Who among us wouldn't jump at the opportunity to expand our staff. We would readily prepare a proposal for our judicatory committees and eagerly await release of treasury funds to increase our pastoral team.
Since the likelihood of this scenario becoming reality is minimal, let me encourage you with a real way to expand your staff without appealing for extra funding from the conference and yet accomplishing more ministry than you might have imagined possible— more effective use of your lay spiritual leaders (elders, trustees, deacons, etc.).
In fact, most local church elders, by reason of their longer-term residence in the community of believers, have a better grasp on the ministry needs of your congregation than a new incoming staff member might comprehend. Further, the spiritual authority granted to elders by both the Church Manual as well as their election by their fellow members provides unique opportunity and power to effectively minister.
I have never met a pastor who is not busy. In fact, most pastors are too busy with multiplied demands and myriad details awaiting their personal attention. Furthermore, the more you work at pastoring, the longer your "to do" list of expectations grows. Good pastoral work creates more pastoral work. If you make a hospital visit, you will likely meet relatives or friends of your parishioner who would also benefit from your ministry. If you are involved in a community project, you may well expand the circle of those who look to you for counsel or contribution. Even sharing a Bible study with a prospective member will often grow your list of those who are open to similar studies.
Let's face it. You need real help!
Redefine the role. Too often we have allowed our lay leadership to conclude that ministry is the activity of the professional pastor and their task is to effectively guard the platform during worship services and guard the treasury during board meetings. If your elders believe they are meeting their job description by just platform responsibilities and permission granting/denying at board meetings, then a thorough redefinition of their task is urgently needed. Begin by supplying each of your elders with a copy of The Elder's Handbook and a subscription to Elder's Digest magazine. Then conduct a class using the curriculum in the handbook with specific applications for your churches.
Extension of pastor. Utilize your elders as an extension of yourself and your ministry activities. Provide them with a supply of your own business cards and then ask them to complete assignments in your name. For example, "Pastor asked me to come to the hospital and pray for you." Or, "Pastor asked me to bring you this pamphlet and to invite you to attend the Bible Class next week."
By "coming in your name" with your business card, the elder clearly identifies the assigned task with the pastoral role and assures the recipient that their needs are noticed and considered vital by the pastoral team. It is also reassuring to the elder that they are ministering by specific assignment of the pastor rather than going on their own agenda.
Expand your base. Perhaps you have a small group of lay leaders who do help with some projects, but you are not receiving all the help you need. Perhaps you have some elders who do not function as you wish they would, whose service is limited to long-established patterns. Recruit new elders to fill specific job descriptions that you develop to show the need for specific ministry functions. By all means, do not attempt to expel or remove an ineffective leader. You might win the vote but lose the much wider issue. Rather, expand your available pool of ministry leaders by recruiting new leaders to add to those already in place.
Function, not form, determines the number of elders. The ministry of elders should be determined by the needs of the church, not the tradition of just one or two elders. Many pastors are amazed that some congregations have thirty or more elected and ordained elders serving with the pastoral staff. For example, a congregation might consider electing one elder for every ten families. Then assign specific families to be nurtured by specific elders in an "under-shepherd" program. Where it is culturally acceptable, include both women as well as men in leadership and do not forget the impact of lowering the average age of your leadership group by recruiting younger members.
Emphasize evangelism. Help your elders comprehend that their ministry must not be limited to the church membership. The gospel commission compels the church to launch out into the world with the gospel message. Recruit and encourage specific elders for tasks of visiting prospective members, giving Bible studies, teaching community classes, leading in soul-winning seminars, and representing the church to government and society leaders. Then, when elders bring a person to accept Jesus as their Savior, include them in the process of bringing the new believers into the church family. The more your church grows in this way, the more elders you will need to recruit and train to appropriately care for the new believers.
Mentor your elders. Rather than expecting your elders to automatically know how to serve, take them with you and show them how to do the job you want them to accomplish. However, do not overtrain. Many lay leaders have been so overtrained and under-utilized that they are paralyzed by the misconcept that ministry is so complex that only professional pastors can accomplish the task. We once taught a short, ten-minute training session with our elders and then immediately went visiting inactive members. The very next Sabbath almost a dozen individuals attended worship services who had been visited that very week.
Release your leaders to serve. Too often pastors think they are amassing power to themselves by keeping close control on various ministry activities. Of course you take a risk when you release your elders to minister. You risk that they might not perform the ministry role as well as you would do it. But I believe there is a greater risk. They might perform the ministry role better than you would do it. Re member, your own pastoral authority will expand as you help your elders become effective ministers.
Use elders to solve problems. One of the greatest blessings the elders in my previous congregation provided me was when they formed a Committee of Concern, which heard issues that might arise between members or even com plaints about the pastoral staff. This small group of five elders was the first reference point for members that might be in conflict. Each side was heard with the understanding, both sides would agree to abide by their counsel or face church discipline. This committee released the pastor from adjudicating conflicts between members who all needed pastoral care before and after the issue and who, otherwise, might feel slighted if the pastor's decision favored one side over the other. The elders became both an advocacy for appropriate conflict resolution and a defense for church leadership if complaints arose.
Share your resources. If you discover a book, magazine article, teaching method, or some other effective tool for ministry, share your discovery with your leaders. Rather than hoarding all the "techniques" for yourself, give away everything that you learn. You will discover that you learn even more by sharing and you make your own pastoral task easier by equipping the rest of your pastoral team.