The Lay Ministry DynamicAugust 2011
by Tim Keller
The growth of a big passive ‘middle’ happens to all churches as they grow larger. This growth in passivity weakens what I will call the “lay ministry dynamic.” That dynamic happens when a significant percentage of Christians engage in lay ministry “behaviors” because they are trained and coached—informally and personally—by the pastors and staff of the church. These lay ministry behaviors result in many new people, including many people without faith, being brought by Christian friends into the services and life of the church community.
I believe that it is in the collegiate model, in which congregations are led by lead pastors and their pastoral teams, that Redeemer has an opportunity to renew and strengthen that lay ministry dynamic. The highest priority is to again draw a significant percentage of church members into active ministry of the gospel with their relationships in the city. At the heart of the RENEW Campaign, we said that we were sending our lay people out into their neighborhoods to serve and reach their friends for Christ. We are reorganizing Redeemer into a network of neighborhood-based, generative congregations. Outreach and evangelism is on the front burner in this model, as is lay-driven ministry and evangelism. Redeemer began more as a “go and share” church, but evolved into more of a “come and see” church—come and hear the music, come see the masses of people, come listen to the teaching, come profit from the programs. Now we are going back from “come and see” to “go and share.”
Here are some examples of the kind of ‘lay ministry’ we want our people to be doing:
- Catherine prays for her friend Megan for months. Megan responds well to two short books on Christian subjects that Catherine has given her. Finally she invites and takes Megan to an evangelistic event in which Christian truth is presented. On the way home she fields Megan’s questions.
- Jack and Jill help their two sons, age 5 and 7, to do Scripture memory and learn a simple catechism. They field questions and help the boys understand what the texts mean.
- Fred has been going to a small group for months. At one point he realizes that he assesses the value of the group strictly on what he gets out of it. Instead, he begins to go each week by preparing well (studying the passage) and praying for the group. When he comes, he looks for every opportunity to help the Bible study leader by making good contributions, and for ways to speak the truth in love so that others are encouraged and helped to grow.
- Jim and Cynthia are both artists and are part of city wide Christian artists’ fellowship that is based in their local church. The fellowship is usually a discussion of the relationship of faith to art that assumes a Christian belief, but the artists have four events a year that will be either a gallery showing or a book event in which some very respectable artist gets a chance to talk about how his or her faith relates to their art to a general audience. Jim and Cynthia are very diligent in bringing non-Christian artists or art-appreciators to these events.
Notice that not all of these examples are directly evangelistic. Some are instances of the encouragement and building up of new believers, some are ways of spurring Christians on to greater growth in Christ, and others are cases of helping believers address particular problems in their lives. Nevertheless, each example is every-member-gospel ministry. That is, each example is a) organic—it is ministry that happens spontaneously, outside the organized programs of the church (even when making use of formal programs). b) Relational—it is ministry using informal, personal relationships. c) Word deploying—it is ministry of prayerfully bringing the Bible and gospel into connection with people’s lives. d) Active, not passive. Each person in these examples assumes personal responsibility for being a producer rather than only a consumer of ministry. For example, even though Fred continues to come to the small group as he always has, his mindset changed and he transformed from being a passive consumer of ministry to an active producer of ministry. Yes, direct evangelistic ministry is only one piece of this, but it will grow as every member Word ministry grows.
Lay Ministry Behaviors
Above is a set of brief case studies. Here is a more distilled set of what we will call “lay ministry behaviors.” This is not the same as ‘lay leadership’ in which your leaders have a job or responsibility in the church. It’s possible to have a duty as a volunteer but not contribute to every-member-gospel ministry. That consists of behaviors like the following. Notice that seven out of ten do not require as much knowledge as courage and compassion. Your lay people will carry them out if they feel empowered to do so through pastoral contact.
- Let others know of your Christian faith and activities in natural ways (e.g. talking casually about church attendance and events).
- Ask questions about other people’s beliefs and experiences with faith and church and simply listen appreciatively and sympathetically.
- Describe briefly and naturally how you process some difficult personal problem—some misfortune or some mistreatment—by using your faith to help you get strength or grant forgiveness.
- Offer to pray regularly for a friend, neighbor, or colleague who is facing a challenging situation.
- Share your spiritual ‘narrative’—your testimony of Christian experience.
- Offer books or recordings about Christian issues and discuss them.
- Initiate a discussion about a friends’ biggest problem or objection to Christianity.
- Invite friends to venues where they meet believers but don’t listen to gospel communication.
- Offer and then read a part of the Bible together—preferably one of the gospels—to discuss the character of Jesus.
- Invite friends to venues where they hear the gospel communicated. (#8 may be more intense/demanding for the Christian than #9, but for many non-believers, #8 is less intense/demanding than #9—going to some Christian event.)
- Share the basics of the Christian faith with your friend, lay out how to become a Christian, and invite them to make a commitment.
When 15-30% of a congregation’s lay people are engaged in this kind of ‘lay ministry,’ this organic, relational, lay gospel ministry, it creates a powerful dynamism that infuses the whole church. Encouraging and supporting lay ministry of this nature is crucial for us as we launch the four Redeemers.
The Catalyst event below is a great way to equip yourself for every-member-gospel ministry I encourage every Redeemer attender to participate.
Look for information at redeemer.com in September on how to get involved in this vital new initiative. Catalyst is designed to equip Redeemer members and attenders for contextual ministry in the city. Participants, led by their Lead Pastors, will join others in their congregation to engage with Redeemer's theology of ministry through the Gospel [in] Life curriculum and innovate new ways for their congregation to do ministry in the city. It is our prayer that Catalyst will inspire hundreds of people from each of our congregations to do richer, broader and intentionally creative lay ministry for the city.