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One-Sided Ministry

Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A.

Number 223

Paul Harvey once described a town in Texas which had a high crime rate. In response, the town officials passed a law mandating that everyone possess a gun. Amazingly, the results was a precipitous drop in crime. 
 
What happened?
 
Perhaps what Paul Harvey described was the positive benefit of what happens when everyone is involved in a cause. When it was only the sheriff, deputies, or a few police officers involved in law enforcement, crime proliferated. When everyone took ownership and active involvement in the cause the main objective, reduced crime, was realized beyond expectations!
 
Are You Doing It All?
 
For Christian leaders the results described above ought not be surprising. St. Paul described how a healthy church enjoys the full functioning and participation of all its members. To the extent that does not occur in our churches it is, well, a crime.

Unfortunately, pastors and Christian leaders often get in a position where they feel they must do it all. Reasons for this might include.

  1. Feeling that no one else will do it
  2. It's faster and more efficient that recruiting, having meetings, getting approvals, etc.
  3. Perfectionistic tendencies which demand it be done the "right" way (i.e. "my" way)
  4. Lack of trust in others
  5. Inactive church membership
  6. Habit
  7. Feelings of guilt
  8. Over-zealous love for the church
  9. Undue pressure to perform
  10. Misunderstanding and/or impatience with God's will for the church
  11. A flawed understanding of the Office of Ministry and Christian Leadership
  12. Various anxiety-related factors (cf. Ministry Health's articles "Forty-Two Anxiety Indicators," "Twenty-Six Steps To Self-Destruction" et al.)
The Unhealthy Results
 
Whatever the reasons, and there are many more, the end result is the same. It's unhealthy.
 
It's not only is it unhealthy for you. It's unhealthy for the Body of Christ. As well-intended as it may be pastors and Christian leaders who carry out a one-sided ministry enable an unhealthy congregational environment.
 
The long-term results of one-sided ministry are nearly always burnout, increased congregational lethargy, decline in participation, increased passivity and indifference toward ministry, members feeling "left out" or incapable of doing ministry, increased sense of the pastor being a dictator, increased levels of conflict, increase in frustration and legalistic perfectionism.
Signs Of Unhealthy, One-Sided Ministry
 
Alfred Ellis in his book, One-Way Relationships (Thomas Nelson, Publisher), identified twelve factors indicating unhealthy one-sided relationships. Building on Ellis' insights, the following are some indicators of pastors and Christian leaders involved in a one-sided ministry.
1. They consistently do more and take on more responsibility than other members;
 
2. They change their style of ministry based on a sense of apprehension or fear of what others in the congregation may do or say.
 
3. They avoid honest, open, direct, and loving communication with others in the congregation about their need to be involved in ministry.
 
4. They become critical, blaming or negative toward others in the congregation including the leaders. This negativity also tends to become directed against the mission of the congregation.
 
5. They personally support a greater share of the ministry than they should in a multitude of ways. One way is to give financial support by continually by-passing the congregational treasury and purchasing needed items themselves.
 
6. They are unable to overcome their impatience and frustration of seeing needed items and let others see--and respond--to the need.
 
7. They avoid working in teams preferring, instead, to do it by themselves.
 
8. They avoid advertising their need for help out of a false sense of Christian humility.
 
9. They recruit and enlist others by guilt, not by extending opportunities to service.
 
10.  They try to "fix" other people's ways of doing things to suit themselves.
 
11. They strive to keep peace at any price.
 
12. They feel that if they don't participate, everything will fall apart.
 
13. They develop expectations of being "power brokers" because of all they do and contribute to the church.
How To Get Out Of A One-Sided Ministry
 
The answer to this dilemma is simple. Back Off! Don't do it all. Let things go.
 
If something goes undone, ask someone else to do it. This may be difficult at first, especially in a one-sided ministry where you are doing it all! Be disciplined, patient, and focused on your real ministry role. If a sermon needs preaching, preach it. But if the pipes break, call the members. If they don't respond positively, call the plumber. When they get the bill, they will see that their service to the Lord has spiritual and financial value.
 
Intentional neglect can be a very good thing. When healthy congregations see that ministry is not being done because they are not responding, they respond in a healthy manner and take ownership of the ministry. In unhealthy churches the response is an unhealthy barrage of undeserved critical behavior directed against the leaders. The intensity and persistence of this blaming behavior is, perhaps, the most blatant indication of their destructive posture relative to the ministry.
 
It is so good, in fact, that Satan would often cause Christian leaders to feel unwarranted and undeserved guilt for not doing what other members should be doing. Considering how a one-sided ministry can cripple a church that is not at all surprising.
 
Often overlooked is a style of preaching. Preaching dominated by legalism, guilt-motivation, blame and shame may get immediate or short-term results from the guilt-prone. But it does nothing to enhance a healthy, Gospel-driven ministry. Most important, such Gospel-less legalism does not glorify the Lord of the Church.
 
Finally, be sure to pray for leaders. This simple, but powerful tool, is often overlooked. When you pray, pray not for existing leaders but that God would raise new ones. In response to your prayers, invite the quite, unnoticed and sometimes unknown, inexperienced members to assist. Invite them to help participate in the ministry and to make a personal difference for the Kingdom.
Thomas F. Fischer  

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This page was revised on: Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:04:23 PM