Sharing Gospel ministry -an alternative to handing on and stepping down

Our standard model for Gospel ministry[1] is that we take on a role and it becomes our ministry for life until we drop dead, burnout, retire or have the responsibility prised from us.  With that mindset, a positive outcome is that at some point we hand over the baton to the next generation.

I’m thinking about that for two reasons.

  1. There is this post from Eddie Arthur about the greater danger for Christian workers is that we overstay rather than we quit a ministry too early.
  2. A couple of weeks back I was preaching on 2 Samuel 21 and these sorts of questions came up in the context of v15-21 where David gets exhausted in battle and his men say “You are too important to us, you will no longer go out to battle.”

That got me thinking about how we consider ministry and calling. I think we too easily slip into thinking primarily in terms of work categories. So, someone has a job to do. They do it for as long as they are able and then when they can’t do it any longer, they stop. What happens then is that they become redundant. They either retire gracefully to take their place with the consumers in the pews, or they go off ungracefully in a sulk.

Yet, if we are family and if we genuinely believe that as long as people are with us then God has a purpose and role for them in his mission then that can’t be right.  It struck me that David had been here before. He had chosen himself to stay back in Jerusalem when the army went to battle and the result was temptation. That time, it was his decision, it was selfish and it was rooted in complacency. This time, it is about those around him saying things need to change.

It wasn’t that they wanted to get rid of David. It was that they saw how precious and important he was to them and to the mission. They wanted him to continue to play a useful and active role but they also recognised that age and circumstances meant that role needed to change.

What if we got better at recognising the different stages in life that people are at. Younger people will have physical energy and time to do things, middle aged people have experience and still a high level of energy but they also have a lot of competing priorities to attend to. Older people increasingly have time and in the early stages of retirement energy but increasingly the physical energy runs out. This does not mean that their spiritual energy and wisdom has to run out.

Encouraging someone to take on responsibilities may be a way of freeing up another believer who has run with that responsibility for some time so that they can continue to be useful in God’s service.

This means recognising that we relate to people differently. Some people are the kids and youngsters in church life, others are the mums and dads. But there comes a point when mums and dads become grandparents, the relationship changes. It calls for a different way of doing things.

It means that we will move from doing some ministries to coaching others, to watching, praying and encouraging.

We should not expect to retire from Christian service but we should expect our type of service to change.

[1] I’m referring to all gifts/service not just pastors/leaders