The priority that isn't

  • Tony Payne
  • 30 January 2014
Over the past couple of months, pastors and church leadership teams in many parts of the world have been reviewing the year just past, and dreaming and scheming about the year to come. And there is always so much to work on. Perhaps you and your team have been be considering some of the following plans for 2014 (in no particular order):

  1. You want to run more events and programs that engage with the local community, make more connections with people in your area, and yield some contacts that can be followed up evangelistically.

  2. You want to schedule some explicitly evangelistic activities (like an enquirers course or series of mission meetings) to reach out with the gospel.

  3. You want to improve the quality of your regular Sunday gatherings so that they are more engaging, better run, and more attractive to outsiders.

  4. The youth and children’s work is struggling, and you’re wondering whether it is time to employ a "youth and children’s worker".

  5. You want to build the maturity of your established members, and do better in training them in everyday word ministry (to be able, for example, to share their faith, or follow up a younger Christian).

  6. You’re worried about a growing lack of practical pastoral care for those who are really struggling, and wondering whether to start a special pastoral care group to address the need.

  7. You’re concerned about the lack of prayer in the congregation, and wonder about re-instituting the Wednesday night prayer meeting.

  8. You want to improve your church’s welcoming and integration of newcomers by having clearer pathways for new people, and better personal follow-up.

And no doubt more besides.

The problem, of course, is that you simply can’t do all this. You have limited time and resources.

So which items are you going to prioritize? And which areas will (sadly but perhaps inevitably) have less effort put into them, and just potter along for another year?

As I have observed church life over the past three decades, and as Col Marshall and I have travelled around running "Trellis and Vine" ministry workshops in recent times, I continue to be surprised at how widely one of the most important of these bullet points is neglected. It just gets overlooked, or put in the too-hard basket, or falls off the end of the priority list in the face of all the other competing pressures and possibilities.

It is one of the most important because it is the bullet-point that in many respects drives and enables all the others. If we were to apply real effort, time and resources to this aspect of our church life, under God we would create the energy, motivation, knowledge and skills for most of the other areas in which we want to grow and improve.

Yes, it’s number 5: the ongoing, individualized, intentional training of each one of our members to maturity in Christ, and in particular the teaching, motivating and equipping of each one for everyday word-based ministry to others (in whatever form that takes).

Theologically, we should know the importance of this (I won’t repeat the argument of Trellis and Vine again here!). And practically, it makes sense. If we keep building an ever-growing and diverse team of godly, loving, skilled fellow-workers, we will generate more capacity and more ministry in all areas (whether in outreach, welcoming, prayer, youth ministry and the rest).

And yet somehow… it’s amazing how the training priority just seems to leak away and not happen. When Col and I talk to people about a "Trellis and Vine" philosophy of ministry (nearly) everyone stands and salutes, and says how much they love the idea of growing a fellowship of disciples who make other disciples. But then we ask: “So how, in practical terms, are you going to train each of your members to be everyday disciple-makers this year?” And the room goes kind of quiet.

So let me ask you: in your thinking for 2014 and beyond, how are you planning to raise number 5 up the priority list?