No church can survive solely upon the labors of its pastors. No church can thrive when the expectation is that all ministry must be formal and must originate from the front of the room. No church can remain healthy when it falls to the elders to give and the members to consume. Rather, the work of ministry within a local church is the privilege and responsibility of each of the people who makes that church their own.
One of the most important ministries that any Christian can engage in is also one of the most unheralded. One of the ministries that is key to the functioning of the local church and to advancement in the Christian life is also one of the most overlooked. It is the simplest of all ministries and the least formal, a ministry that each of us is equipped to carry out. It is the ministry of being just a little bit further along.
There is a place in the church and a place in life for expertise and formal training. But there is a much wider place for simple commitment and involvement. The great majority of the help people need as they navigate life’s trials, the great bulk of the counsel people seek as they encounter life’s questions, does not require the input of experts, but merely the attention of someone who knows God and who knows his Word. They do not need someone who has access to the original languages or who exposits Scripture at a post-graduate level. They do not need someone who holds credentials from a Christian counseling organization or who has dedicated a whole lifetime to studying theology. These things are good and have their place, but they are not often truly necessary.
What most people need and long for as they face trials and encounter questions is simply the dedicated attention of someone who is a little bit further along, the listening ear and gentle voice of someone who is a few steps ahead on the path of life, or the path of ministry, or the path of suffering, or the path of parenting. Most are merely seeking someone who will informally mentor them from the perspective of their own successes and failures, their own experiences of good and bad, the godly wisdom they have accumulated along the way.
What’s so wonderful about this ministry is that we can all take it up, for each of us is just a little bit further along than someone else. The father with toddlers is a little bit further along than the father with an infant, the mother who lost a child ten years ago to the one whose child has only just been laid in the grave. The Christian teen has taken a few more steps along the path of life than the child, the Christian senior than the one in her forties. Each of them can prayerfully look back and extend a helping hand, a word of advice, a prayer of intercession, to a person following along behind. Each of them can take up this ministry of blessing and encouragement, of Word and prayer, of time and attention. For they have the one key credential: they are a little bit further along.