As a child, TGIF was a big part of my family’s weekly routine. At 8 p.m. every Friday night, we would huddle in front of our 19-inch TV to watch the Tanner and Winslow families navigate life. Steve Urkel would whine, “Did I do that?” and Jesse would make us all smile with his, “Have Mercy!” The biggest laughs always came when Joey would say his catch phrase, “Cut it out.” It was his way of saying stop, you’re embarrassing me . . . but don’t really stop.
It’s interesting how preparing for this blog post about pruning programs for ministry led me to a childhood memory. When the to-do list seems insurmountable and there aren’t enough volunteers to make it all happen, most of us would say we are open to the idea of scaling back programming. We’re open to it . . . until it’s time to actually make the required changes. Cutting back in ministry is extremely difficult because people have come to expect what we offer. Families have fallen in love with pieces of our ministry. Volunteers have grown to enjoy the routine they’ve established. Most of the time, change doesn’t feel like opportunity, it feels like sacrifice.
Several years ago, my wife and I served at a church plant in East Tennessee. We had seen incredible growth in a very short amount of time. We attributed a lot of that growth to key events we sponsored in the community. It wasn’t long before we became known as the “Events Church.” With that title looming over us, we pushed to do additional events. “Events” took over our church calendar. Then something happened. We stopped growing. For a couple years we stayed flat, but here’s the crazy thing, we kept doing the same events because we had always done them, the Trunk or Treat, Easter Eggstravaganza, Christmas in the Community Celebration, Summer Splash Days, etc. Let me be clear, these events were top notch. Attendance was high. Compliments poured out, but our church had stopped growing.
It took us a while, probably too long, to meet as an executive team to consider what changes had to be made. We refocused on our mission for the church “to make fully devoted followers of Jesus,” and we started cutting everything that didn’t help us fulfill that mission. We freed up space on our church calendar for implementing fresh ideas, and we said goodbye to many of those sacred events we were so well known for. It sounds easier than it was. We even had families show up to our church on Halloween Night looking for candy because we were “the church that did the awesome trunk thing.” The changes were tough, but by refocusing our efforts and finding more strategic ways to care for the people God had entrusted to us, we began to grow again.
“Maybe the most strategic thing you could do for your families is to stop doing something.” – Reggie Joiner, Think Orange
If we are going to be effective in ministry, laser-like focus is required. It’s impossible to make everything excellent when your plate is not just full, but overflowing with programming. More often than not, I find we leave little room for God to move because we’ve programmed the life out of our ministry. Maybe it’s time to “cut it out.” You just need to decide what it is.
- Start by making a list of everything your ministry does for kids or students. The list is probably longer than you think.
- Ask other leaders within your ministry to independently create their own list of everything your ministry does.
- Start to talk about the time, energy, effort and resources it requires to successfully execute each program.
- Based on the fruit you are seeing in your ministry decide what needs to be cut.
There’s something that changes when you see it for yourself. There’s a new sense in which we say “I get it now.”
I’ve had many experiences like this in my life.
The first time I walked into Neyland Stadium and witnessed over 100,000 fans cheering for the Tennessee Vols.
The first time I walked the streets of Rome and really understood just how young America is.
The first time I helped lead a friend to a relationship with Jesus.
And it happened again, earlier this year at Orange Conference.
Over 8,000 leaders gathered in Atlanta to unpack the idea of being For Our Neighbors and God did something incredible. Churches representing 67 denominations in 22 countries were inspired and challenged to connect with their communities, to build relationships, and get really practical in helping those around us. During conference, I wished every staff member and every volunteer could have been there because I knew it would have shifted their mindsets and created even greater change. For all of them to have an “I Get It Now” moment.
Here’s the great news: We’re continuing the conversation this fall on the Orange Tour in a city near you, which means you and your entire team can experience an “I Get It Now” moment together.
When your team gets on the same page, nothing can stop change.
Orange Tour helps you practically implement family ministry strategy and assists in getting your entire team moving in the same direction.
See you on tour!
As a sermon illustration, I once preached from a ladder. But I didn’t just sit on one of the lower rungs. No, I preached for half an hour from the top step of a 16-foot ladder. The one that reads “Caution: This is not a step!” I thought it was a brilliant way to engage the audience. I didn’t realize it would serve as nothing more than the worst possible distraction.
