Few things are as difficult for churches as laying a ministry to rest. Just take a look at the weekly calendar for most churches. Nobody wants to admit defeat.
Sometimes a ministry has been fruitful for decades and has simply run its course. What an opportunity to rejoice (at a ministry funeral). Other ministries may have been doomed from the beginning –as if, from inception, they were placed on “ministry death watch.”
One cause for such impending demise may be an unwise approach to starting and sustaining ministries in the first place. Many churches make critical mistakes when introducing new ministries to the congregation. Usually, they happen in the following order (perhaps you are familiar with some, or all, of these):
One person gets excited about a ministry. This is a good thing, unless it remains that way.
The person excited about the ministry doesn’t take the time to make sure others are equally excited. There is a difference between informing people about a ministry and securing buy-in for a ministry. For instance, if a pastor wants to see his new evangelism ministry succeed, he needs to do more than share the idea. He also needs to gauge the enthusiasm (buy-in) of critical leaders. To do otherwise would be like a professional truck driver pulling out of a parking lot without checking to make sure he was connected to his trailer. New ministries often fail because they “take off” without a good connection to leadership.
Leadership is not shared. It stands to reason that if nobody else is buying-in to the new ministry, there probably won’t be any leaders helping lead. Usually, however, the lack of shared leadership has nothing to do with a lack of enthusiastic people and more to do with a leader who doesn’t want to share his “baby.” Collaboration and delegation are very difficult. Sometimes they even complicate and elongate the issue. Many natural leaders succumb to their desire to “do it right myself” and “get it knocked out” as soon as possible. Later, these same leaders find themselves asking “why won’t anyone help me with this?”
Participation begins to wane. The longevity of a ministry cannot be judged by the initial sign-up list. Often, people will participate simply because they are asked and/or manipulated. But when the initial buzz wears off, only the people who have bought into the ministry will remain.
Leaders panic. When participation falls, leaders begin to question why. Some even take it personally. This is a phase in which objectivity is crucial. Unfortunately, the people who address this issue the most often are the least objective regarding the ministry. Although potentially painful, leaders must be willing to bring in people with no “skin in the game” for help appraising the situation. This may be another leader in house, an outside party, or even someone who has left the ministry in question. If you don’t define reality accurately at this point, you cannot expect to exercise wisdom in the matter.
Leaders burn out. If the leader neglects to seek objective feedback from others, he or she may determine to increase their efforts. This mentality says, “If I’ll work harder, this will succeed.” While this may be true, there is another possibility: If you have failed a little with your present effort, you may fail more with greater effort. This is the kind of stubbornness that can lead to burnout and disaster.
The leader and/or church become hesitant to try anything else that is new. Many great ministry ideas have been found dead on arrival because of a past memory of failure. People become shy about investing time, energy, and resources into something that could possibly fail and leave them as disheartened as before.
So what should a leader do?
1) Cultivate your relationship with Christ. I believe that God loves to work through those who seek Him regularly –not just when they have a great idea. Many leaders have an idea and then bathe it in prayer. Why not root yourself in prayer and then see what God grows from a deeper relationship with Him?
Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand (Psalm 19:21).
2) Seek wisdom. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not against bathing ideas in prayer. I just happen to think that God’s rain nourishes the ideas God has planted better than the plans we plant alone.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him (James 1:5).
3) Embrace humility. Don’t suffocate an idea with pride. Be willing to honestly assess ideas and issues with biblical discernment. Do not be afraid to ask for objective feedback from others. Remember, people will only be candid in an environment that is friendly to constructive criticism.
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger (James 1:19).
Perhaps, by more careful consideration and planning, we can see more fruit in our ministries and less funerals!