Leadership expert and best-selling author John Maxwell has a word of advice for pastors burdened with responsibility and frustrated with lackadaisical laypeople: Raise your expectations.
The work of equipping the body is not just the role of the pastor, Maxwell says. It's a responsibility that should be shared by all members of the body.
"As clergy, we have trained our people to think they deserve a Purple Heart just for showing up for chow on Sunday morning," Maxwell says.
Soldiers, athletes and biblical characters all find their way into Maxwell's practical and thought-provoking insights on leadership, influence and how pastors can equip their congregations for kingdom work.
A longtime pastor, Maxwell compares the average congregation to a football game where the coach plays alone. Or, once on the field the team members remain in the huddle, argue among themselves or line up with no equipment.
As part of our exploration of the fivefold ministry gifts, Ministries Today interviewed Maxwell to hear his perspective on releasing laypeople into leadership and service.
In this exclusive interview, Maxwell contends that unless those gifted in the fivefold ministries replicate themselves by equipping their followers, the church will never grow.
Q:As a former pastor, describe how the fivefold ministries listed in Ephesians 4 can operate in the church without conflicting with pastoral leadership.
A:The greatest detriment to church growth is the insecurity of pastors who are unwilling to mobilize and release spiritual gifts in the church body. Whether it is in the Christian world or the business world, show me an insecure leader and I'll show you a leader who will not equip or empower anybody.
Q:Is the list of ministries in Ephesians 4 exhaustive, or are there others necessary for a healthy church?
A:There are all kinds of ministries that are available. But, I have always found that the gifts basically operate with whatever ministries are available to the congregation. I think as pastors we go way too far worrying about a lot of basic offices and use that as an excuse for not developing relationships with the people as we could or should.
Q:In 1 Corinthians 12:28, Paul says that "God has appointed first of all apostles, second pro-phets, third teachers" (NIV). Does this order signify varying degrees of importance?
A:I don't think so. I think the No. 1 sin of the pastorate is that they haven't developed their leadership gifts. It's a sad thing that many pastors are in a leadership position, but they have never been trained or taught how to lead. I've committed my life to helping pastors learn how to lead. The effectiveness and growth of any church is going to be based on the pastor's ability to lead the congregation.
Q:As a pastor, what kind of challenges did you face in mobilizing the laity?
A:The No. 1 challenge has never been the laity.
It is the pastor--the fact that he or she doesn't want to give up the things they do. That's what keeps a church small.
The second challenge is changing the paradigm with laypeople and helping them understand their task.
The third challenge in mobilizing laity is that we have such a narrow idea of what ministry represents. Pastors say: "I have all my ministry slots filled. I've got my ushers, my Sunday school teachers and my board members. What am I going to do with the rest of the people out there?"
We must understand that the best thing we can do is train people to take whatever spiritual gift they have and go into the marketplace. Help them utilize that gift out where they work and live, among people they know, for the sake of evangelism and the Great Commission.
Q:How can pastors determine the gifts that are within their congregations?
A:Give your congregation a spiritual gifts test. When I went to Skyline Wesleyan Church, because the people didn't understand lay ministry, I gave everyone in the church a test so I could better understand where they were. Then, from that time on, when anybody joined the church they took that spiritual gifts test.
We discovered their three highest spiritual gifts and then matched those with ministry. We sat down with them in a private counseling session and showed them all the ministries that fit their gift. Then they chose which ministry they were going to get involved in; they could not join the church without having a ministry.
Q:What did you do when they didn't follow through?
A:They signed up for a ministry before joining the church. We didn't take in everybody who wanted to join because we didn't want a bunch of pew-sitters. The number of people who didn't follow through was so small--about 3 percent--that it wasn't worth chasing them. The key is to have a plan on the front end to mobilize them. Most pastors don't have a mobilization plan. Set the bar higher on the front end. We felt no member was better than a bad member.
Q:How can pastors address the time crunch their members face?
A:The reason there's often a time crunch is not only the society we live in, it's that we have too much church. When I started small groups at Skyline Wesley Church, I took away the Sunday-night service. I said, "If I'm going to ask you to spend another night, I'm not going to ask you to spend another night here."
When I said we're going to have one night weekly for equipping people in their spiritual giftedness, which happened to be on Thursday, I took away the Wednesday-night service. So, one thing I did to help with the time crunch was quit having people come to church all the time.
Q:You often speak in secular business settings, teaching biblical truths about leadership to non-Christians. How can the church that mobilizes its members in turn influence society?
A:Maxwell: As pastors, we try to get laypeople to do "church work" instead of being salt and light in the community. We need to release laypeople to let their lights shine where they work, in the marketplace--and, to consider that to be a very effective ministry. Instead, pastors often try to bring Christian laity inside the building to do church work, with church people, doing church things.
Businesspeople in our congregations are way underutilized. They have major gifts. It amazes me; they run their businesses Monday through Saturday and have no leadership on Sunday. I think most businesspeople sit in the pews, totally bored. They want to be challenged, but nobody's setting the bar high for them.
I had a businessperson tell me that the only time he could relax and put his mind in neutral was on Sunday. He said he could go to church, see his friends and relax. He knew he wouldn't be challenged or asked for a commitment.
Since there wouldn't be any kind of responsibility, he looked forward to an off day. That's a sin. That always bothered me. The local church ought to be utilizing businesspeople a lot more.
Q:As you know from working in the business world, marketplace ministry is coming to the forefront. How can pastors pick up on this movement?
A:Work hard at closing gaps with the business community. We do our very best to be a bridge to the business community, which has been fairly effective. Every spring we have a "Maximum Impact" simulcast, with guys like Ken Blanchard, Zig Ziglar and myself, who appeal to the businessperson.
But churches host it so the businessperson comes and connects with the pastor and some members. That helps because they're not likely to come to the church on Sunday. I would encourage more churches to tap into this program.
Pastors also need to understand the difference between the church and the business world. In the church world the key word is "relationship." We're brothers and sisters in the Lord. Thank God, because of His Son, Jesus Christ, we are brothers and sisters in Christ and close. That's a wonderful thing.
But in the business world you don't have a relationship until you have their respect. You get their respect by excellence, by providing value and producing. The business world sits back and says: "OK, what are you going to do to help this organization? And, if so, then we'll start to build a relationship with you."
My commitment to the business world is to train their leaders and develop their people so I can get their respect. Once I earn the right to have the relationship, I have the opportunity to share Christ with them. There's just a world of difference between the two.
Pastors need to make a strong commitment in the area of getting the respect of people, which means they've got to set the bar higher. The reason the local church doesn't expect excellence like the business person is because the latter realizes respect is the key. In the church, since relationships are the key, often we aren't motivated to get any better.
We say, "Well, they like us," or "I know he's not a good leader but he's got good character," or "I know she can't sing but she sure loves the Lord."
Q:As a teacher of pastors and leaders, what are some key things God is saying to those who are equipping people for service?
A:First of all, that laypeople are effective and legitimate ministers, that laypeople can do ministry very well, and that for too long we've held the ministry in our own hands and not empowered them.
The second thing He's saying to us as pastors is that the gifts within the body of Christ can only operate effectively if we utilize them through the laity. No pastor or church leader has all the gifts. The only way that we can ever complement or complete one another is by utilizing everybody in the organization.
He's saying that team leadership is the way to lead organizations and congregations. The Lone Ranger mind-set of the pastor as "Mr. Answer Man"--in which the pastor has the only leadership range within the congregation--is not an effective model to follow.