Let’s try out a phrase: “spectator Christians.”
The trend toward spectatorship is a culture-wide phenomenon seeping into the church. Sports used to be something we did; now it’s something we watch. Music used to be a reason to get together with neighbors and have fun; now it’s something our headphones use to keep us separate from others. Christianity is, to my eyes, similarly and increasingly becoming a spectator event.
The bigger the average church grows, the higher the church’s “production standards” become, the more the leaders inadvertently present themselves as professionals who singularly possess all the most important bits of ministry, the more we create the right culture for spectator Christians. We implicitly teach Christians to participate by watching, by receiving ministry rather than giving it. How easy it is to feed this little monster inside of us! Perhaps some don’t want to sacrifice the time and energy needed to do spiritual ministry. Maybe others don’t feel worthy or able to do such ministry. No worries…just leave it to the professionals.
While I don’t believe churches are intentionally alienating Christians and encouraging them to sit on the sidelines of ministry, I think it’s happening nonetheless. My observation teaches me that it’s just as possible in small churches as in large ones. If we aren’t continually teaching and cultivating the Biblical model of an every-member ministry, we will naturally atrophy into a leadership-only model, failing Paul’s vision of the church as a body which desperately needs each and every member to do their part.
Signs of spectator Christians in a spectator church might include such an extreme elevation of pulpit ministry that everything else is a grossly distant second; no visible opportunities for regular churchgoers to become involved in spiritual ministry to others; no celebration of the unseen spiritual ministry going on behind the scenes; no training for mentoring, teaching or counseling; little emphasis on the value of private and corporate prayer.
Alternatively, a church that is fighting the always-tempting spectator model will highly value the preaching of the Word but not so much that non-preachers feel like second-rate citizens. Rather the pulpit ministry will itself cultivate and develop other spiritual ministries. This church will develop and celebrate various ways for each member to find real and vital ways to exercise their spiritual gifts for the good of the body. Christians will feel important and needed because they are.
Our congregation is prayerfully preparing to elect new elders this fall. We have taken pains to explain to the church family that more elders doesn’t mean less ministry for the members but more. And we are seeking to make sure the elders have the same vision, because this type of church will require more from the elders of the congregation rather than less. Shepherding people into using their gifts in ministry is often more complicated and difficult than just doing the ministry ourselves.
So if you find yourselves on the sidelines, jump in the game. Pray for and seek ways to bless others spiritually, whether through evangelism or counseling or prayer or teaching or encouragement. If you find yourself leading a congregation, understand that the health of your congregation is partly dependent on whether the parts of the body are getting enough exercise and use.