The Dangerous Consequences of Outsourcing in the Local Church

Tim Brister —  December 21, 2012 — 9 Comments

professionalEarlier this week, I wrote about a dream of mine, namely the insourcing of the local church. Before I delve into an extended discussion on insourcing, I want to draw attention to the consequences outsourcing in the local church. I think the philosophy of outsourcing has long been the default thinking of the local church with little attention given to the dangerous consequences it produces. If we are going to see any real Great Commission advance in North America, we must begin with the way we think that determines how we operate.

Reflecting on this in recent months, I believe there are four main components at play here: philosophy, process, assessment, and outcome (leading to result). The philosophy determines the process; the process governs the assessment; the assessment shapes the outcome; the outcome leads to consequences that define the culture of the church. For visual learners, here’s a simple flow of these components [please excuse my limited graphic skills!].

Philosophies of Leadership

The tangible outworking of the Great Commission is expressed in disciple-making, leadership development, and church planting. If disciple-making is outsourced, then so will leadership development (which is simply an intensified version of disciple-making). If leadership development is outsourced, then church planting will never become a reality for local churches. Churches will not be able to plant churches, and the Great Commission will continue to be marginalized and left to denominations, parachurch organizations, and networks. As much as we want to see movement happen, I don’t believe movement is possible with the current system of outsourcing due to the following consequences.

RECRUITING

What happens when disciple-making is not the norm and leadership development does not exist? The answer is that leadership must be resourced outside the local church, from the process of recruiting.  There are numerous systems for recruiting, including the following numerous feeders: seminaries, Bible colleges, denominational offices, church staffing websites, state paper classifieds, etc. Because outsourcing is predominant, the primary (if not exclusive) place we look for new leadership is recruiting from without, not farming from within. Churches are committed to the process of recruiting because they have bought into the philosophy of outsourcing.

RESUME/DIPLOMA

When it comes to a recruitment process, there has to be some criteria to assess the best qualified candidate. Sometimes it is a personnel committee, “pastor search” task force, or appointed elders. Those who are being recruited from without are “candidates” who are “candidating” for the leadership position. The filters of assessment in the recruitment usually begin with the resume and educational qualifications (diplomas) and proceeds to other things like personality profiling, previous experience, references, etc. These filters are necessary because the recruitment process is based on the assumption that you know virtually nothing about the person you are looking to assimilate. To go from strangers to leaders, the sense of respect and trust must be earned through being exceptional, at least on paper. In the end, the best and most qualified candidate is chosen for the new leadership position in the church.

PROFESSIONALIZATION

The outcome from the assessment process is the professionalization of the ministry. The outsourcing that led to looking for leadership outside the church has now led to an outsourcing from within the church. In other words, the ministry is for every member in the church; ministry is for the professionals. It is the job of the church to leave it to those most qualified to do the work. The leaders are exceptionally gifted and eminently qualified according to the assessment put in place through the recruitment process. The disconnect between the Ph.D on the platform and the new believer in the pew is not simply positional; it is philosophical and practical. This is the unintended consequence of recruiting the most qualified in order to engender respect and trust for the position they will hold–the position will undermine the practice of the people to fulfill the purpose of the church.

MARGINALIZATION OF MISSION

The consequence of outsourcing is that folks within the church with neither discover pathways of greater usefulness nor be able to relate to their leaders without similarly following course according to this philosophy (training and equipping outside the church, degrees and diplomas, etc.). The consensus driving the culture is, “Aren’t our pastors great? I could never do what they are doing, but I am so glad they are doing it!” On the one hand, there is genuine appreciation for the exceptional nature of their giftedness. On the other hand, there is a strong conviction they could never do what they are doing. The result is that the mission of the church is marginalized, and imitation is replaced with adoration. Over time, the culture that is created demands more from the leadership and less from the membership because the competency to do the work is measured by an assessment process that requires training and equipping not available through the local church. Pathways are not necessary and member aspirations are redirected to outsourcing channels already in place to perpetuate the process.

Now, there’s obvious other factors involved here, but for the most part, this is what I see happening (and has been happening for as long as I’ve been alive). To see a significant shift from the philosophy of outsourcing to insourcing would require profound rethinking of the systems and structures in evangelical life that have long been established and normative. Honestly, I think it will take years, perhaps decades to see such a change.

But we have to start somewhere.

I want to do what I can to spread a vision for insourcing the local church because it provides the philosophical framework to facilitate the expressions of the Great Commission of which the local church is solely responsible. In a later post, I will explain why I believe bottom half of the diagram is the course correction we need to take, in implementing insourcing for the ultimate outcome of maximizing mission in the local church. Let me hear your thoughts, and join me in wrestling through these issues for cause of Great Commission advance in our generation!

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  • Butch Horton

    It seems as if many para church groups are doing things that should be within the local church body. Could this be because so many churches fail to involve average church attendee in the ministry of the church?

    • http://timmybrister.com Timmy Brister

      Butch,

      Indeed I think this is the case, but it is more than a failure to implement “every member ministry” (though that is certainly a key point). I believe there are numerous underlying issues, but I would say that principally and most philosophically the default to outsourcing (look outside the local church rather than inside) is tops.

