dedication. But our members are frustrated, not even knowing the source of their frustration. They blame themselves as well as the church for they know not what.

The problem is not, as we so often hear, that our members do not know what to do or how to do it. With the gifts that God has given them, in some cases they know these things better than we, their leaders, do. Training is needed, yes, also encouragement. But we need to train and encourage them in the direction in which their motivation leads them, not in some other direction.

When I was a schoolboy I experimented with various styles of combing my hair. Some styles were modish and extreme; some more traditional. All required prodigious amounts of heavy grease, for my hair had a mind and a direction of its own. When I finally learned this and made peace with my hair by combing it in the direction in which it grew, I found that that was the way it looked best. Nothing short of direct revelation could move me to change it now! In the same way, our members will give their best service when we recognize the natural direction of their Christian lives. Instead of attempting to uproot and realign them in accordance with our way of thinking, we will learn to groom and nourish their own interests and inclinations. Instead of "laying a burden" on them, we will discover ways to tap the motivational forces God has already planted within them.

This method of leadership may not appeal to some, for it seems to suggest a leader who "follows" rather than one who directs. However, it has one great advantage: It works! Like the gospel itself, it meets people where they are, not where they "should" be. And like the gospel, it dares to accord them all the dignity and respect due to saints in Christ, thereby opening a door by which their own contribution to the cause of God can be made.

I have seen these principles at work again and again among members in my churches. One head deacon showed little interest in my plans and programs. I was frustrated with him. But when I asked him to take full charge of the physical arrangements for a major evangelistic series, he took over like the true leader he was. I was able literally to forget about seating, ushering, lights and heating, cleaning, and equipment storage. With twelve or fifteen other men working under him, he did it all better than I ever could have hoped to do. The man was a genius for carefulness and organization, and the more I stayed out of it the better he did!

Members in all the churches I have served have been cool at first to the whole idea of public evangelism. But when I invited them to become personally involved in planning and directing the next campaign, they suddenly discovered that they were interested after all!

A church leadership seminar directed by Dr. Arnold Kurtz of the Andrews University Theological Seminary and a group of D. Min. students gave me some concepts that helped to put "handles" on motivational principles for my church. The key to an involved, committed laity, I believe, is found in two closely related ideas I call public thinking and shared leadership.

By public thinking I mean that in order for our members to be committed to the church and its work, the thinking, planning, and goal-setting processes that underlie that work must be completely evicted from the private sanctums of the departmental director's office and the pastor's study. They must take place instead in the full public light of discussion and decision by the laity.

This will be time consuming. It will wipe out one of our favorite pastoral activities—making plans for other people. But it is necessary if our people are ever to see the church's mission as truly their own.

Public thinking, or what Robert C. Worley calls public process, means that "private beliefs, intentions, and goals need to be transformed through public processes into public commitments and activity."2 Through public thinking, the private thinking of all the members of a congregation is gathered, recognized, examined, clarified, screened, pooled, and restated as the thinking of the corporate congregation. It is the refining process by which the church comes to be "with one accord" in the Spirit as described in Acts 1 and 2.

The actual procedures by which this refining is accomplished must be individually selected, or designed, by those using them. Design materials and procedural models are available from several sources. 3

The second motivational concept, shared leadership, means choosing a leader ship style that distributes, or shares, the various roles and functions of leadership among all members of a working group according to each person's skills, abilities, and willingness to participate. 4 Thus the group concentrates not just on getting the job done but also on developing individual and group facility in assuming the leader ship roles needed for an effective group. Examples of such roles are:

The Initiator introduces something new for the group's consideration. When he or she emerges, the group has found a way to voice its own motivations, not just listen to the pastor's.

The Elaborator adds to an idea, or suggestion, already introduced. These contributions mean that the group as a whole is able to identify with the motivations of the initiator.

The Clarifier senses and relieves ambiguity and breakdowns in communication. His gift to the group is a dramatic improvement in group unity and efficiency.

The Challenger voices the group's misgivings about an idea or information presented. Loyal, but clear-minded, this individual makes the group selective in its acceptance of the contributions of its members.

The Summarizer pulls together various elements of the discussion. His appearance means that the group is now capable of synthesizing ideas toward a workable conclusion.

The Energizer elicits underlying motivation that the group shares to stimulate a higher quality of work. He motivates by reminding, not by pushing.

Many other leadership roles, including variations of these mentioned, are developed in a dynamic, shared-leadership church group. The pastor will make his contribution as one of the members and will fill only the roles he is fitted to fill—by no means all, or even most, of them. In fact, the more leadership roles carried by group members other than the pastor, the more motivated the group will be.

I must emphasize that for a pastor or a church to accept a pattern of shared leadership, or distributed functions, does not imply abdication of responsibility by the pastor. Nor is a rearrangement of authority necessarily implied. The pastor remains the responsible authority both in the local church and between that body and the conference.

Rather, shared leadership means that the pastor refuses to be the sole source of motivation, plans, and goals for the church. While encouraging and participating in the development of all three, he will share the development processes with all other members.

I have found these leadership concepts exciting and am presently attempting to introduce them to my churches. But there are some hurdles to clear. An active pastor who intends to implement these principles should be forewarned of two major obstacles to their acceptance.

First, you and I are accustomed to think that leadership implies possession of both the authority and the ability to motivate and control the behavior of subordinates. It takes time and experience, not just theory, to dispel these false assumptions. The first obstacle we face is ourselves, for we will tend to be awkward in unaccustomed roles.

Second, the expectations and assumptions of our church members are molded by the same presuppositions that we as pastors have long held. When we first begin trying to lead in this new way, our church members are likely to wonder whether we have decided to stop being their pastor. They want us to tell them what to do, not only because they have been conditioned to expect it but also because it leaves us saddled with the responsibility of motivating them. If motivation fails, the guilt will not be their own. So the second obstacle we face is the expectations of our members.

But these obstacles can be overcome if we take time with our members to discuss and explain what we are attempting to do. We must have their help in changing the leadership patterns of our churches. If they themselves have a basic grasp of the principles behind what we are doing, their expectations will be different, and they will support us as we struggle with our own new concept of the role of the pastor.

By now you may have discovered that the title of this article is not entirely accurate. Following this leadership style will probably cause you to do more, not less, for your church members. But the important difference is that they are doing more as well.


1 Abraham Maslow, Motivation and Personality, 2d ed. (New York: Harper and Row, 1970).

2 Robert C. Worley, Dry Bones Breathe! (Chicago: The Center for the Study of Church Organizational Behavior, 1978), p. 29

3 lbid. See also: Alvin J. Lindgren and Norman Shawchuck, Management for Your Church (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1977), p. 52, Halvard B. Thomsen, "Designing and Developing an International Corporate Ministry in the Milwaukee Central Seventh-day Adventist Church" (unpublished D. Min. project paper, Andrews University
Theological Seminary, Berrien Springs, Michigan, 1979).

4 David W. and Frank P. Johnson, Joining Together: Group Theory and Group Skills. (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1975), p. 22.

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January 1982

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