At the beginning of Methodism in America, there were few pastors. Most were not seminary trained or well-educated. They rode circuits visiting town after town, church after church, not stopping for long because there was always another destination on their journey. The churches saw their pastor very rarely, perhaps once a month, perhaps once a quarter, at least once a year.
Can you imagine that? What would it be like to see your pastor only four times a year? How can a church survive that? Yet, they did. Many churches served by circuit riding preachers are still around today. How did they do it? Who preached the Word? Who taught Bible study? Who visited and prayed with the sick? Who taught the children? Who did evangelism? Who encouraged people to live out their faith?
Who did the ministry of the church while the pastor was riding the circuit? The people did. The people preached, taught, prayed, evangelized, planned, welcomed, and encouraged. They did the work of the church because they WERE the church. They knew that they had been brought together by Christ to work together for his glory and for building up of the body of Christ.
There were lay preachers who took to the pulpit while the pastor was not there. These sermons often served as Bible study, times for people to hear the Word of God and reflect on its meaning and importance.
There were class leaders who met weekly with their small groups for accountability and encouragement. These were groups made up of all different kinds of people who prayed for one another and encouraged one another to put their faith into practice every day.
There were other leaders who led ministry to the poor, the sick, the newcomer, the grieving, the unemployed. They saw needs in their community and they met them. They found ways for the church to reach out with the love of Christ and make a real difference in people’s lives.
I wonder how we lost that. I know we have many people who serve the church in many ways. We have dedicated and devoted people who are willing to be on committees, cook meals, make banners, and so much more. But it still seems as though something is missing. I get nervous every year when I begin thinking about vacation. How can I be gone for a whole week? Who will preach? Who will visit the sick? What happens if there is a funeral?
In my opinion, two things have brought us from where we were to where we are. We pastors have convinced ourselves that the church could not possibly survive without us. We are supposed to be doing everything. We tell ourselves, “I have been called to preach the Word, visit the sick, take care of people. I must do it ALL!”
In that same vein, the laity have asked for more professionals. We want to pay ministers to do the ministry for us: youth ministers, music ministers, children’s ministers, seniors ministers, and the list goes on.
We all have forgotten, at one time or another, that we are the church. The pastor is not the only minister in the church. The staff are not the only ministers in the church. The church is full of people called to ministry. Everyday, ordinary people are called to be ministers, teaching Sunday school, preaching the Word, calling on the sick and homebound, sharing the Good News with neighbors and friends.
Where do you hear God calling you to be in ministry? How is Christ asking you to serve? Where will you be the church in our community right now?