“Not only have we been relying upon the wrong people, we have been trying to do God’s work in the wrong place. What does this mean? We have sought to do the work of God primarily in the church when it must be done primarily in the world. Those of us who are the clergy must confess our sin at this point and accept our share of the responsibility for the error in this area. In the past (and for many this continues in the present) when we called upon laymen for ministry, it was almost invariably for a ministry in the church. Many Christians have worked exceedingly hard, but the work they were doing was related primarily to the church as an institution. As a result, we built up a church as an institution until it has become large and relatively rich. But the “world” was left largely untouched. Let me be clear at this point. The laymen, in fulfilling his ministry, is not to become a “little preacher.” Neither is the ministry of the laity to assist the pastor to do “his” work. (In reality this is not “his” work anyway. The ministry belongs to the laity, not to the clergy. His task is to equip the laity for their ministry.) Neither is the ministry of the laity to “uphold the hands” of the pastor. The layman has a special and unique ministry which only he can perform.
There are two reasons why the ministry of the laity must be primarily in the world. Each of these reasons reveals a fundamental weakness in the present life and work of the church. First, it is in the world where a ministry for God is desperately needed. In the churches we have numerous meetings. We have regular weekly meetings . . . special meetings . . . meetings on Sunday and during the week . . . meetings in the morning and in the evening . . . women’s meetings . . . men’s meetings. We have large meetings; we have small meetings. And if attendance at some of them begins to decline, we have meetings to find out what’s wrong with the attendance at the meetings.
In most of our churches we have no dearth of meetings. What, then, is the weakness in our present approach? We have tried to win the world by holding meetings within our church buildings. There is one tragic flaw in this approach—the “world” does not attend the meetings. The “world” knows little and cares less about what takes place in the meetings we are so careful to hold in our church buildings. Thus, in these meetings we are simply talking to each other. Whether it’s a men’s meeting or a Bible study class or a meeting of the women, we talk about “loving the world” and “transforming the world,” but basically all we do is talk to each other. Then annually (or twice annually) the church has a “special series of services” (a preaching mission or a revival). It it’s a Baptist meeting, all the Baptists invite their Methodist, Presbyterian, and Episcopalian friends to attend the services so that the visiting speaker will not be embarrassed by the small attendance. We promise if they will help us out at our meeting, we will help them out when they have theirs. We are masters at self-deception. All the vaunted activity we put into preparation for the special services, all the prayers that were uttered, all the visits that were made, all the effort that was made to “be present every night”—the result is the same—we simply talk to each other. The “world” is untouched. If the world is ever going to be confronted by a ministry for God, it is going to have to be a ministry that is expressed where the world is, namely, in the world.
If the ministry of the laity is to be primarily in the world, we begin to see the wisdom of God’s call to the laity to be his basic ministers because it is “in the world” that the laity live. They do not have to make a special visit on Thursday night to get into the world. When Monday morning dawns, they go to the world. They are in the stores, the shops, the offices, the hospitals, the factories, the farms, the homes. The only problem is, being in the world, all they know to do is to “be good.” In the main they have no idea how to be a minister for God. There is a vast difference between “being good” and “being a minister.” But too many church members have not the slightest idea what this difference is. So the layman must not only be willing to be a minister, he must also learn what it means and learn how to be a minister.
This leads to a second reason why the ministry of the laity must be primarily in the world. The world today insists upon a demonstration of our faith before it will listen to our words. This reveals a second weakness in the life and approach of the present church. We are trying to win the world primarily through the use of words. In classes, worship services, in special meetings, the church is doing a lot of talking. On the radio and television we talk still the more. We bombard the ears of people with words, words, words. However the church is finding it increasingly difficult to get the world to pay any attention to these words. We cry, “Christ Is the Answer.” But the world shrugs its shoulders and ignores us. The politicians and men of business make their decisions as though the church did not exist. Parents are becoming greatly disturbed because the youth are tuning the church out as being irrelevant.
