Monday, October 16, 2006

Bill Hybel's philosophy of lay ministry

In the past view days, I've had the opportunity to read a few books, Good to Great and the Social Sectors (Jim Collins), Volunteer Revolution (Bill Hybels), and The Story We Find Ourselves In (Brian McLaren). I hope to blog a little big about each of these, but right now I want to summarize what I consider the key things I got out of Volunteer Revolution.

This short book of 139 pages summarizes Bill Hybels' experience of recruiting volunteers to serve in his church and his simple theology behind it. He says that in the beginning of Willow Creek Community Church's existence he and his friends had a "Whatever It Takes!" attitude. Because they were young they could serve with reckless abandon in very extreme ways. Hybels has fond memories of these times, but regrets that he pushed people too hard, suggesting that possibly even a couple marriages of his friends failed because of Hybels pushing them to invest too much time in the church. During this time he wasn't thinking much about helping people find the right area of giftedness and passion to serve in.

After seeing the damaging effects of this style of ministry management, Willow Creek then swung in the complete opposite direction by not having people serve until they had done a large amount of spiritual gift testing. They were trying to prevent burnout. Hybels suggests that they were overprecautious at this point and that he evententually realized that spiritual gifts tests couldn't be accurate until someone had tried out a number of different ministry opportunities to see what fits.

Through this process they arrived at their current approach which can largely be summarized by the word EXPERIMENTATION. They believe that people should be invited to experiment in a number of different ministries before making a commitment to be a continual volunteer there. They have developed this philosophy into what they call First Serve.

I really liked this philosophy, which I just discovered has now been packaged into a user-friendly four-week church program called Living Beyond Myself. Ironically, without knowing the connection between this book and this program, my older brother told me last week that his church was in the middle of this particular program and he was really growing through it.

Hybels says there are two keys to sticking with it as a volunteer in the church. The first is "to gradually align oneself closer and closer to authentic areas of passion and spiritual giftedness. The second way is to serve within the context of community" (122).

He says, "I've said many times in recent years that I have two goals for the rest of my life. First, I want to do the work God asks me to do. I've never known joy outside of pursuing God's calling on my life. Whenever I've wandered even five degrees off that course, I've lost the sense of God's smile that I can't live without. Second, I want to do the work God calls me to do in community with people I love. While most of the serving circles in which I now sit are not volunteer circles, the same principle applies" (123).

I agree with Hybels' philosophy of volunteering. I know that many times, especially in older established churches, we practially have to beg people to take positions of leadership. They're lots of work and experience little gratitude. Hybels also says that expressing gratitude is a key to maintaining volunteers.

A very good chapter in this book is chapter 5, called "What? Me, A Priest?" where Hybels lays out clearly and with simplicity the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers.

One thing that must be said about this book is something that the friend who loaned it to me told me. There's a lot of stories, but not much Scripture. After beginning the book, I appreciated the warning. Instead of doing a lot of explanation about a particular passage of Scripture, I've noticed that Hybel's is the type to just take a short passage of Scripture at face value and then live it out literally and radically. I respect his obedience to God's word.


Mike (who has a bad grasp of all things greek) said...

Hey Jason. Interesting reading. However, the term 'lay ministry' proves some problems for me.

As 'lay' comes from the greek λαϊκός which in essence if I remember from a long time ago can be very roughly translated 'non' or 'not', then are we saying that 'lay ministry' is not ministry?

Under the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, there should be less distinction between clergy and laity - and I would argue for an abolition of those two terms.

That said, we have different functions within the body. But the ministry of a pastor is no more important than the ministry of the people.

Most of the time I hear the words clergy and laity used, it is to set up a distinction that the clergy are more important, and the laity are poor uneducated idiots who must hang onto every word of these seminary types! :-)

I could go on and share my thoughts on the validity of ordination, but I won't!! hahahaha.

In regards to Hybels, calling is always more important than giftedness.

See you in a couple of weeks Jason.


Holy Pirate said...

Following up on Mike's comment...

I have some qualms about referring to my people as "volunteers." Perhaps it's a matter of different word choices being used in larger, staff-led churches and smaller churches with only a single full-time person on staff (the pastor), but I suspect it's more than that.

I assume there's an argument made that it makes ministry less "threatening" to give it the same name as the work people do cleaning cages at the animal shelter, being a room mom at school, or coaching a little league team. But at the same time I think the church igoes overboard sometimes in allowing people to slide in and out of the church setting with no sense of distictiveness. And calling lay people doing Kingdom work under the auspices of their local congregation "volunteers" diminishes that distinctiveness.

I think many of the people in my church would be offended if they were referred to as "volunteers," as if they were working for someone else on a part-time, temporary basis. My people have a sense of ownership, by which I mean they feel responsible for the church. When they do work for the church they are working for themselves because they are the church. They are not volunteering any more than a father "babysits" for his own children.

Yes, the buck stops with the pastor on some things, but pastors come and go in the UMC (another difference between my church and Willow Creek). The people in the pews form the identity and continuity for the congregation, and calling them "volunteers" would minimize their role.

In communication with the congregation I refer to the Church Council as our Lay Leadership Team, and to the members of the various task groups and committees as Team Members. We have a Lay Leadership Committee that nominates persons for election to leadership positions, so there is precedent for using the "Lay" adjective in describing the role. In some situations it gives the pastor plausible deniability when hard decisions are made and he needs to be able to be pastoral to folks who wanted decisions to turn out another way.

Jason Woolever said...

I think the word LAOS (people) is the word we get laity from. My Greek isn't very good either. But I think that's right.

Interesting comment about calling being more important than giftedness. It that is true that would explain why there seem to be a lot more of us called to ministry than given the gifts to pull it off effectively.

Jason Woolever said...

hey pie man,
the word volunteer is an interesting choice, I agree. I'm not sure i buy into it completely. I think its their attempt to be honest with people, rather than make them feel like they're obligated to serve.