Virtually every church faces the issue of members who are perpetually uninvolved. They are the spectators in the congregation. Many are faithful enough attendees but never move beyond that to be actively involved in the ministry of the church and mission of God. They go for the show, but not to serve.
Why is that? The immediate assumption by many pastors and leaders is that all of the uninvolved attendees are simply lazy. They know they should serve, but they just don't see the need or have the desire. This can be a dangerous attitude to have. Not everyone is inactive for the same reasons.
I believe there are three basic reasons people stay comfortably seated in their pews instead of serving. Once we know why, then we can go about helping them to move into service.
1. Some People Feel Useless
These individuals feel as if they do not have anything significant to offer in ministry. They may believe that they personally are not qualified to serve in a ministry capacity or they might think that only special "clergy" can truly be involved in God's work. What really needs to be corrected here is ignorance.
Those who feel useless simply may not know that they have been called and gifted by God for ministry. They need to learn what Peter wrote in his first epistle: "Based on the gift they received, everyone should use it to serve others, as good managers of the varied grace of God" (4:10 HCSB).
Those commonly referred to as "clergy" and "laity" are both called to ministry—the only question is the kind of ministry they do. My fear is that we have created a class system in the body of Christ comprised of the "called" and the "not so much called." Nothing could be further from the truth. All are called to the ministry—pastors have a different role, but it's a common call.
People are called to ministry at conversion, not at some subsequent event. It is the ordinary who are called to ministry, not the extraordinary. Those who feel useless have to be patiently taught that God has gifted them for service within the body. Once they grasp this as fact, they can become some of the best ministers in the congregation.
2. Some People Are Hurting
It is a simple fact that our church contains those who have been hurt and are still hurting. Some of them have even been hurt by church and church leaders. They left a bad situation at a previous church. They were serving in an unhealthy situation. Because of their past, they are hesitant to get involved again. Healing and help should be our goal for these members.
For those who have been severely wronged, the first priority must be to love them. Church leadership should be gracious and provide the help needed to bring that person into a place of healing. The time to serve will come, but they need to be served first.
For others, they may have experienced some of the frequent pains that come with service. Often times those who are hurting feel as if they are alone. They don't realize everyone who has served in church for any period of time has been hurt by someone or something. That's ministry. It's messy.
These people need encouragement to become involved again. We should come alongside them and motivate them to "love and good works," as Hebrews 10:24 commands us to do.
3. Some People Are Lazy
Let's be honest. Some people simply do not want to serve. They want others to do all the work, while they enjoy the benefits. People would rather be an object of the church's ministry than a partner in it. Too many church members maintain this me-first attitude.
This is part of human nature. It's easier to be a consumer than a colaborer. But that does not mean it is biblical. Churches must make it much more difficult for those who want to come and be lazy. They need to be challenged.
The thing about laziness is that it's contagious. Serving is hard enough. No one wants to work while dozens of other people sit around and watch. It causes those who are working to reconsider actually working. If it's not corrected, you go from a church with only a few working to a church with no one involved in the ministry.
All God's people are called to the ministry, all God's people are sent on mission. The only questions are "Where?" and "Among whom?"
As Charles Spurgeon said, "Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter."
Moving Everyone Toward Involvement
Every church has those who are not actively involved in the ministry of the local body, but not everyone is uninvolved for the same reason. It is up to the leadership of the church to determine who feels useless and needs encouragement, who is hurting and needs help, and who is lazy and needs correcting.
The church has been commissioned by Jesus to make disciples. The only way you can accomplish that task beyond the walls of your church is by having engaged, involved and active disciples within the walls.
This blog originally ran as an article in Outreach Magazine.