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From Basketball to Bible Studies: How to mobilize your members for ministry

I THINK EVERY SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTIST wants to be part of an active, vibrant church. And one to which we would feel comfortable bringing our friends. Unfortunately, few churches seem to have found a way to muster more than 20 percent of their members to engage in ministries they enjoy.

I'd like to share with you the top three things that I believe can add life to your church. I wish I had learned these things 20 years ago when I was starting my pastoral ministry! I believe I would have had a much greater impact in God's work in the local church.

1. Baptism is a God-given ordination to a lifetime of ministry.
This principle has tremendous implications. It means that everyone who is a baptized member is already ordained for ministry! The church's job is not to beg or coax them to minister, but to help them recognize that the next step is up to them--to find a ministry and go for it. Conversely, if a person is not yet ready to be involved in regular service or ministry, then they are not yet ready for baptism.

What is the biblical evidence for this? Consider the following:

  • Jesus' baptism marked the official beginning of His ministry.

  • When spiritual gifts are discussed in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul explains that baptism is the initiation process of becoming part of the body and using your gifts (see verse 13).

  • In Ephesians 4 Paul discusses the role of the equipping gifts (apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors who teach, verse 11) that are "to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up" (verse 12, NIV). He makes it clear that this is within the context of unity in baptism (verse 5).

  • In Romans 6 Paul explains the meaning of baptism, and six chapters later tells his readers to use the gifts they have been given (Rom. 12:4-8).

  • When Peter talks about the importance of each member using the gifts God has given (1 Peter 4:10), he has already emphasized 11 verses earlier the importance of baptism in this process (1 Peter 3:21).

    Carlos Martin, a professor at Southern Adventist University, points out that the Anabaptists of the sixteenth century began to discover this biblical truth and called it the priesthood of all believers. They said that baptism was not sprinkling water on babies before they knew what was happening to them. Instead, baptism should take place when a person is old enough to repent, surrender their life to Jesus Christ, be taught the basic principles of the Bible, and be ready to minister to the needs of others in service and outreach. As the candidate for baptism was standing in the water, the pastor would not raise his hand toward heaven, as is often the case now. Instead, he would place his hand on the head, signifying an ordination to a lifetime of ministry. Being baptized "in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" was recognized as the time at which God gave the candidate power to live a godly life, which included service to God and others.

    Ellen White echoed these thoughts when she wrote, "We are to be consecrated channels, through which the heavenly life is to flow to others. . . . The commission has been given to us. Upon us is laid a sacred charge. Go then, Christ says to them. Make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded, and baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. 'And, lo,' He declares, 'I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.' You are dedicated to the work of making known the gospel of salvation."1

    "All who are ordained unto the life of Christ are ordained to work for the salvation of their fellow men. Their hearts will throb in unison with the heart of Christ. The same longing for souls that He has felt will be manifest in them. Not all can fill the same place in the work, but there is a place and a work for all."2

    Share these biblical principles with your friends, Sabbath school class, church leaders, church board, and pastor as the opportunity arises. As a church becomes more aware of these biblical truths, more members take their God-given role in the body of Christ, and the church becomes more vibrant.

    2. Use the four connections: God-partner-coach-flock.
    I have often had church members say to me, "Pastor, don't you think we ought to start this ministry or that ministry in the church?" When I first began pastoring, I thought I had to take all the good ideas and do something about them. I was headed for rapid burnout! One day it dawned on me that if God gave a good idea to one of my members, maybe He wanted them to do something about it. But what should I encourage them to do? That's where the four connections approach comes in.

    If someone comes to me with a great idea (or what they think is a great idea), I tell them that "God has given them this idea because He wants them to do something with it. And here are the steps to take to start a ministry:

  • Make sure your connection with God is up-to-date, that you are surrendered to Him, and that you seek His will each day.

  • Next, find a partner who will help you plan and carry out this ministry. Even if the idea seems wild or weird, if you follow this process, you and your partner may be able to reach some wild and weird people for Jesus--and there are plenty of them we need to reach!

  • Once you have developed a plan of action with your partner, ask a church board member to be your coach. The coach's role is not to run or do the ministry, but to listen to the ideas and to give counsel to keep you from going into the ditch. As soon as a church board member agrees to be your coach, you are an official ministry of the church. On the other hand, if your coach ever lets you know they can no longer serve as your coach, you must find another church board member to serve as coach in order to remain an official ministry of the church. Your coach serves as your link to the official leadership group of the church, and represents you on the board as needed.