In effect, the world is saying to the church, if you people have anything, show it. Don’t come quoting Scripture or mouthing words. I want to see a demonstration of what you say. You say that Christ transforms people. You believe that Christ can take a man who in his business is grasping, greedy, and selfish, and transform him and make him into a person who loves people more than money, who is more concerned about the welfare of those in need than he is about grasping and getting more money. You say that Christ can transform people like that? Show me! I don’t see this in business where it seems that church people are just as grasping and greedy as the people not in the church. The world says to us, “You speak glibly about the love of God. But if you really want us to understand the love of God, then you be an expression of the love of God. You love us; you care for us; you enter into our lives, our concerns, our hurts as you say God does. Unless you do, your words mean nothing.”
If what I am saying is true, then much of what we are now doing in our church programs is exactly backwards. By that I mean that the present church program points toward what happens in the church on Sunday as being the climax. The pastor works all week preparing his sermon. The Bible teachers study for their teaching task. A vigorous effort is made in visitation to get as many people as possible to attend on Sunday. What happens in the church on Sunday—this is the climax!
On, no! This is not the climax! The climax is what happens in the world during the week! And yet, in our present church program all our effort is pointed toward trying to get as many as we can to come on Sunday. Don’t misunderstand, I am not minimizing what happens on Sunday. This is important, but it is not the climax. Let me illustrate. Here is a church where a thousand people attend services on Sunday. They attend Bible study and enjoy what the teachers have to say, and they listen carefully to what the preacher says in the worship service. It’s a good day, they feel. Then Monday comes and they go to their work simply to live their lives as good, decent, respectable people. They come back the following Sunday to repeat the same experience.
Nothing really happens. The world is not touched. On the other hand, consider another church that has only a hundred in attendance on Sunday. But these people are aware that God has called them to a ministry. They know that their ministry is in the world during the week. While in church they study, worship, and open their lives to an infilling by the Spirit of God. However, aware that their ministry is in the world during the week, their eyes are focused on the world. What is the ministry needed? How can they express this ministry? Where is the particular place where the ministry of each on is to be focused? What special plans need to be made? Because of this, what happens in church on Sunday is exceedingly important, but it is not the climax!
When the worship, study, planning, and equipping are completed, they go out to invade the world for God. In stores, shops, offices, factories, homes, farms, each expresses his ministry. Then the next Sunday they return to church. Some are excited because they have experience a degree of progress in their ministry. Others are bloody because they have been “clobbered” by the world. Wounds are bound up. Experiences are shared. Confession is made. Encouragement to try again is given, and new strength is sought from each other and from God. They study again, make more plans, worship and infilling is experienced, prayer is offered. And they go out again. The focus of their attention is always on the world! What happens in the world during the week—this is the climax!
Such being the case, we need to change the basis for evaluating the effectiveness of the work of our churches. At present we tend to evaluate the success of the church on the basis of how many attend on Sunday. Rather, we need to ask, “What did those who attended on Sunday do in the world during the week?” This is what really matters. True, it is not easy to evaluate, but this is where the eyes of the church must be focused.
We need to reevaluate the meetings of our churches. Are the meetings being held really equipping the laity for their ministry in the world? Apparently not, but if the present meetings are not really equipping people for their basic ministry, then we need to change what we are doing and start some that will equip them for their ministry.
What then is God’s basic call?
It is a call to mission. A mission that is redemptive in nature. This redemption is personal and social. It is a call to ministry. Each individual is to fulfill God’s mission through his own ministry. The call to be a part of God’s people and the call to ministry are one and the same.
What does it mean to be the People of God? I think it is a people who understands the divine mission which God is about in the world and who believe so deeply in God and what he is doing that they give their lives to join with him in accompanying this divine redemptive mission. And wonder of wonders—in doing this these people find life! Full and abundant life. A free gift from God.” [Findley B. Edge, The Greening of the Church (Waco, TX: Word, 1971), 45-48.]