But most of all,” Harold said, “he’s really aware of what’s going on. He knows everything that’s happening.” Harold and Darrell had been raving about their pastor. They talked about his acts of kindness, his fine preaching, and his administrative ability.

I knew their pastor. Everything they said was true. And the half had not been told. He was what I’d call the ubiquitous minister—seeming to be everywhere at once.

“I’ll bet he even does janitorial work,” I said, laughing. “True,” Darrell replied, his eyes beaming. “Why, one morning I came to church and saw him sweeping out the kitchen area.”

For some people that’s the ideal minister. He (or she) is everything wrapped into one package. He takes care of the church, the people, the budget, the committees, and he knows everything that goes on in Sunday school, youth activities, and social affairs.

But nagging thoughts trouble me about the ubiquitous minister. After all the dust from his swirling activities settles, is that what he really wants? Is that what the Lord wants?

Plaudits from the congregation supply nourishment for the hungry ego. It’s even better when they tack on, “I don’t see how you do it all. You’re always around. Mr. Everywhere. No matter how busy, you always make time.” Although the minister’s ego expands from these words, it may turn out to be unhealthy for the congregation.

For instance, Gene became pastor of a congregation with a membership listed as nearly 600 but with a regular attendance of 125. Within six months, Gene had activities humming. Attendance picked up, new programs abounded. The budget doubled in three years. But in the fifth year, Gene moved to a different church. The church is back to an average attendance of 125, much like it was before Gene came on the scene. “In a lot of ways he hurt the church,” a member said. “He kept everything in his grip. Nothing went on without his approval.”

That was the real problem. Gene became the final voice on everything. And when the final voice left, much of the growing stopped. He received praise and respect. But what did he do for the congregation? I ask questions like that because I can understand Gene. My tendency is also to be the hub of every wheel—a dangerous position.

First, we’re not teaching the people to do for themselves. Gene appointed committees regularly. And if they didn’t function efficiently or quickly enough, he came through like Superman, greased the machinery, and everything worked out on time. Eventually, most of the leaders simply allowed Gene to make the decisions and direct all the action. And when he left, so did everything else. He forgot a serious principle—one that helped start and propel the Protestant Reformation—the priesthood of believers.

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Second, it doesn’t allow for growth. We grow as we assume responsibility. Or as we try and fail. We face indecision and question our own abilities to fulfill a task and come out of the experience more mature. But people similar to Gene won’t let people fail—but then, they don’t let them succeed either.

In our church, we have Bible studies and prayer groups in homes. When I attended the Thursday Bible study for the first time, they had already been operating with lay leadership. When it came time for the study, one of them said, “You’ve come to direct us and show us how to do it, I guess.” “Nope. I came to study with you,” I replied. And I meant it. But the authority figure (me) soon discovered that he knew more about the passage involved than anyone else; he understood the cultural background that helped in explaining the passage; and having had Greek in seminary, he could give them a few lessons on why the aorist tense made the passage mean something slightly different than it appears in most English translations. I almost opened my mouth to explain the text to them. Then a thought struck me. Would I be of more help in listening? Is it possible that although they have less education and fewer tools for Bible study the Holy Spirit might speak through them? I decided to sit back and wait to be asked for help.

Although I made occasional brief comments, I didn’t really contribute much to the study. I didn’t need to. I believe I could have taught the lesson better than Ken. But I would have cheated them. Each person thought seriously about the passage. Those folks began to ask how each verse affected life for the Christian today. The participants grew in their experience. And I know that people learn more from thinking, studying, and grappling for themselves than always sitting with hands folded, waiting for the authority figure to drop great deposits of wisdom into their hands.

Finally, the ubiquitous minister points everything toward himself. God uses people. That’s why he distributes talents among everyone. But he never puts all talents into the life of a single individual. Paul wrote so often about the body of Christ. All of us, he said, are parts, and none of us is anything alone.

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This became clear to me recently when I talked with an editor friend, Dick. We mentioned a manuscript of mine that had gone to another publisher. I had been waiting nearly three months for a final word about its acceptance. “Since he asked for the manuscript, shouldn’t you have heard by now?” Dick asked.

“Not necessarily. I know how he works. It’s a good publishing house but he makes all the ultimate decisions about everything they publish. He travels a lot and that means authors often have to wait a long time.”

“I hope they have good insurance on him,” he said.

As Dick spoke, it suddenly became clear to me that many ministers work the same way. Several years ago, one of those ubiquitous types, at forty-three, awakened in the coronary care unit of a local hospital. His doctor wouldn’t let him even step inside the church office for six weeks. He waited an additional two weeks before he preached again. Do you know what happened? The elders called an emergency meeting. “We can always get someone to come in and preach for us. But we’re elders. We ought to be able to do everything MacIvers did. We can’t preach as well, but we can try. We can visit the sick and do a lot of other things ourselves,” an elder said. Although a few expressed doubt, they agreed to try. Two of the fifteen elders alternated preaching on Sunday. Another elder taught the pastor’s Sunday school class. Others divided up visiting the sick and contacting prospects.

When Tom MacIvers returned to a full schedule, he discovered a much stronger church. It also required restyling his ministry. “Even today,” he said, four years later, “I realize that members are doing some tasks I could do better, but I’m delighted that I have a congregation of people who feel this is their church. They used to call it MacIvers’s church.”

What does all this say? There’s only one ubiquitous person—God himself. A minister finds the areas that by training, temperament, and talent, he can fulfill. Then part of his joy, as well as responsibility, is to enable others to fulfill themselves and find their place of ministry in Jesus Christ.

Cecil B. Murphey is pastor of Riverdale Presbyterian Church, Riverdale, Georgia.

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