As pastors, we are right to prioritize and emphasize public proclamation of the gospel and carefully planned and structured times for discipleship and counseling. Most pastors appreciate structure and ample time for preparation. We like the security of the pulpit and our study, but if we are to do the necessary work of “bearing one another’s burdens” to “fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2), then we must be willing to work in unplanned moments outside of our set structures.
If we are to be God’s men for God’s people, we must be willing to get into the lives of people, and it is often not as hard as it seems. I have found great opportunity to counsel, disciple, love, care, edify, and even rebuke during informal times. The “edges” of the church are great places to apply the Word of God as a pastor. The “edges” or the “periphery” of the church include places like hallways, parking lots, sidewalks, foyers, and nurseries. There have been times in my life when my most important ministry on any given day took place in a hallway or a quiet corner after service ended.
I am sure that many of you reading this have had similar experiences—times when you were able to minister to a grieving widow over a cup of coffee or give a single parent a break by taking her kids to the playground for fifteen minutes. Perhaps you have shown care to couple struggling in their marriage by allowing them time away from their children to speak with their LifeGroup leader or loved on a college student by taking them to lunch or dinner after a service. Regardless of the situation, we have all experienced fruitful ministry for which we did not plan. These times of unplanned ministry, however, can only take place if we plan to take advantage of the edges and prepare for the periphery. Here are a few steps you can take to plan for the periphery and so “fulfill the law of Christ.”
- Pray. Pray that God would make you sensitive to the needs of others within your congregation. Pray that he would show you those who need extra care or attention and that he would give you the necessary grace to minister before or after a service.
- Observe. Open your eyes to the needs around you. It is very tempting to turn our heads when we see a need, but we need to engage rather than avoid. God has called us to shepherd His people. We have a responsibility to show godly care and concern.
- Drive Separate Cars. My wife and I have young children that need to go to bed. On Wednesday nights and Sunday nights we usually drive separate cars so that one of us can stay behind to minister if an unexpected opportunity arises.
- Prepare Your Kids. As mentioned above, we have young children who need sleep. That means that we make them take naps on Wednesday afternoons so that Angela and I have time to minister on Wednesday nights after service without feeling pressure to hurry home. We could get them in bed on time every Wednesday, but if we do, we might be robbing someone else of needed ministry (or robbing ourselves). It is not fun making them take a nap, but we believe that ministry on the edges is worth some aggravation on our end (and they don’t mind getting to stay up late occasionally).
- Plan Your Meals. Maybe you need to eat before service so that you will have time to hang around after service. Perhaps you need to delay your meal so that you will have an excuse to spend time with someone from your church at a local restaurant.
- Get Out of Your Office. My office is my favorite place on the campus of our church, but it is a terrible place to find people in need. Walk through the children’s areas, speak to the senior adult classes, and hang out near the coffee pot. By moving among your people, you will show them that you care and are available and you will discover opportunities for needed ministry. This is especially important if the church is experiencing change. People need to know that the man who is leading change has not forgotten them.
- Support Your Wife. My wife is great around the edges. She does not like to stand in front of people, but she excels at caring for people one-on-one in unplanned environments. Often, the best way that I can ensure that ministry happens around the edges is to help her plan for our kids to be cared for. Sometimes that means taking them to my office or enlisting someone else in the church to care for them. Regardless of how you do it, make sure that you prepare for your wife to minister on the edges as well.
These are few steps that I have found helpful as I seek to minister around the edges of God’s church, especially during times when the church has faced difficulty or when we have been implementing change.
How are you preparing to minister more effectively in these areas?