      • Butch Horton

        Here at my church most of our staff either grew up in our church or progressed from one ministerial position to another as openings came up. We have for years placed a very strong emphasis on discipleship and missions but have tried to start a formal training system within the church to raise up preachers but have been unable to sustain it because of funding and a lack of staff with enough time to keep up with the regular ministry of the church as well as the formal training. When Br Paul Washer attempted to lead this endeavor he found it require to much time away from mission work and speaking engagements. We have many church plants throughout the country that have called many of the young men who were trained in this schooling but most of them were received a lot of their most important training from serving in the small group classes at church. Most of our mission work is a direct result the teaching and ownership of our small groups.

  • http://fromtheunknown.wordpress.com Terry Lange

    A great read! This is a subject that no one has ever really addressed before. I think the biggest danger in a church is the lack of training and development of leadership from within. I am currently in a church that whenever there is a vacancy within the staff, instead of looking within , they always look outside. This sends a bad message to those in the church especially anyone who had completed formal training for ministry.

  • D.T.

    Tim,

    I completely agree with your assessment of and statements about outsourcing. However, there ar a few dynamics that i think we should walk through to determine how we can best fit “real world” into this issue.

    1. Too many leaders – the church that I serve and am currently on staff on suffers from “too many” leaders. this is not due to us really cultivating leaders but the fact that we are near a seminary as well as are apart of a group of churches that tend to draw alot of potential pastors from the outside. So we run into the issue of not being able to effectively deploy these pastors due to more logistical issues such as funding. We are working on ways to effectively deploy these men in lay ministry however we are still puzzled by the issue of “turning” away guys because we don’t have the time nor the resources to deploy them in vocational ministry. So how would you handle a situation in this “insourcing” where you have a guy that is obviously called, gifted, and should be in pastoral ministry but dont have the “space”? the logical solution would be to encourage him to pursue other opportunities outside of this church but that then feeds into this “outsourcing” situation. would love to hear your thoughts on that.
    2. Not enough leaders – it is all too common for a smaller rural church truly not have a qualified elder who has the qualifications (biblical, not professional), calling, and competencies to lead a church. what say you then? do we consolidate congregations? that would be the only thought that would come to mind when I have thought about a possible solution.

    again, I love the article and think it is of the utmost importance to “insource”, but in practicality, both in experience, and in hearing about situations, I have seen these two issues arise.

    • http://fromtheunknown.wordpress.com Terry Lange

      I think that is a great idea of being honest if you do not have the resources, time, etc. Do you think that the reason churches or pastors do not do this is because they are fesrful or turning anyone away? Rather than being honest and straightforward, they in essence contribute to the frustration of the church member who is gifted and called but not being used to their fullest potential.

  • Fletch F. Fletch

    This is very good. I wonder how you think the church and seminary relationship should change?

  • http://reformedreactions.blogspot.com Jim Pemberton

    Merry Christmas, Tim. I agree that insourcing is what churches should be about. I think the reason we have an ingrained outsourcing trend among Western churches is because the overarching culture is inclined toward uber-specialization. If we want a leader, we need to go find an expert to do the job. Everyone seems to have a specialty, which translates into a career. So most church members are not specialists in churchy things. So we go to work in our specialized fields and pool our money together to pay experts to do the ministry of the church.

    My church pays experts, but by and large they have been brought up in the church, have gone to seminary or whatever school they need, and have been brought into the ministry of the church. We even have our own mission enterprises. Insourcing has been a key element in the health of our church.

    The thing is that so many people are involved in doing so much in our church that it can be hard to minister in some ways. I have more opportunities to minister in other churches who are outsourcing. One church of another denomination where I occasionally preach, whose pastor is already retired but continues to pastor, occasionally has asked me to consider being an interim pastor while they find a regular pastor ordained in their denomination. I’ve caught wind that another church will be asking me soon to lead the music team at their early service – a paid, outsourced position for them.

    So the irony is that the cup of a healthy insourcing church can overflow to perpetuate the outsourcing culture in other churches.

    My brother’s church, a well-known mega-church, was pastored until several years ago by the founding pastor, who passed on shortly after the church outsourced a replacement for him. He only lasted a few years, using the church as a stepping-stone to bigger ministry elsewhere. The interim pastor is a well-known minister who has been on staff for years. However, he is past retirement age although he keeps up a big book-writing and speaking schedule. Despite a significant staff, the deacons of my brother’s church are having a hard time deciding on a theological identity for their church given the big SBC Reformed theology debate. Their founding pastor always had a balanced answer for such things to keep a disparate congregation focused on what matters and their short-lived replacement pastor suffered for being theologically light.

    I guess my point with this example is that where we might think that a mega-church would have the resources to insource everything, there may be the perception that some special qualification exists that cannot be found within for leading a large, diverse church from a pulpit that the leadership of the church understands to be theologically sound. Agreement can be a fickle thing.

  • Dirk

    Hmmm… thought provoking stuff. It seems as if we mainly outsource the ministry jobs which we feel inadequate to develop from within. Very few churches are equipped to provide the level of biblical study one would typically receive at seminary. It is much less difficult to equip nursery workers, ushers and even Sunday school teachers. There is actually quite a number of insourced ministry in the average church. I do agree though that we are often too quick to look beyond our own yard for resources.