  • When you have your connection with God, partner, and coach, your final connection is with your flock--those you will minister to. Go recruit them!

    I had recently baptized Jim. He was excited about being part of his new church family. I told him it was very important for him to find his ministry soon. About three weeks after baptism he told me, "Pastor, I love computers, and I want to teach a computer class as my ministry."

    "Great!" I said. "Are you keeping your connection with God up-to-date?"


    "Now you need to find a ministry partner to help you plan and do your ministry, and a church board member to listen to your plans and give you counsel and encouragement."

    The next Sabbath after church Jim could hardly wait to talk to me.

    "Pastor, Doug is my partner and Rick is my coach. What's next?"

    "Next, you need to recruit your flock. Invite members and nonmembers to join your class. Then go for it!"

    "Pastor, I've already lined up 11 computers and talked to the church secretary about a room for Thursday nights!"

    Jim ran the class for 12 weeks. What were the results? Two of the 11 who signed up were not church members but came regularly and made friends with the members. One of the church members who attended got a better job because of the skill learned. There was no cost to the church. Several people were mobilized in ministry, and a new member discovered how to use his gifts in ministry.

    Using the God-partner-coach-flock connection approach could help a church quickly mobilize members in recreation ministries (e.g., cycling, skiing, rafting, basketball, volleyball, skateboarding, motorcycle ministries), ministries targeting those with specific needs (homelessness, blindness, deafness, terminal illness, recent divorce, etc.), and more direct soul winning (Bible study groups, Bible seminars, video seminars, new Sabbath school classes, and even baptismal classes). It all begins with one person to whom God has given one idea and who is empowered to act in an accountable way. And that person can be you!

    3. Challenge the nominating committee to contact all attending members to discover their interests.
    The Seventh-day Adventist Church follows a plan in which every year or two certain key positions in the church are filled through a nominating committee process outlined in the Church Manual. Sometimes this process becomes routine and, unfortunately, can be quite tedious.

    Our church has experimented with an approach to ministry in the past few years that protects a system of accountability and, at the same time, involves many more people in ministry without the frustration. I'll give you the simple steps we have used, and let you adapt them to your own situation.

    1. We enlarged the size of the nominating committee (nomcom) so that we had one nomcom member for every 12 attending households.

    2. We divided the attending households among the nomcom members, making sure we didn't overlook any newly baptized or transferred members. The designated nomcom member was the one to make all contacts with his or her households through the entire process.

    3. The first assignment for each nomcom member was to contact the 12 homes assigned and say something like this: "Hi, I'm Susan, calling from the church nominating committee. We aren't asking anyone to serve yet, but we do have two requests. First, please pray for us during your family worship as we try to place people in the best ministry positions possible. And second, from each person in the family, I'd like to hear some ways they might like to serve during the coming year." A lot of great information was collected during these calls.

    4. When nomcom met again to continue their work, they had a wealth of information to use in filling the regular positions. They were also able to recommend additional ministry groups and assignments to the church..

    I remember when we first began this approach. Richard was the nomcom member who had our home on his list of attending households. He called one evening, and my wife, Lois, answered the phone. When asked how she might like to be involved, she told him she enjoyed planning one worship service each month and helping with song service for Sabbath school each week. She would be happy to continue with this if needed. Also she said she would enjoy helping with teen Sabbath school since we had two teens of our own.

    Then Richard asked her about each of our children's interests. Lois talked with each one and relayed the information about their willingness to help with music and children's church, and to be members of the Pathfinder Club. Lois also said that her husband was busy enough as pastor not to take on additional responsibilities! That evening we prayed for the mission of the nominating committee as requested.

    During the next few weeks there were a couple more calls confirming or adjusting ministry assignments. When the nominating committee report was presented to the church a month later, it included the names of my wife and all three of my children, as well as dozens of others who usually had not been given any ministry role. They all knew that they were wanted and needed in carrying out the church's mission.

    Ready for Action
    God has given the Seventh-day Adventist Church a tremendous mission. As more members see what piece of the mission God has given them, we can expect to see new blood flow through the arteries of the church body, and new life in our churches and communities. The Adventist message will be expressed in a greater variety of ways through a growing number of members. And soon the message of a crucified, risen, and soon-coming Savior will go to the entire world!

    1 Ellen White, Manuscript Releases, vol. 6,
    p. 28.
    2 Ellen White, Christ's Object Lessons, p. 301. (Italics supplied.)

    Dan Serns pastors, plants churches, goes on mission trips, and enjoys his family in Wenatchee, Washington, which is called the apple capital of the world.

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    © 2005, Adventist Review.