A friend once told me how he had a similar experience when he moved to another city.
He was tired and burned out from the ups and downs of church leadership. While praying about his situation, he felt impressed to take a year off from any formal leadership commitments.
He had no intentions of withdrawing from church, but he felt the need to share his thoughts with his pastor. The pastor told him that taking such a break often leads to walking away from the church and, ultimately, from the Lord. He cited stories about this and then shared different roles in the church where his leadership could be utilized.
This pastor communicated to my friend that the roles in the church were more important than the care of his soul.
We tend create roles that are needed to make the vision of the church work, we map out those roles in a way that almost anyone can do them, and then we look for people to fill those roles.
This is the way of ministry efficiency, the way of ministry production.
It seems like we assume that if leaders fill the roles, then their souls will flourish.
But the role-first mentality fosters an organization-first mentality. Persons are objectified for the sake of the organization. They are treated like a general category and grouped like one might do when classifying species of insects.
Leaders with the gift of serving go here. Those with administrative gifts here. We need more greeters, so let’s get people to help us out. Or we need more small group leaders, so let’s develop a training program. The pastor is to fill the roles with the right people.
We use people for the sake of the success of the church.
Theologian, John Zizioulas, challenges this,
“Persons can neither be reproduced nor perpetuated like species; they cannot be composed or decomposed, combined or used for any objective whatsoever—even the most sacred one. Whosoever treats a person in such ways automatically turns him into a thing, he dissolves and brings into nonexistence his personal particularity.” (Community and Otherness, 167-8)
The church is not a producer of cars or widgets or anything else that might come off an assembly line.
But that’s the way we measure church success. People are counted like products and leaders like assembly-line workers who keep the line moving so more people can come. Or, when we are talking about small groups, we think in terms of leaders, leadership training and how we can multiply leaders so that we can multiply groups.
So, what’s the alternative?