I've had the opportunity to do a lot of traveling lately and speak to hundreds of pastors.
During this time several have asked my thought on countless issues.
While I've done my best to reach down in my library of information and lean on past experience and wisdom that God has shown, I always ask them more questions than they ask me.
I personally believe that a majority of the issues in our ministries are a result of a simple issue.
Growing organizations naturally grow complex.
Small grows to big, therefore we need more staff, more structure, more programs, which in turn demand more time, more money, more energy, which leads to more building programs, needing more people and the process continues. All the while we're "doing" ministry but at the same time ministry is "doing" us in.
My wife's grandparents got married 64 years ago. One man, one woman. Today there are 7 children, 15 grandchildren, 29 great-grandchildren and 12 great, great-grandchildren.
It all started with two.
Here are some things I ask and would ask any person in ministry to consider when wanting answers to "grow a church", or "make disciples of Christ" or "fix" a ministry need.
1. What do you want people to become?
Sounds simple, but you'd be amazed how off many are. Or how many people are by default just doing things. It reminds me of the scene in "The Dark Knight" when Harvey Dent is in the hospital and The Joker is sitting next to him and Harvey lunges after him only to get frustrated and ask, "young man, what's your plan" The Joker responds, "do I look like the kind of guy that has a plan? I just do things."
2. What steps are in place to achieve the first question?
This is where I loose 90% of the people I talk to. Because aren't our programs enough to help people become followers of Christ? If so, would the divorce rate be as high as it is in the church? Teen dropout rate? Would we be begging people to work in ministry, tithe, drop habits, love others, come faithfully? Programs are fine, but sadly too many of our church programs foster basic level Christianity steps. What if we looked at many of the programs we do in our churches and replaced them with a series of steps to help people on their journey of faith.
3. What is a "win" for your organization?
Again, for those of us in leadership we may have a pretty good idea, but how about the rest of the team? This is where I ask them to "clarify the win." Because the more general the win is, the less likely it's a "win." It's more like a "rally cry." Rally cries are short term achievable goals. Example: when someone says their "win" is to lead people to Christ, I then ask, " what next?" Because if that was a win, we'd only ever need two ministers in our churches. One to pray with people for salvation, the other to hit them over the head to send them to Heaven.
The more specific the better. This is why so many churches have the goal, "to make fully devoted followers of Christ" or "to lead people in a growing relationship with Jesus." Those type of wins are to the point, and are put in simple terms that define the goal.
4. What is your biggest priority, and what do you need to accomplish to achieve it?
I'll be honest here. Churches with tons of "ministries" scare me. Don't get me wrong, it's an honorable thing to be so aspiring. But I know something many of the leaders don't. Churches that have more ministries than staff are filled with people who are tired, on the verge of burn out and foster an atmosphere of mediocrity. Ouch! I'm sorry if I stepped on toes there.
But listen. Things naturally grow complex! And the more you do, it means the less quality every other thing becomes. Everything has a life cycle. So much energy is spent keeping things on life support. Find three of four ministries to excel in and say "no" to the rest. Because every time you add something to the plate without taking something off, it all starts to taste the same.
5. If you were to leave, or get fired, or whatever, what things would the next guy change that you won't because you feel like you can't.
Personal example time. At the last placed I served on staff, myself and the jr. high staff pastor worked for months preparing for a change we felt like we needed to do to grow. We spoke with the leadership, elders, all who were in charge and shared our game plan and reasons and we even begged. We heard tons of reasons why we could not or should not. None based out of biblical reasoning--if you know what I mean.
We are no longer there. Guess what the new guy did? Yep! The very thing we begged to do for months.
When God gives you a plan, do it. Sure, you have to have the right timing. But more importantly you have to decide who you want to keep. I'm not talking about plowing over people, I'm talking about doing what needs to be done to achieve the goal. I love the saying, "there's something wrong when you have to part the whiskers to give the baby a bottle." Leadership takes courage to do the things that need to be done. If you won't, the next guy will.
I'm amazed in just the 20 years that I've been involved in church and ministry how much society has changed and how little the church has as a whole has.
I think many of us would do well to get back to some simple practices of faith.
But here's the catch. Once you are able to answer these questions and honestly start putting them in practice----you'll work harder at keeping it simple than you would if you had forty ministries to oversee.
Why? Because things naturally grow complex, so you have to work hard to keep it simple and keep it focused.