Lay Leadership and Redeemer’s Future

February 2010
by Tim Keller

In one of the most overlooked passages in the Bible, Jesus called John the Baptist the greatest prophet in history, and then added that every single believer is now greater in position and calling than him. (Matthew 11:9–11) “The least in the kingdom of God is greater than he [John the Baptist.]” What did Jesus mean? He couldn’t mean that every Christian believer would be more courageous or more godly than John the Baptist. (I know that I’m not!) 
 
What Jesus must have meant is that every Christian believer understands the gospel in a way John never could. John never saw Jesus’ death or resurrection; he never saw how Jesus fulfilled all the rich Old Testament predictions of God’s future salvation of the world. Every believer understands the gospel better than John the Baptist and therefore we are ‘greater.’ 
 
How? We have all been given the Holy Spirit and gifts to minister the gospel (1 Corinthians 12), and therefore we have more power to change lives than even the greatest of the Old Testament prophets had. That is why the New Testament calls every believer a ‘royal priest’ (1 Peter 2:9.) Yes, in the New Testament there are evangelists, counselors, teachers, pastors, and preachers who are (one could say) ‘full-time specialists.’ And yet the Bible says that every believer must evangelize (Acts 8:4), and must admonish, counsel, nourish, and encourage others believers from the Scripture so they grow into Christ-likeness (Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 3:13; 10:24–25). 
 
So the Bible calls every Christian to be not just a recipient of gospel ministry, but also a practitioner of it. The reality is, however, that most believers in most churches live primarily as consumers. Only a minority recognize this calling. They are Ministry Leaders.’ Over the years Redeemer has been blessed with a great number such leaders, but in the future their numbers will have to increase. We are going to ‘replant Redeemer,’ first as three ‘generative’ Redeemer congre-gations that will grow into a network of sister congregations. One key to this will be a new generation of pastoral leaders, but just as important will be a tripling of the percentage of our membership that understand themselves to be Lay Ministry Leaders. 
 
It is natural as churches grow larger for many people to feel ‘this church doesn’t need my gifts.’ The congregation seems to be a well-resourced, well-oiled machine. There seem to be no lack of talented leaders. The reality is almost the opposite. I’ve been the pastor of a small church and a very large one, and it is the small church that is better resourced by leaders. Often half of its attendance is involved in some kind of ministry, while in large churches that percentage drops (because of the false perception of being ‘leader-rich.’) So large churches run on an increasingly over-burdened and small population of lay ministers. 
 
What kinds of lay leaders will we need in the future? First, we will continue to need a greater number of Fellowship Group leaders, as well as coaches and wise elders and shepherds who support FG leaders in giving loving pastoral care and guidance to all in the groups. 
 
Second, we will need neighborhood community leaders, who help believers and Fellowship Groups in a particular neighborhood gather together to do outreach to their neighbors in evangelism and service. 
 
Third, we will need more volunteers than ever to make Sunday worship happen. We will be multiplying worship services and sites and each will require teams working in Sunday service ministry, as well as musicians and those who work in family, youth, and children’s ministry. 
 
Fourth, we will need increasing numbers of leaders who gather believers together within their vocation, helping people disciple one another in the integration of faith and work. 
 
Of course, each congregation will need not only a strong body of deacons and deaconesses, but also other supporters who work with them to provide practical love and help to people with needs. 
 
Next, we will need more people than ever who seek the peace of the city through ministries of mercy and justice. 
 
Lastly, if we are going to become a church that attracts and equips lay Christians to do ministry, we have to develop a ‘training culture.’ In short, we will need not just lay ministers, but ‘leaders of leaders,’ people who are disciplers, mentors, and supervisors to newer lay leaders and lay ministers. 
 
If you are a member or regular attender of Redeemer, please examine your own heart and life. Lay ministers are those who see themselves as providers of the ministry of the church, not just consumers of that ministry. They are those who feel responsible for the achievement of the ministry goals of the church—its outreach, cultural engagement, ministry to the needs of the city, and its discipling and edification of believers. They see those jobs not as belonging to “them” but to “us.” Once you move from thinking of the church as ‘them’ to thinking of it as ‘us’—you are getting a leadership mindset and becoming a lay minister, which is what the Bible calls every believer to be. 


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