No matter where I go, the need is the same: we need more workers. We need more workers with children; we need more workers with adults; we need more workers with youth; we need more workers. Jesus told us this would be the problem, so I guess we should not be surprised. (Matthew 9:37) Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few."
Before you finish this article, you will have some fresh ideas about how to solve the church's #1 problem: the worker problem.
Notice what the problem is not. The problem is not that the crowd is too small. That was not the problem in Jesus day, and it is not our problem today. A recent Gallup survey indicated that on average, 10% of church members are involved in ministry. 90% percent make up the crowd, the people who are in the stands who are not in the game. Now for some good news: 50% say they wouldn't get involved for any reason or for anybody. The astonishing discovery is that 40% say they would be happy to be involved. They simply have never been asked or don't know how.(1) We need to get them involved. We need to ask them and we need to show them how.
No, the problem is not a crowd problem, though sometimes we get confused about that. Sometimes we worry with getting bigger crowds. Jesus taught us to worry with getting more workers. Here are some strategies that work:.
Successful businesses know that it is far easier to keep a customer than it is to get a new customer. Savvy pastors know the same thing. They pour as much energy into taking care of the workers they have as they do recruiting new workers. They encourage, motivate and train workers. They listen to their problems and celebrate their success. They dictate letters to them that say, "I caught you. I caught you being a great teacher. I stood outside in the hall and listened as you lead the group to a meaningful and life changing discussion on John 3. I think you moved them toward living the disciple's life." A letter like that once or twice a year could keep a teacher going over the long haul. Smart pastors encourage the workers they already have.
"Grow into ministry, don't go into ministry," someone once said to me. Most of us don't move from pew potato to become Peter or Paul overnight. Let people move up gradually. Jesus sent the disciples out for a test drive of a preaching tour. We should do the same. Encourage your teachers to take a week off every six weeks or so. Encourage them to allow members of their classes to substitute for them on a regular basis. Invite the teachers to say something like this, "We are always looking for new teachers around here. One of the things that I am going to do to help find teachers is to allow some of you to substitute for me from time to time. Every so often, I am going to take a week off and allow one of you to teach. Who knows, once you try teaching, you may like it. Today, Bob is going to teach for us. Take it away, Bob."
I can tell you from experience that most teachers feel guilty about saying this. They do not feel it is appropriate that they ever take off unless they have to be out of town. They would be happy to take a week off, but they feel like they would be shirking their responsibility to do so. Everyone wants to feel appropriate and that they are doing what is expected. We need to communicate with them that we expect them to take a week off on a regular basis and allow class members to teach.
Here is another way to allow people to experiment with ministry: hold an election day once a quarter. On this day, people can sign up to be the outreach leader, inreach leader or other class officer for one quarter. People like the idea of signing up for a responsibility for a specific period of time. We need to make it easy for people to test drive ministry.
I love teachers with the gift of teaching. I can relate to their desire to read and study and prepare. I too enjoy pouring over dusty commentaries and ferreting out obscure Greek word definitions. People with the spiritual gift of teaching love these things and I can understand why. However, I have an observation. If this is evidence of the gift of teaching, God did not give nearly enough people in the body the gift of teaching. I could never find nearly enough of this kind of teacher to take care of all the needs for teachers that we had. But, there is another way.
I found another breed of Christian worker that would work equally well in the role of teacher. Teachers do far more than teach anyway. People with the gift of teaching would often do well at teaching, but not so well at many of the other things that needed to be done in order for the class to function as a microcosm of the body of Christ. People with the gift of leadership, on the other hand, would function well at organizing the and leading the group, though they sometimes needed help in preparing a lesson. People with the gifts of encouragement were motivational in their approach to teaching, but they hated to prepare. I solved this problem by providing for these workers weekly Sunday School helps that consisted of 20 - 25 ready-to-use questions that they could take into class and use. (Currently, I am publishing these lessons on the World Wide Web at http://www.joshhunt.com ) Because these workers had strong people skills, they could take these outlines and present a pretty good lesson. Sometimes it was even more interesting than the lessons presented by the teachers with the gift of teaching because they did not get bogged down in a lot of nitty-gritty Greek background stuff. It was easy for them to use these lessons and teach a practical and interesting lesson.
There are a handful of things that we are told directly to pray about. One of them is to pray for our leaders. Another is to pray the Lord of the harvest to send out workers. The reason for this is fairly simple. We are all basically selfish. God has to do a major work in our life to break the me-first mind set. Only God can turn a selfish sinner into a serving saint. We cooperate with the Almighty when we recruit workers. He does the really difficult part.
1. Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1995), p. 366.