February 23, 2009Interviews, Leadership

The Biggest Sin in Your Church

I was interviewed by Brian Proffit for Rev! Magazine concerning the "80/20" rule in most churches - where 20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work. It's a good conversation to have and I wanted to share ours with all of you here on the blog.

I talked about the most common sin in many churches. I am guessing there are many, but I think one of the most common is a lack of obedience.

My observation is that we often preach against sins that are not a problem in our church (sins more prevalent in the world) while not preaching against sins that are a common problem in the church (like lack of ministry involvement in this case).

Here is the interview:

Ed, Group's church leadership unit has a vision of 80/20 by 2020. We want to flip the 80/20 rule so that by the year 2020 eighty percent of regular church attendees are actively serving in some ministry. Unfortunately, our State of the Church '09 study indicated that currently it's more like fifteen percent of the people who are active in ministry right now. Why do you think that is?

Part of it is that we have to recognize that we've created the system that we loathe. I don't think the reason 15 percent serve is because 85 percent are lazy. We've created a system that glorifies the clergy and marginalized the laity. We got the outcome we created programs for. We've become "clergified." There's a 3-tiered structure: laypeople, clergy and missionaries.

All religions tend to create a class of people who are above others so 1) they can revel in that and 2) the rest of us can say it's their job. Christianity was started without any of those structures, and ended up like so many false religions do when they create a ministry caste structure. When we see real movements of God take off, they happen when people are free. Look at the thriving house church movement around the world.

So how do we break free from that tiered structure?

Part of what we have to do is help pastors understand that ministry is something that has to be owned by all of us. We shouldn't call ourselves ministers; we should call ourselves pastor/elders. The church needs to be unleashed, and we have to recognize that it's the normal activity of normal believers to engage in normal ministry. Pastors and congregations are in a co-dependent relationship. My dad was a drunk and my mom would rescue him. She gained her identity from rescuing my father. The church has fallen into the same thing. We've created a clergy system with a superman syndrome. The pastor thinks it's their job to rescue the church--and they get affirmed for doing it. So we get our identity from doing things the people should be doing.

Once we've identified the problem, how do we fix it?

The way these things are always broken is that the co-dependent recognizes the problem first. So mom one day said, "I'm not going to take care of you, because all I'm doing is helping you to fail rather than stand." I tell pastors all the time to stop enabling that. If people ask you to talk to their kids about Jesus, say no. That's their job.

If I preach about gay marriage, everybody cheers. If I preach about sin you can hear the amens ring. But those aren't the real problems. I tell people that the biggest sin in our church is you sitting there doing nothing and still calling yourself a follower of Jesus.

Ultimately you have to get your leaders on board. I did a project on how you get people off the bleachers and into the game. We got rid of two families that got mad, and a year later everybody in the church was serving and the church doubled in size.

Use every form of influence you can to move the leaders and the people. As much thinking as we are putting into evangelism right now, we need to do that much thinking about how we're going to move ahead.

The elephant in the evangelical room is that we're not making disciples. People are still struggling through how to do that. We studied 2,500 Protestant church attendees and did so again a year later and the spiritual development was shocking and frustrating.

You've said that ministry goes beyond the church walls.

My guess is that above your fifteen percent there are another five to ten percent that are already doing some community service without their church tracking that kind of service. We need every member in ministry, but we also need every member on mission. Churches need to recognize that ministry outside church is still ministry, and we need to recognize, empower and measure that.

The term "call to ministry" is not a good thing. If you're a Christian, you're called to ministry. John 20:21 says if you're a Christian you're also sent on mission. The only question is where and to whom.

You can hear my speaking on that subject in my local church here. (All recent messages are here.)

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