While sipping coffee at the local coffee shop one morning, a fellow patron asked, “What do you do?”
I explained that I was an executive minister for a middle judicatory and that I served as a resource person to various congregations throughout Ohio. I told the inquirer how I would often visit congregations conducting workshops and celebrating key moments with them.
After I concluded the gentleman, who also turned out to be a pastor himself, said, “Well, I couldn’t do much, but I could probably employ you for about 10 hours a week if you needed until you could get your own church.”
Apparently, I had not done an adequate job explaining my role as an executive minister.
The explanation has not become any easier in my present job. I now serve as a resource person to 35 middle judicatory offices throughout the United States and Puerto Rico for American Baptist Churches, USA. Even though I am not very good at convincing people, I still consider myself to be “in the ministry.” In this issue, I will attempt to make the case for shared ministry as a legitimate and needed form of ministry.
Before I talk about shared ministry, allow me to define ministry itself. My definition of ministry in the Christian context involves three arenas: sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with others, helping someone who has made a commitment to Christ deepen their faith journey or sharing God’s love by meeting human need. In my mind, anyone either directly involved in one of these tasks or who is involved in assisting others in these tasks is doing ministry.
I believe that the most effective form of ministry involves “shared ministry,” in which a group meets regularly to support one another in the various ministry roles that they are playing such as training, modeling, mentoring and serving. It is impossible for a local church to meet the needs of its community by watching the pastor of the congregation minister. Teams with more coaches than players seldom win.
Many congregations have done little more than lip service to the concept of shared ministry. The notion that the pastor should “equip the saints for the work of service” is mentioned a lot, but practiced little.
There are a variety of reasons for this. One is simply that teamwork is more difficult than individual effort. A lack of modeling coupled with equipping can also limit shared ministry. Another speculation relates to the lack of emphasis and education in group dynamics or educational processes that pastors receive. In a recent national study by the “Pulpit and Pew” study group, “training others for ministry” was the most commonly cited task listed by Mainline Protestant pastors as needing the most improvement. In the beginning stages, shared ministry often takes more time than “doing it myself.” Finally, the role of an “equipper” can actually limit shared ministry. There are only so many groups that the pastor can lead and continue to play the role of an “equipper” in each group. Sooner or late the pastor needs to let someone else also equip or simply become a catalyst for shared ministry by promoting a variety of shared ministry models.
Currently, many denominations are experiencing a clergy shortage. Clergy shortages will probably lead to more shared ministry models. I welcome the change, as a more productive approach to ministry. Many changes, brought about by necessity, often open the door toward new and more effective means of accomplishing the task.
I believe that shared ministry is the most effective form of ministry and am thankful to be involved in a shared ministry model with other judicatory personnel.
Jeff Woods is associate general secretary for regional ministries with the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A.