Beyond Me and Mine

A leader’s actions and decisions can be counterproductive to their desired outcome. This happens in many ways, including taking shortcuts, addressing only felt needs, and employing strategies outside their gift sets. Dealing with the counterproductive results brings the mission to a frustrating and stifling standstill. This is one of the reasons many local churches slip beyond viability and will never experience revitalization. Sometimes, leaders get what they ask for, and it destroys them and their ministries. 

According to the apostle Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians 12, the body of Christ is gifted and equipped by the Holy Spirit for the sake of the common good. This thought is summarized in Verse 7, where he states, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (ESV). Based on this reality, one of the many goals of church leadership is to disciple believers so that they use their gifts, services, and activities for the sake of their fellow members and the spread of the gospel. The actions and decisions of church leaders play a significant role in applying this biblically required characteristic of the body of Christ. 

This is not a new concept, nor an uncommon biblical text. It begs the question, why are so many leadership actions and decisions producing ministry strategies that result in most members only showing up to receive? Most church leaders would agree the majority of those present are there to receive, and only about 20% are there to serve. It does not believe that God desires that only 20% of his people use what he gave them for the common good. It is time for a fundamental shift of leadership that moves each congregation from a come-and-sit to a come-and-serve mentality. 

I am attempting to shift this in the congregation I serve as pastor. My attempt includes helping each member embrace the idea that living only for ourselves leaves us adrift, empty, and vulnerable to various temptations. I am calling for a move away from the mentality of “Me and Mine” to one of “Him and His” because we are all in desperate need of one another. God shapes and empowers his body to be interdependent. This flies in the face of our overly individualized culture that sometimes shapes our congregations in very harmful ways. 

I want to challenge my fellow pastors and church leaders to move away from the temptation to grow their congregations numerically by offering ministries that add to the individualized nature of our society. This may require us to rethink our roles and return to models designed according to 1 Corinthians 12. Though not addressed here, Ephesians 4 is also a well-known but often neglected church-shaping and defining a portion of Scripture. Stepping into these challenges will now be easy, and the self-serving in your congregations may go elsewhere, but in the long run, we will make more disciples and fewer attendees.

Rugged and not easy, this reshaping is possible and may not take years. It may take only a few vital steps forward. Creatively begin leading in ways that call members to minister to each other. Once they grow confident that they, too, can be used by God, they will begin showing up to be equipped and empowered. Ministry will move beyond your capacity, and the church will be a functioning body of disciples, making disciples, not the blind leading the blind. 

To begin this shift, call each congregation member to do what they are good at for the sake of the common good (1 Corinthians 12:4-7). Embracing the “varieties of activities” will widen the service arena for those who don’t fit into many typical church categories. Volunteerism has decreased over the last few years, and we all need more nursery workers. However, many gifted people are sitting in the pews that would serve if allowed to do so in an area they love. One of my fellow pastors has a ministry in a boxing gym. Has a church ever announced from the pulpit that it needs more people willing to punch each other? Even if they wanted to, they probably have not. 

A second way to shift a congregation from “Me and Mine” to “Him and His” is to form a community that helps each other see clearly from a biblical perspective. This is an often-missed concept in a very famous passage in Matthew 7:3-5. Here Jesus says, 

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” 

We often use this passage to move people away from having a judgmental spirit, and hypocrisy. But in so doing, we can miss a crucial point made by Jesus. Notice the phrase “then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” in verse 5. Jesus never intends for us to leave specks in each other’s eyes. We are to deal with our sins first; then, we can also help each other see clearly. 

There are many other creative ways to change to trajectory of your congregation. I have suggested only two. What else can you do? What other changes in your leadership actions and decisions making process can you make? Refuse to take shortcuts. Address the deeper multi-layered needs that are high behind the stated felt needs of your congregation. Spend some time brainstorming with fellow leaders in your area or denomination and begin to seek God for a new way forward. You may get what you ask for, and it will be amazing.

Paul Hobbs
Paul Hobbs

Paul Hobbs is lead pastor at The Retreat Church: A Church of the Nazarene in Yucaipa, California.