Book Review: Doing Church as a Team, by Wayne Cordeiro

Review
10.05.2001

Wayne Cordeiro’s book, Doing Church as a Team, stands in the long tradition of emphasizing “every-member ministry” in the local church.  The idea dates back to the 1970’s and the works of Robert Coleman and later Bill Hull, both of whom helped to popularize the idea that the church’s ministry is to be done by every member of the church, ordained or not.  The church should not cede ministry only to those pastors or bishops who are able to give full-time attention to it, but the members themselves should consider themselves to be the main conduit of ministry in the church.  The idea rests on clearly biblical principles and on the Reformation principle of the priesthood of the believers.  Certainly in the Bible believers are depicted as being themselves the body of Christ, a nation of priests, and a caring, ministering assembly of God’ people.  The Reformation was in one respect a battle to retrieve just that idea—the Roman church and its ordained priests were not the spigot of grace to which the laity must come and drink.  On the contrary, God’s grace would be mediated through His people as they functioned together as a body, preaching the Word, edifying one another and building up the body of Christ.  Cordeiro’s book stands squarely in this stream of thought.  His aim is to press upon the church the importance of every-member ministry and encourage the church to work together as a team rather than placing the expectations of ministry on the shoulders of the ordained.

Cordeiro writes that ministry is not to be confined to a group of specially selected “professional laymen.”  Rather, it is the job of everyone who is a member of the church.  It is “the divine responsibility of every single one of us.” Laymen as well as ordained ministers are commanded to do the work of the ministry; what that ministry is for a certain person will be determined how God has gifted that person for service.  God has a plan for everything, he writes, and the layman is no exception.  If God has placed a person in the church, then He has also gifted that person in specific ways for specific ministries.  The job of the church member is to discover what those gifts are, patiently wait for the right opportunity, and begin to use those gifts for the good of the ministry.  By considering their desires, experience, spiritual gifts, individual style, growth phase of life, and natural abilities (DESIGN), church members will be able to find a ministry that will both serve the church, further the spread of the gospel, and bring them great joy.  Pastors, for their part, are to facilitate this kind of ministry among the laity.  Throughout the book, they are the ones who cast vision, build the team, and equip the members, but the ministry is to be done by the church members.  Pastors and leaders are to “equip God’s people to do the work of the ministry,” to “mend the nets” of the laity.

Every-member ministry and the ideas around it walk a fine line between the helpful and the utterly devastating.  So it is with Wayne Cordeiro’s book.  His ideas are not new ones, and they do not escape the problems that are inherent to an every-member model.  On the other hand, neither does he neglect those ideas of every-member ministry that have been integral to the church’s rescue from Romanism.  The Bible clearly teaches that every Christian should be ministering to others in the church—bearing their burdens, practicing hospitality, sharing with those in need—in short, loving one another.  We cannot neglect this truth without losing the essence of what it means to be a Christian community and falling back into a sort of pre-Reformation sacerdotalism.  Cordeiro sounds a warning against this danger, writing that Christians’ tendency to leave ministry to a certain select group of ordained men has led to the rise of “consumer Christians”(p.37) who selfishly seek out where they will be happiest and treat the church as a feeding trough.  This is certainly a real danger, and pastors should take care not to build the ministry of the church on their personalities, their gifts, and their abilities.  Instead, they should encourage the members to build the church’s ministry on their care and nurture, indeed their love, for one another.  Cordeiro is also right to say that the church will always be more effective if its members are reaching out to the lost.  Evangelism is not done primarily by sitting in place and hoping the world shows.  It is not the sole job of those who are professional ministers in the church.  On the contrary, evangelism is done by church members who are convinced that their jobs and positions in the world are only conduits for the spread of the gospel.  Their primary calling in life is to example and share the gospel with a dying world.  “In every city, every town and every country, you will find full-time ministers, differently gifted and differently made, in every business and vocation. . . .  God salts the earth with His ministers, giving them gifts with which to influence their friends, families and coworkers . . .”(p.40)  That is an important and helpful truth.

That said, I believe that Cordeiro’s emphasis on every-member ministry has led him to neglect and somewhat relegate the importance of the preaching of the Word.  There is no other more important ministry in the church, and it is through preaching that God creates His people and builds the Body of Christ.  Certainly church members should use their gifts and passions for the good of the kingdom, but none of those ministries will ever be as important and vital to the life of the church as preaching.  On pages 58-60, Cordeiro recounts watching an outreach production in his church that consisted, it seems, of several different church members using their gifts in various ways.  He watched each of the members exercising his talent through the piano, the drums, singing, or even stage coordination, and concludes for each one that all these different people were “preaching the gospel the best way they knew how.”  At the end of the program, Cordeiro took the stage to preach the gospel.  He concludes, “Yes, through speaking I too was preaching the gospel the best way I knew how.”  Of course there is some truth in this.  I have no doubt that all those people were ministering to those who were watching that evening.  But preaching, finally, is preaching.  It is the verbal communication of God’s Word to listening people.  And as wonderful as other ministries can be to open doors for the gospel, it is the preaching of the Word that God will finally use to convert His people.  “God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.”(I Cor. 1:21) “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ.”(Rom. 10:17)  Finally Paul is not talking about a musical number, or a work of art, or any other act of ministry.  He is talking about the verbally proclaimed Word of God.  Piano ministry is not on a par with preaching.  Stage coordination is not on a par with preaching.  God may bless those things in some way, but He has over and over again in Scripture made it known that He will create and sustain His people by the proclamation of His Word.  In exhorting our members to minister to one another, we should never lead them to believe that any other ministry—whether musical or artistic or any other form of service—will normally be used by God in the same way or to the same degree as the preaching of His Word.

Another concern that I have with Cordeiro’s book is his assumption that a person’s ministry in the church must be determined by that person’s perceived giftedness and desire.  “Link your gifts with your passion,” he writes, “and you will begin to play a powerful role in the Body of Christ. . . .  When you are operating in your gift and passion, you will experience maximum effectiveness with a minimum of weariness.  On the other hand, when you are not operating in your gift and passion, you will experience maximum weariness with a minimum of effectiveness.”(p.51)  That is simply not true.  It assumes that effectiveness in ministry, and even the obligation to do that ministry, is determined by our desire to do it. But how often in Scripture do we read of people who were called of God to do ministries that were outside their desires (Jeremiah!) and even outside their giftedness (stuttering Moses was called to speak to Pharaoh!).  I wonder if the organizing principle for the church should not be giftedness and desire, but rather the need of the church.  Often there are times when ministry needs to be done, and a person who may not be passionate about that particular job will recognize the need of the church and pick up the mantle.  God often calls people to do things that are not their passion.  It cannot be healthy to teach church members that they should spend their time wondering what they are specially gifted to do in the church.  That kind of thinking can lead to a debilitating self-centeredness.  Instead, church members should be taught to look outside themselves, to recognize the needs of the church, and be willing to those jobs faithfully and energetically, even when they do not consider them to be either their giftedness or their passion.

Cordeiro’s version of every-member ministry changes little of what has been said in earlier years about it.  The emphases he has are useful, and church leaders should take care to cultivate a passion for ministry in their members—not toward fulfilling what they themselves conceive to be their own passions and gifts, but toward meeting the needs of the church.  Finally, in doing that, we should be careful never to think that we can encourage those people by telling them that their individual ministries are as important as preaching.  To do that is to evacuate the proclamation of the Word, the very means by which God creates His people, of the all-encompassing importance that it is given in Scripture.

By:
Greg Gilbert

Greg Gilbert is the Senior Pastor of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. You can find him on Twitter at @greggilbert.