It was a gem, because the title (and key phrase) captured something vital—that the action in church takes place not just out the front but in the cheap seats; that there is a ministry not just of the few but of the pew.
I think the article also resonated because this is so often not our experience. It is disappointingly common for people to come to church on Sunday and feel (and act) more like spectators than players, like consumers rather than contributors. Church, for too many people, is a largely personal experience, where ‘what I get out of it’ is the key factor.
However, church by its very nature is not a personal experience, but a corporate one. And according to the New Testament, the key attitude we should bring with us to church is love: that consistent desire and determination to build up (or ‘edify’) others and seek their welfare. On the basis of love, we should come to church more ready to serve and build than to be entertained or inspired (see 1 Cor 12-14 or Heb 10:24-25).
Of course, many churches have sought to encourage this attitude of loving service by providing as many opportunities as possible for people to get involved at church—by organizing morning tea, operating the PowerPoint, setting up the sound, handing out the newssheets, and so on.
But these (dare I say it) ‘trellis’ jobs, as important as they each may be, are not what Col was talking about in his classic article. What he really meant by the ‘ministry of the pew’ was the word ministry of encouragement that each Christian has towards others—a ministry that many would acknowledge in theory, but few put into practice. His article was brilliant, because it provided simple and obvious ways in which we could all make a start in this most basic of Christian ministries—from how we prepare to come to church, to what we do during the service, to how we interact with others afterwards over coffee.
Well it’s taken nearly 20 years, but we have at last managed to build on the simple but profound insights of Col’s article and produce a resource that can be used to train people in the how and why of the ‘ministry of the pew’. We decided to call it Six Steps to Loving Your Church. The title is a play on words (as so many of our titles seem to be!)—it’s how to love your church, not so much in the sense of ‘how to really enjoy or like or value your church’ but how to love the people all around you in church as you minister to them each Sunday.
Being part of our Six Steps series, it’s particularly designed for small groups, and has a mix of Bible discussion, video input and practical exercises and homework each week. The six sessions of the course cover subjects like:
- What are our own current attitudes towards church, and how are they expressed?
- What does the Bible say about the meaning and purpose of church?
- What does it mean in practical terms to ‘edify’ one another at church?
- How can all of us be active encouraging servants before, during and after church, rather than just consumers or spectators?
If you want your people to grasp how they could be agents of encouragement to those around them each Sunday, this is a very easy, practical and effective place to start. And the mind shift that happens—while in one sense very simple—can have profound effects. In one of the groups where we trialled the material, one member commented how much more meaningful and encouraging his morning tea conversations had become. His post-church chats were now focused not so much on small talk and the football, but on what the sermon was about and how he could be praying for the person he was talking with. They were focused, in other words, on mutual ministry and encouragement.
The new Six Steps to Loving Your Church program is available this week in print and DVD, and subscribers to GoThereFor.com can get access to all the material. In fact, to look at some samples and check out the content, visit gotherefor.com/course/ministry-of-the-pew.