How to Help Church Members Back into Ministry
The people in our churches may be out of the habit of serving or suffering from spiritual atrophy after lockdown. How can we gently and patiently help them back into ministry?
atrophy / definition:
2. gradual decline in effectiveness or vigour due to underuse or neglect.
Atrophy is that process by which perfectly good muscles can become weakened and even shrivelled over time. Sometimes it can happen because a limb isn’t being used or exercised. So, someone confined to a wheelchair or living in a space station might see their leg muscles wasting away. Over time, previously strong quads and bi-ceps become enfeebled.
After a year of lockdown, it's almost inevitable that many church members will be suffering from a degree of ministry or even spiritual atrophy. Even allowing for the many acts of service during lockdown, there is a lot of ministry people have simply been unable to do over the past 14 months.
This means that many ‘ministry muscles’ just haven’t been getting exercised. Lots of people are now out of the habit of being involved in regular service activity: whether that be helping at a club, putting chairs out on a Sunday morning, providing hospitality in their homes, or visiting others.
Since March 2020, thousands of runners have missed their Saturday morning parkruns. Of course, they could do an occasional midweek 5k round the streets but it’s not the same as gathering with those who share a similar interest and passion. Without that encouragement and extra motivation, many previous performances will definitely have tumbled.
Similarly, it will be a challenge for many to get back up to speed when it comes to ministry. Indeed, when faced with the thought of putting those stiff and out of condition ministry limbs into action, some will be tempted to stay under the duvet on Sunday morning or on the settee come Wednesday evening.
Additionally, while in lots of ways people are desperate to see the back of all the restrictions and rules, not every aspect of lockdown has been unattractive. A year of being sheltered from others (including the more challenging folk!), of having uninterrupted routines, of having lots more free and private time, has undoubtedly had some appeal: convenience, autonomy, a quieter life!
So, gently and patiently helping people back into ministry (ie. actively serving others) will very likely be a big part of the work of church leaders in the months ahead.
Here are three ways in which we can do this:
Go to the gospel
God’s word applied by the Spirit is always the agent of any spiritual change in people’s lives and it’s spiritual change we want to see. So, our desire to see members re-engage in gospel work shouldn’t be because of a business-like desire just to get jobs done or meet schedules.
Rather, our concern should always be to see genuine spiritual growth leading to increasing Christ-like servant-heartedness.
In this regard, a great place to take people is to Philippians and to dwell, as Paul does, on the example of Jesus himself; to remind people that while there was nowhere more secure, safe, comfortable, and pleasing than Heaven, Jesus left it - sacrificially putting himself out for the welfare and good of others.
As you teach these truths, try to avoid any sense of being chiding or demanding. Let the gospel speak for itself - there is nothing surer to stir the hearts of Spirit-filled people.
Returning to ministry doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone should just go back to doing the exact same activities as pre-lockdown.
Some of our ministries may (and ought to) be very different as we take stock of the new situation ahead. Indeed, the months ahead might provide great opportunities for many previously unengaged people to get involved in new forms of service.
Practically, perhaps you could imagine a ‘Ministry Couch to 5k’ programme in your church. Perhaps Week 1 could just be someone getting along to physical church again (if safe to do so), Week 3 could be the opportunity to steward, Week 5 inviting some folks home for lunch, Week 7 a chat on the phone to talk about future involvements and how they might be different going forward… and so on.
Give people time
A few folks will be raring to go: starting fit, ready to run fast and far. Many others will be weary and out of condition. But the great thing about parkrun, to reuse the analogy, is that there is always a helper who stays with the furthest back runners no matter how slow they are.
So be patient. For some, church might be on a long list of things they need to reconnect with post-lockdown. Others may be seriously out of condition but, if given time and encouragement, can be transformed.
It might take a while but through the Word, some practical planning, and patience we can look forward to seeing God’s people getting into their stride again in serving God and His people in the months ahead.