I love being a pastor, but begging is no fun

Photo: Sixteen Miles Out, Unsplash.

I love being a pastor. I enjoy accompanying people on their faith journeys. I like preaching, caregiving and visioning. 

However, as I grow into my call, I am reminded of all of the things I don’t or can’t do. 

I have no musical gifts. I do not cook any of the Wednesday evening fellowship meals. There are committees I am not responsible for. The list could go on.

I am not the one who makes the church go ’round. It takes many people with many gifts working together to build a beloved community. 

And so, there is one question churches must ask: How do we get people to participate?

Involvement by as many people as possible is what makes the church community special. Many of us have heard a sermon or two on 1 Corinthians 12, where Paul says the body has many members, all with equal value. 

While this passage may come in handy when you have to guilt a few people into serving on a committee, eventually not even the words of Paul will bail you out. People are busy and tired. Many are navigating complicated family and work lives, which makes adding church responsibilities a daunting prospect. Others have gifts and are willing to serve, but the church has not made space for them.

In my experience, churches expect people to answer the call they’re given. We seek out those with the skills we are looking for, and we try to plug them into the structure as we know it. 

This model has worked for many churches for many years. But there comes a time when this is no longer feasible — a time when people no longer want to serve in the ways they are being asked.

There are moments in ministry when we realize we’ve become too reliant on the structures handed down to us. Just because we did one thing successfully for 20 years does not mean it will carry us through the next 20. 

Often we ask people to sacrifice for the good of the church. We ask them to offer their time and finances. This is a fair request, because church does not happen without people buying in. But how much room are we making for people to actually use their gifts? How are we making sure that the full diversity of gifts has an opportunity to be used?

Yes, I love being a pastor, but there is one task I don’t love: asking people to be on committees. I feel -awkward going up to people and begging. 

One year, as I contacted the people on the list, I received many no’s, but with a twist: Many who said “no” wanted to serve in another way. 

I asked one person if they would join the worship committee. They declined but followed up by saying they would love to be the treasurer because they were good with numbers. Neither I nor anyone else knew this person was good with numbers, because we had never asked. We had tried to place them into the part of the structure that made sense to us, but not to them.

This was a good reminder that it’s the community that makes the structure, not the structure that makes the community. 

Asking people to serve might go more smoothly if we asked how they felt called to serve rather than if they would consent to do what we thought they should.

IF something needs to be changed to make the church work better, let’s change it. If adjustments need to happen so people can share their gifts, let’s make them. 

Structure is a good thing. It creates discipline and organization. It makes sure that everything functions well and efficiently. But as our church communities change, so too must structures, making room for the full range of possibilities. 

Communities of faith can only reach their potential when they adapt and tap into the diversity of gifts that make up the body. 

We are one body with many parts. Let’s use all of them well.  

Jerrell Williams

Jerrell Williams is pastor of Shalom Mennonite Church in Newton, Kan. A 2015 graduate of Bethel College, he has a Read More

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