It’s common for churches to adopt a top-down approach to ministry. In this model, ministry is rooted in paid staff. If there is a need, someone is hired to meet it. This mindset stretches far beyond hiring the necessary pastoral staff and flows into every aspect of ministry. Children, youth, and childcare workers are all paid – anyone who does anything receives compensation.
Churches that adopt this approach usually have multiple part-time employees, have a hard time finding volunteers, struggle with effective communication, have a pastoral staff that is always busy with non-pastoral responsibilities, and they have an unhealthy (and unbiblical) view of service and ministry in the church.
The better approach is the bottom-up mindset. This approach is rooted in volunteers. In these churches, members have a healthy desire to serve and meet needs. This is partly because it is how they have been taught and trained. Ministries are only started if there are enough volunteers to run the ministry.
Churches that adopt this approach have fewer paid staff, root their ministry in discipleship, and have a healthier and more biblical view of service and ministry in the church.
There are several reasons the bottom-up approach to ministry is far superior to the top-down model.
It Requires Discipleship and Equipping to Take Place.
While almost every pastor will say that it’s not the job of the pastor to do all the ministry but to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12), very few pastors are involved in equipping others.
The truth is that a lack of volunteers is a symptom. It signifies a lack of biblical understanding of church ministry, which indicates that there might be a lack of biblical teaching about church ministry.
For a church to root its ministry in volunteers, discipleship and equipping must be a priority – which is what biblical ministry does.
It Forces a Church to be Intentional with its Ministry Offerings.
When ministry is rooted in volunteers, the church can’t just do events, start programs, and add ministries on a whim. It forces the church to be intentional, which is healthy. It forces the church to plan and prioritize what it chooses to do, which is healthy. It forces the church to communicate well, which is healthy. Churches that struggle with intentionality, usually struggle in all these other areas.
It Better Models the Early Church in Acts.
The early church in Acts and in the first few centuries that followed did not root ministry in paid staff but in volunteers. The members lived in the community together and served each other. The idea of hiring someone to do what someone in the church could volunteer to do was a foreign concept.
It Sets a Better Example for Children and Youth.
Children and youth who grow up in a church where they see that all the ministry is done by people who are paid, will only get involved as adults if they are paid. While this mindset is wrong, the blame doesn’t belong on the church members. They are simply modeling what they have seen and have passively been taught.
It Expands Ministry Opportunities.
Churches that only hire “professionals” to do ministry limit themselves to the giftedness of the staff. They end up missing out on ministries that could be tied to the unique giftedness of the members who attend a particular church.
Churches do need paid staff. They do need individuals who have been trained for pastoral ministry. However, churches that root more of their ministry in volunteers are healthier, can do more ministry, have a greater focus on discipleship and equipping, set a better example for the youth, and are more biblical in their approach to ministry.