The concept of shared ministry is in stark contrast to what most churches do today, which is to pay a pastor or priest to do the overwhelming bulk of serving, teaching, counseling and evangelism for a congregation. This article tackles both perceived and real problems related to church groups who perform ministry in this fashion.
Will not false doctrines be taught if "untrained" or non-ordained church members in a shared ministry situation are allowed to say whatever they want during church services?
No believer has perfect knowledge of the Bible. As the Apostle Paul admitted, we all "see through a glass darkly" (1Corinthians 13:12) when it comes to our understanding of God. It is certainly true that "regular" Church members, if allowed to speak during services, can and have expressed beliefs not founded on a true understanding of scripture.
Throughout history, however, the greatest damage to the church caused by false doctrines has come from the teachings of those considered in the ministry! Heresies are generally accepted sooner and spread faster when taught by a perceived credible source like a Pastor or Priest. Paul the apostle, in his final message to the leaders in the Ephesus church, warned of the chaos and damage that can come especially from those who are "ordained and trained" church leaders (Acts 20:17-19, 28-30).
Learning to discern between false and true teaching, regardless of where it comes from, is a very important part of the spiritual life of each believer.
Do not people want to identify with a group and ministry that is greater and bigger than they are? People should be able to identify with the larger body of believers who have obeyed God rather than followed men throughout history. Some of those who obeyed God had less knowledge than we do while some probably had more. Throughout history, God has worked with individuals, not organizations.
Are local, unaffiliated congregations many times unstable? Do not they frequently break up? This is sometimes true. In other cases, they remain stable and grow - sometimes for many decades. People are forced to examine exactly what they believe and why. The stakes are real - they are going to lose some friends. They need to be able to say why they are doing what they are doing. If they make the right decision, they can be joyful that they are suffering for righteousness (Matthew 5:10 - 12, Acts 5:41, 1Peter 4:13 - 16).
When people make the wrong decision and later realize it, it is a great opportunity to learn repentance and to seek the forgiveness of those whom they have wronged.
Problems of Shared Ministry
Do not some people come to services and want to teach, under the guise that it is their 'ministry,' but they have little to say that edifies anyone? This problem certainly does occur. Some people will try to teach, dogmatically, a different doctrine every week. Others will want to talk too much about themselves or largely irrelevant ideas. This is an opportunity to make Christ's instructions in Matthew 18:15 - 17 and Galatians 6:1 work. Anyone noticing the problem can solve it. If it cannot be solved privately, it can eventually be brought up in the congregation. Very few people will continue to take up time in a congregation where they are being openly, but lovingly rebuked for doing it.
What happens when a person continually tries to teach a doctrine to the congregation which most have studied and rejected? This is worse than the previous case because the person may continue trying to teach it even when everyone else is obviously opposed to it.
"After the first and second admonition, reject a man who is teaching heresy" (Titus 3:10, HBFV)
The congregation will likely have to get together and tell the person that they are no longer welcomed in the group if they choose to continue teaching against that which most members have already settled in their minds. If this is not done, there is a real risk of the group failing as members choose not to attend the fellowship.
What can be done when church services turn into doctrinal arguments and the unpleasantness outweighs the value of the teaching? The apostle Paul taught the following.
"What is it then, brethren? When you assemble together, each of you has a psalm, has a doctrine, has a language, has a revelation, or has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification" (1Corinthians 14:26, HBFV)
Teaching edifies. Questions and "reading scriptures that appear to disagree with the teaching" edify. However, if people are simply repeating the same words - just louder and more emphatically, then it is an argument. Arguments do not edify much. If necessary, they should be continued outside of services.
What can be done when a shared ministry congregation drifts into problems like eccentricities and becomes lukewarm? This occurs when people agree too much! A congregation like this has been together for a long time and has drawn very precise conclusions about exactly what the Bible says on numerous topics and becomes intolerant to others who understand anything differently.
These conclusions may by a congregation may be erroneous or true, but the danger is an emphasis on knowledge rather than bearing fruit. A common cause is a congregation with a few teachers who agree and other members who accept almost anything those teachers teach. This is usually coupled with the lack of visitors and new believers attending. A congregation in this state needs a wake-up message to begin concentrating on a ministry of serving others, rather than their own personal knowledge.