Outsourcing Sanctification

There's a popular trend in business today called outsourcing. The concept is simple: reduce the cost of labor by hiring contractors to perform the everyday, overhead tasks associated with running a business (i.e., staffing call centers, IT support, accounting, etc.). The controversial practice has its proponents and detractors, but it also presents Christians with a useful comparison.

In the Christian life, we have a job to perform too. We are called to serve God. Paul makes the case clearly in Romans 12:1 when he writes:

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.

As we endeavor to serve God, we will inevitably experience tests and trials and stress and challenges. We must press ourselves to prepare for service through study of Scripture and exercising godly disciplines, and we will grow spiritually in the process of serving others. This is one of the best kept secrets of serving in ministry: the more you serve, the faster you mature as a Christian.

Since the work of serving others in the church is difficult and burdensome - both for the congregation and the pastoral staff that must oversee the volunteers - many churches have elected to take the easier route of outsourcing most of their internal service needs. If you attend a medium or large church congregation, then you have probably noticed most of the people who serve the church by sweeping the floors and mowing the grass and performing building repairs, etc. are not volunteers taken from among the church congregation. In fact, they may not attend the church or even be professing Christians themselves. Instead, they are contractors or staff hired from outside the church and paid from church funds.

Every time a contractor is paid to perform a service for a church, an opportunity is lost for a member of the congregation to step forward and offer their spiritual service of worship to the body of Christ and to the Lord Himself. Undoubtedly, the paid contractor is the easier and more efficient solution, but is it the job of the pastoral staff to run an efficient, well-oiled machine or to grow the spiritual maturity of the congregation?

When churches hire staff to perform even the most basic duties of the church, they eliminate the need for church members to lift a finger in the operations of the church. As that church grows, more and more of the basic operations of the church will be outsourced rather than placed on the shoulders of the congregation. Not only has the church outsourced the work, it has also outsourced the opportunity for sanctification within the body of believers.

Outsourcing these duties may be easy, but it is contrary to the mission of the church, which is to provide a training ground where spiritual grow and sanctification can take place. Coordinating and managing these volunteers will undoubtedly place additional burdens on the pastoral staff, but these are the burdens pastors are supposed to bear in their own service of ministring to the Lord's flock. No wonder Paul calls it the "hard work" of ministry.

The staff's role is to exhort and guide and lead the congregation in assuming the duties and responsibilities of maintaining a building, performing the clerical work of the church, caring for the grounds, etc. The pastoral staff should inspire and encourage every church member to get involved while providing the necessary oversight and coordination. If the staff does all the work (or hires outsiders), these opportunities to minister are lost.

We don't have to look far to see the negative effects of this trend within the church today. Many congregations have been reduced to auditoriums filled with passive participants who see the Christian lifestyle as little more than attending a once-a-week service. Any potential interest in serving is squelched in light of the army of paid staff or contractors scurrying to meet every need. The message leaders send to the congregation is clear: we don't need your participation...just send us your money.

Consequently, the church that relies on outside labor rather than congregational volunteers not only stunts spiritual growth, but it also burdens the congregation with financial obligations. As a church grows and continues to outsource its labor requirements, it forces the congregation to pay for what it's not asked to do. Over time, this pattner creates resentment and apathy while directing the focus of the staff toward fund raising.

Looking back to the early church, members were called to contribute financially, of course, but the purpose in their giving was to meet the needs of the church's own members or to support other churches in need. It was never to pay outsiders to perform the basic work of serving church needs. If there was a work to be done, the church sought volunteers from among its members (see Acts 6).

I encourage pastors and leaders to resist this trend in their own churches. Don't outsource your congregation's sanctification. Don't burden your congregation with the costs of replacing their lost labor with outside workers. When a need presents itself, make an appeal for volunteers. If no one answers the call, then let the need remain unfilled. If this becomes a pattern, then ask yourself why your congregation is unwilling to shoulder the burdens of the fellowship. It may reflect a more serious spiritual or maturity problem in the life of that body that has been masked by a reliance on outsourced labor.

Remember, the point of pastor ministry is to grow the people spiritually, not numerically (that's the role of evangelistic ministry), and you will accomplish that growth most effectively by teaching God's word and calling the flock to serve the Lord and the body of Christ self-sacrificially.

Most importantly, place your trust in the Lord to answer the needs of His church. He will raise up volunteers for the right work and according to His timing. Conversely, He will leave needs unmet when they are not according to His desire. We should respect those outcomes, recognizing that not every church body is intended to reach megachurch size.