Read an interesting series of articles on Scot McNight’s Jesus Creed blog – about a book by Andrew someone called “Faith Without Illusions: Following Jesus as a Cynic-Saint“. It has prompted me to write about why I blog about ministry.
I am not, nor have I ever been a pastor. That is not my calling. I am just a lay person who was saved at the end of college, who has been a disciple of Christ in an evangelical protestant tradition since 1985. By profession, I am a systems analyst, a programmer, a manager, a software architect. As a lay person, I have been a board member of two churches, a leader of two ministries – one support services (technology support) and one event oriented (marriage assistance). I have lead small groups and taught bible studies.
Over the years I have worshipped and served in several churches, the longest for about 16 years. I wish I could say that I had been content to worship or serve in a single church for my entire life as a christian, but it is not true. Each time I have taken the decision to separate myself from a body of believers very seriously – as I have lost or become distant from friends in the process. In each case, however, it has been my decision, not the result of some unrelated circumstance, and a direct result in my losing confidence in the leadership of the church to execute in a way that leads to rational production of spiritual fruit.
So why do I write this blog? To provide insight from my experience and exposure to both healthy and unhealthy ministry patterns. I don’t know who, if anyone, reads this stuff. Half of my purpose is simply to clarify my own thinking.
Here is my thinking in a nutshell – If we start with the great commission and the great commandment as our guide – everything we do in ministry should be guided by those two principles. Everything we do should be designed to maximize the production of spiritual fruit, motivated by our love of God, constrained by our love of our neighbor. It is a very simplistic philosophy of ministry, but I have not found the flaw in it yet.
If that is, in the simplest form, what we do then so much of what we get hung up on in ministry is waste. When I say waste, I mean that in the sense that it is resources we expend that do not help us accomplish our goal of producing fruit. As church leaders, we should be looking at every resource (human and financial) to determine how best to utilize them to produce fruit; that is our stewardship.
I have experienced that churches or ministries get off track when they (the leadership) want to define fruit more narrowly than they ought. They allow their body to specialize in specific aspects of spiritual fruit. We recently have seen even the mighty Willow Creek has recognized that they need to improve their production of fruit of spiritual formation – depth. I don’t want you to think that I am blaming the leadership – they may simply be following their giftedness.
None of these problems are unsolvable. If a church or ministry is going to (or is gifted to) specialize in one aspect, how ecumenical would it be for them to partner with a church that specializes in another. Sharing resources across ministries in order to find balance and wholeness, would be one such solution.
The reason I write this is to help minstry leaders (do any read this?) solve problems by providing an objective analysis of problems that I have observed, and proposing solutions in alignment with my philosophy of ministry.
As a leader, much of what I had to say was not appreciated. I recognize now that I also needed some distance from the problems at hand to form a better perspective; to become more objective. I am somwhat cynical by nature – I am always looking for hidden agendas, human manipulation, etc. On the other hand, I believe that ministries (and ministry leaders) need to be conscious of their personal and corporate weaknesses, and continually seeking to improve. When leaders get into the habit of patting ourselves on the back, we can lose this perspective, and miss opportunities to grow personally and as a ministry.
Ministry leaders need to learn to accept criticism or critique without becoming defensive, loving their critic – and earnestly embrace the criticism by trying to understand what is behind it before dismissing it and the critic as someone who “just doesn’t get it”. All to often, I am afraid that we (ministry leaders) are just as likely to be the one who “just doesn’t get it” as the critic. In dismissing our critics, we often miss opportunities to teach, to love, to help that critic grow.
I am sure that there are people way smarter than I am who have written about the same topics. I am sure that there are many books about these same topics. I have not read them. I am not planning to read them. I am not a church growth consultant. I am not selling services. I do not claim to be an expert. I am merely applying the talents that God has given me and sharing them with the Body of Christ at large.
I recognize that I tend to come off a bit cynical. I tend to be the first one to identify and complain about a problem that I observe. I am not ususally shy about it, either. My desire is to provide insight into challenges I have observed in ministry, so that others can see possible ways to avoid problems, or solutions to them if they can’t be avoided. I have tremendous empathy for ministry leaders who are willing to share their resources (time, talent, money) to further the cause of Christ, but are not equipped with any decision frameworks or ministry philosophy before they are confronted with problems. I hope that in some small way they can get benefit from my writings and my thoughts.