Years ago, my pastor taught me something I will never forget.
From time to time, he would stand behind his pulpit, scan the congregation, stretch out his hand, and declare:
You, not me, are the ones in ministry.
The first time I heard him say this, I was curious. What exactly did he mean? Over time I realized he was distinguishing between his area of influence, and ours.
As a pastor, he was somewhat sheltered in a Christian bubble. Although he reached out to the community and had relationships outside the church, he primarily worked with Christians.
But for those of us in the congregation, it was a different story. For most of us, our jobs and our callings led us directly into the world. We were being the aroma of Christ to people who had never met Jesus before, and that’s as close to the raw work of ministry as it gets.
That’s why I appreciated my pastor’s words. It was a great reminder. I also think it’s a mindset we’re prone to forget.
Throughout my life as a Christian, I have known two different types of Christians.
The first kind of Christian (I am painting in broad strokes here) keeps spiritual pace with her pastor. Her pastor might have more theological knowledge, but there isn’t a chasm of spiritual maturity between them. She is a mature believer who makes her faith her own, and churches populated with these Christians are generally vibrant and fruitful.
However, there is a second kind of Christian, one who views her pastor as an impossible standard. She believes her pastor is an expert in Christianity, in much the same way she views lawyers and doctors as experts in their fields. Of course, there is some truth to this—pastors have a particular calling, and particular training—but this second mindset divides the church into tiers: varsity Christians, and J.V.
This is obviously a generalization, and I will be the first to admit I have been BOTH of these Christians at various seasons of my life. That said, we have to be ever-vigilant against the latter, because our call as the people of God cannot rest solely on the shoulders of pastors. Our call to “be known by our love” cannot be accomplished by our leaders alone. And the call to take up our cross and follow Jesus cannot be done for us—not by our pastors, or anyone else.
Our witness to the world, as the people of God, must be lived out by the entire people of God, and this means two things:
1. We need to redefine "ministry"
When you read about the early church in the New Testament, everyone was on mission. Everyone.
Although Christians had different roles--there were overseers and deacons, and an array of different giftings—everyone was in the game. There was Joanna, who managed Herod’s household while financially supporting Jesus. There was Luke, the doctor, who recorded the events of Jesus’ life. Paul was a tentmaker, the disciples were fishermen, and Lydia (who helped jumpstart the church in Philippi) was a businesswoman.
In the early church, there were no levels of commitment to Jesus. Ministry wasn’t for the highly educated or the super spiritual. Instead, everyone was on mission, and everyone was doing ministry, in their own little corner of influence.
2. We can't be afraid of high standards
Sometimes I think there is a fear of calling people to too much. We’re afraid they’ll tune out, or that their plates are already too full, or that they don’t want to be bothered. So, we reserve the hard work of spiritual discipline and radical living for a select few of “professional Christians.”
But here is what I know:
God created us to live for something far beyond ourselves, which means our souls are crying out for more. People yearn for significance and purpose, and we allow that untapped passion to lie uncultivated when the core of our gospel can be boiled down to “You are fine just the way you are.” To be sure, that statement is true (we are more than fine in Christ!) but it’s also incomplete. As author Madeleine L’Engle once put it, “God is constantly calling us to be more than we are.”
I think we know this. I think the Holy Spirit in us knows that our calling is not just a job, and that Christ didn’t die for us simply to like ourselves. We are a people on mission, running after Jesus in all we say and do. It’s true for pastors, lawyers, bankers, car salesmen, and stay at home moms. Each and every one of us is called to ministry.