Most of the work of the church is done outside its walls, church leaders should primarily be facilitating that work.
By Brian Sanders
On at least two occasions, according to the gospel records, Jesus sent teams into towns to do the work of ministry. This was not limited to only the twelve apostles, either. Armed with the promise and power of his name, they saw the miraculous. If we are called and sent by Jesus, then the work of church leaders must be to help people discover and respond in faith to that call. The Underground knew we had to build something that affirmed that every Christian in every context is being called by God to proclaim the coming of his kingdom. Our work, then, should be to help people listen to and obey that call. For those who have already heard it, our job is to give them permission to pursue their call with abandon.
The same work Jesus gave those missionary pairs continues today. They were asked to heal the sick, cast out demons and preach the good news of the kingdom. This, too, is our work. We have come to see that every believer has in them some unique and specific call to do one or all of those things. Our leadership exists to remind people of the authority that has already been given to them to comfort those who suffer from every kind of sickness, to help those who suffer under the oppression of evil, and to share the good news of Jesus, his cross, and his kingdom.
Convene Covenantal Community
Once people within our influence understand their calling, we connect them to collaborative communities of people who share the same calling. None of us is sent alone. Finding those who share our calling is a real need. A primary responsibility of the centralized expression of the church should be building community around calling—helping people find each other and forging serious bonds that will carry them through what will certainly be a fiery ordeal. Gathering people inside church buildings to teach them is safe; scattering people on missions to confront and defy the demonic and the entrenched systems of this world is both risky and daunting. And while the promise of the presence of Jesus always goes with the apostle, so does the grace of the body of Christ.
The place where we most need each other is not in the house of worship, but in the crucible of mission. For the Underground, the work, therefore, of the overseer and the centralized church is to offer love, community, support and accountability for those who go. The centralized church also sets a certain moral and practical standard for leadership. People who are sent to represent Jesus ought to be held to a higher standard of conduct and character. Ensuring that this happens is one of the primary jobs of leaders in this missionary framework. (I talk more about this in chapter 12.)
Serving the Mission
In the prevailing framework of the church today, leaders are constrained to serve only those who come into their ministry sphere—their church building or programs. The ministry, then, is limited to only their capacity and the capacity of that sphere. This also means we are often chasing our tails trying to serve people who are disinterested in the kingdom. Many people will claim to be Christian, but their true desire is to be served, to be fed and to consume. Serving these people is hard, expensive work with very little kingdom fruit. In the missionary framework, church leaders strive to serve the 20 percent; it is the apostle who is served, and in turn, the mission itself is expanded. The role of the centralized church is to serve those who serve others and, in so doing, multiply their ministry.
Since every believer is called to do the work of mission, in my view the only justification for taking a salary is to multiply mission work through equipping and empowering others. The mandate to equip others should apply not only to paid leaders but to all the structures of the church. They should all have a bias to serve and support those who are reaching the lost, serving the poor and expanding the boundaries of the kingdom. These are the people who should get the full attention and full resources of the centralized church leadership and their systems.
In the prevailing framework, the 20 percent, made up of dedicated non-paid church members, are often distracted from true mission by the demands of volunteering in the centralized ministry, largely serving the nominal and uncommitted “sheep.” But in the missionary framework, they are released to engage the lost world in meaningful mission and, even more, they are strengthened and undergirded by the resources and support of the whole group.