Second of Two Parts

Here are six examples of what happens when laymen are trained and given the opportunity of Christian service.

1. Previously I told about Bob Schneider, a career Army officer, whom God used to impress upon me the need to train laymen. Bob had been instrumental in setting up our evangelism, follow-up, and disciple-building ministry. Then he had to go overseas for two years. Well, Bob has been back since last fall, and in February he took over the complete administration of that ministry he had helped to start. One of the most significant nights of my life came when, having been introduced to the group as their new leader, Bob remarked, “I believe that God has used the first forty years of my life to prepare me for this ministry.”

2. Then there is Bernie Radford, an electrical engineer, who was the first layman I trained for service. I’ve been a bystander on numerous occasions as God has worked through this man. Bernie has led many to the Saviour and followed them up. God has given him teaching ability, and little by little he has taken over more responsibility in that area. When the superintendent of a denomination asked me to meet with some fifty pastors and laymen to instruct them in some of these principles of lay ministry and my schedule prevented me from accepting, I recommended Bernie. The letter I later received from that superintendent said in short: “It was better that you didn’t come. This man had commitment written all over his face, and the fact that he was a layman spoke volumes!”

Then there was Dan, whom Bernie led to Christ during a lunch hour. Within four months Dan had seen several professions of faith through his own witness.

God gave me the privilege of seeing Tom Titus come to Christ, and after some basic follow-up I turned him over to Bernie for nurturing. Before long Tom was leading others to the Saviour.

3. A few years ago God impressed upon me the idea that if we were to be a New Testament ministry we’d have to be a church-planting ministry. So I dropped that thought into the hearts of our people. Two years later (after much prayer and planning) I found myself in an elders’ meeting where assignments were being made by laymen for laymen.

Some forty of our people began meeting in a mission church six months ago. We trust that before long that assembly will be on its own, ready to plant another. Our associate pastor is interim pastor to that flock, but most of the spade-work was done by laymen.

4. In the area of church discipline, it often is not only appropriate but essential to have another person along. Some of my most meaningful times of ministry have been with laymen in such situations. They not only provide company and support but have sometimes been the salvation of the call.

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Sickness, death, sorrow, marital difficulties, despondency, and other human needs that call for ministry often come at what from a human point of view are very inopportune times for the pastor. But God did not intend that pastors bear the burdens of the entire flock. The counseling ministry must be distributed among laymen.

No matter how good our academic training, most of us pastors learn the practical outworking of the ministry in the trenches. And that’s where laymen must receive their training. Sometime a layman and I go together, and on other assignments two of them go without me.

5. The midweek service is without a doubt the gathering most susceptible to the evangelical blahs! An opening hymn, a word of prayer, another hymn, Bible study and then “Let’s all go to our prayer groups.”

When I was looking for ways to improve this service, I began to seek out laymen in whom I had recognized spiritual capabilities. They were assigned the first fifteen to twenty minutes of the Wednesday-evening meeting. When they asked, “What should I do?” I replied, “That’s up to you. I have confidence that the Lord has given you ability, and that as you seek his guidance you’ll come up with just what is needed.” Although this is still in the embryonic stage, the results have been refreshing and exciting. These laymen are bringing new life to our gathering.

6. On a recent Sunday evening just after the service I had a telephone call from a girl in her early twenties, a believer, but one with a multitude of problems. After counseling over the phone for over a half an hour, I led in prayer and told her that a girl would be calling her to take up where I had left off. I then dialed the number of another young woman and explained to her the ministry she could have to this needy part of the Body. She was delighted at the prospect of service and assured me that she would call the other girl right away and make plans to meet with her for Bible study, prayer, and encouragement. Again, here was a lay person who had been trained for service and was ready when the need arose.

Other examples come to mind, but suffice it to say that God is using laymen in our ministry. I want to make it clear, however, that this has been years in the making.

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As far as I am concerned, the most significant change has taken place in me. Once I saw myself as a “preacher” who ran here and there helping people, knowing that in the process something would happen. (God is sovereign, and he blesses his Word.) Now I see myself as an equipper of men for the work of service, and my pulpit teaching ministry has become even more meaningful. I evaluate my ministry now not in terms of meetings held, sermons preached, people counseled, offerings received, but in terms of lives developed for the work of the ministry.

As I was renewed, so were some of my people. A growing core of them sense that they and I are in the work of the Lord together.

A year ago we began quarterly elders’ retreats. We go to a nearby motel for Friday evening and all day Saturday, and have time not only to deal with the issues but to get to know one another on a different level. More and more of this time is being spent in the Word. We begin by looking at passages of Scripture that pertain to the matters we are going to discuss.

One of the natural results of an equipping ministry is that increasingly people are recognizing their spiritual gifts and comprehending the biblical concept of functioning as the Body of Christ. They are aware that members of the Body can minister to one another’s needs.

We have introduced into some of our evening gatherings a ten-to-fifteen-minute segment called “Body-Consciousness”—a time when believers are free to walk all over the sanctuary and find someone with whom to exchange name cards and discuss some pertinent questions suggested from the pulpit. Innovations like this lead away from a pastor-centered, program-oriented assembly into the fresh air of operating as God intends—as the Body of Christ.

Have there been difficulties? Of course! The following list is by no means exhaustive:

1. Misunderstanding from those who operate on traditional concepts. Ralph Neighbour hit the nail on the head when he entitled his book The Seven Last Words of the Church. They are: “We’ve Never Tried It That Way Before!” When the excitement of employing God’s methodology begins to explode in your assembly, some people will not understand and, rightly, will say so.

2. Hurt feelings on the part of some who are not involved in what you are doing.

3. Accusations, often based on lack of information. Since I’ve been training laymen I’ve heard everything from “This is just the pastor’s thing” to “The pastor has too much power.” (The latter speaker had obviously not attended any of our official board meetings.)

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4. Satanic attack. You’ll never be more aware of the spiritual warfare than when you start outfitting saints for service. And what hurts is that he often operates through carnal Christians!

5. The frustration of knowing you must revamp your schedule while you still feel the pull of the traditionally accepted ministry you have known in former days. The tendency to conform is always there. It is then that we need the principle of Second Timothy 4:16. Perseverance brings deliverance!

6. Discouragement because progress seems slow in coming. At such times I ask myself: (1) How long did it take you to get where you are? and (2) Where might you be if you had never jumped out of the stands and become a participant in the training of men?

7. The battle of time. We all wish we had more of it. But God has provided all the time we need to do his will. In the initial stages you’ll have to spend countless hours studying, planning, developing curricula. As you pass through this period you will see that some of your key people are with you. They’ll be a part of the process and can take care of some of this load in the future.

8. The tendency to go to extremes as your ministerial pendulum swings away from the traditional ways of doing things. This is especially true in the beginning. But the answer to one extreme is never the establishment of another.

9. Constant pressure from well-meaning brethren who want you to return with them to the leeks and garlic of program-oriented ministry down in ecclesiastical Egypt. This is discouraging. But by faith we can look beyond their remarks and claim some of these very people to train for the work of service!

10. Last, the ever-present possibility of losing heart and “growing weary in doing good.” We are all prone to find ourselves with Elijah under the broom tree (1 Kings 19:4). But that’s how we grow!—The Rev. MARLIN C. HARDMAN, pastor, Barcroft Bible Church, Arlington, Virginia.

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