No one heard a word I said because they were afraid I was going to fall. I wasn’t worried or nervous. I have really good balance, and heights don’t tend to intimidate me. But as the message wrapped up and I came down off that ladder, there were audible gasps of relief and people waited to give me colored commentary.
I had put an undue amount of stress on my audience. In their minds, I had jeopardized my well-being to make a point, one they couldn’t even begin to comprehend because of their alarm on my behalf.
As a ministry leader, we do the same to those who care for us. We have friends, family, and mentors who are concerned for our well-being. They see the pace we’re running, the long nights, and the lack of sleep. We are committed to caring for those we lead, but are we committed to caring for ourselves?
In ministry world, burnout may be our greatest obstacle. It’s the devil’s ultimate weapon, his Megazord (for all you Power Ranger fans). If he can run you ragged, he will. If he can destroy your health, he will. If he can make you despise your job, he will.
If we want to find a way to combat the enemy’s schemes, we have to identify unhealthy behaviors and eliminate them from our daily routines. I haven’t met many people with a temporary calling, but I meet many who manage their ministry as if there’s an expiration date looming. Remember…this isn’t a short sale! It’s a 30-year fixed commitment. Some things need to change if we want to last in ministry.
For starters, let’s acknowledge the lies we tell ourselves. Then take steps to circumvent their effect on our schedules.
1. This is just a busy season.
A “busy season” has a clear beginning and a definite end. Fall in the south lasts for three months, give or take a couple weeks, but it only comes around once a year. That’s a season. If your busy season began last summer with VBS and hasn’t stopped, it’s time to evaluate and prioritize. There’s a real danger when we only have two seasons: being in the middle of something big or getting ready for the next big thing.
Action Step: Assess your schedule and determine what is making you most busy. Place an end date on those items.
2. Next week will be better.
The reality is next week will be no different from last week without intentional change. At times, we look at the extenuating circumstances we’ve faced in the last few days and conclude those won’t ever happen again (which may or may not be true). Then, once again, we begin to plan a full schedule with no consideration for the oddities that will, no doubt, arise next week as well. It’s an endless cycle.
Action Step: Block off time in your schedule for the unexpected.
3. Everyone understands.
Most everyone will cut you slack occasionally, but something happens when your scheduling mishaps become an exasperating pattern. Pretty soon those you lead feel neglected and those you work alongside discount you altogether. Everyone may have been okay with the meeting you missed that one time, but don’t assume everyone is still okay with how your mishandled schedule is affecting them.
Action Step: Talk with fellow staffers and volunteer leaders to help assess the reputation you are building among peers.
These are very real lies we tell ourselves. Something has to change if we intend for ministry to be a lifelong calling. No lie.
For more on thriving in the tension of ministry, work, and life, check out Frank’s new book, The Myth of Balance. Visit MythofBalance.com.
A couple of years ago, I took our entire team on an offsite to work on the family ministry of our church.
To kick it off, we talked about an issue that affects everyone at one point or another, confidence. More specifically, we talked about lack of confidence.
Over time, I’ve discovered how important it is, as a leader, to regularly teach on this topic. Our team (including me) is often rattled by life situations that bring into question our calling. We’re not alone in this. For just a moment let’s look to the life of Moses and examine his lack of confidence.
The story starts in Exodus 2, with the burning bush. However, let’s pick it up in Exodus 4:10, as Moses replied to God, “Moses said to the Lord, ‘Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.’”
It’s easy for us to see a man who is shaken by the calling God has for his life, but compare this to what Stephen says in Acts 7:22, “Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action.”
Wait. Is Moses equipped for his calling or not?
The answer…of course he is. God knew Moses and he wasn’t intimidated by Moses’ handicaps. From this scriptural discovery we land on a simple truth:
My lack of confidence does not change God’s calling on my life.
At some point in your life you answered God’s call and stepped into His ministry. On that day, you were confident. On that day, the possibilities were endless. On that day, the journey looked fun and exciting.
Volunteers flaked out. Parents found their calling to be your opposition. A child was hurt. Your budget was cut. The senior leadership at your church changed. Someone said you were not good enough.
Life rattles us. It’s tough and messy and hurtful. At some point everyone feels like throwing in the towel because, “Surely, there is someone else who could do a better job.” In those moments you must remember that God hasn’t lost faith in you. He called YOU, knowing full well the circumstances you would face.
When you encounter life and find your confidence shaken, look to the heavens and remember His calling, power, and strength are enough. Take a deep breath, gather your confidence, and get back on the horse.