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When Did Ministry Become an Office Job?

Somewhere along the way ministry became a desk jockey job.

When I read the book of Acts and even the pastoral epistles I get the idea that being a pastor was action packed.

  • John didn’t kick it in staff meeting for 2-3 hours per week.
  • Peter didn’t make edits to the bulletin.
  • Matthew didn’t work late to attend the facilities team meeting.
  • Phillip didn’t put on a collared shirt and sit in a swivel chair from 8-4.

Even if you go back 50 years the pastoral staff wasn’t all about programs and project managing. They were out in the commnity visiting elderly, the sick, and doing house calls. If the staff had an office it was for study. If the staff met it was for prayer. There was an administrative staff that did admin work and project management. Not pastors. Pastors were out doing, not sitting behind a desk.

But somewhere between there and here all ministry jobs became something else. If we’re honest the ministry job became 75% administrative and 25% ministry on a good day. New people in a church always say the same thing... this isn’t what I thought it would be.

At least once per week someone will ask me if I miss working in the local church. The truth of the matter is that I have the same level of contact with high school students today as I had in nearly a decade of full-time church ministry as a youth pastor. I’m not in a rush to go from actually doing ministry to riding a desk in the office and talking about ministry. If I ever accepted a call to a church again, the role would be radically different… or else I’d go insane.

Life in ministry isn’t meant to be boring

But for many people the jobs that pay are boring.

Too many meetings and not enough ministry. Office hours and office gossip and office meetings and trying to look busy.

The goal is all jacked up. Where does the desk jockey model lead too? More desk jockeys running more complicated programs. We need to rebel against it because we know where this leads. With less than 10% of the population actively engaged in a local church… seriously, we know the current way of doing things doesn’t work!

Stop it.

Radical change is required in the way church staff operates to reverse the trend.

We don’t need a revival. We need full-time ministers to do full-time ministry.

Exceptions: No doubt, there are objectors to my generalization. That’s the nature of hyperbole, isn’t it? But at the same time compare the hours per week that your own church spends in the office vs. the amount of time the New Testament church did. They didn’t even have an office! So it was 0%. The biblical model is 0%. God’s Word is true, right? God is unchanging and unchangeable? Did I miss the memo in my Bible? How can we justify 50%, 75%, or 90% of our hours doing office work?

Church, we have an office problem. (Misappropriation of funds if you ask me.) And if we want to reach more than the 10% we currently reach, we need to change or watch that 10% shrink to 5%. We know where this leads.

Stop what you are doing and think about a new way.

What’s the solution?

Follow the church planters. That’s where the growth happens, right?

Close the church office. Morph your ministry staff into field agents. Tell your team to go out and visit the sick, serve the poor, feed the hungry, teach the Bible “out there,” and minister to the widows and orphans. The pastoral epistles give us a pretty good vision for what to do. The reality is that we don’t want to do the job laid out there.

Remove the office temptation and lease the office space. Pastors who are lazy will just set up offices in coffee shops or their homes. Fire them. If the church is to change, we will need agents of change and not desk jockeys.

Church planters do it every day. It’s funny that they come up with all sorts of fancy statistics as to why they think their new plants stop growing after 12-18 months. Maybe it’s not the movement that slows, missiologically. Maybe it’s the staff that stops trying and starts with office hours?

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Adam McLane has served as a full-time or volunteer youth worker since 1996. A resident of San Diego, Adam now manages the online presence for Youth Specialties. Adam blogs about all sorts of technology, missions, and church leadership topics at www.AdamMcLane.com