One of the biggest problems a ministry can have is being irrelevant to real life. It is a big problem because when we stop being concerned about our relevance we are serious odds with the quality of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus was relevant. The apostles were relevant. God wants us to be relevant. That is why Jesus said in Matthew 5 that we are to be salt and light in the world. We are to be useful, beneficial, and effective. Jesus takes it a step by describing a life that is no longer relevant to the kingdom of God in Matthew 5:13, ““You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” Jesus is calling for his people to be relevant in a world that desperately needs to be reached.
How often do we take time to evaluate if our ministries, Bible classes, preaching, teaching, small groups, etc are still salty? There are several barriers that can keep us from evaluating what we are doing:
- Assuming that because it used to be effective it is still effective. This gets tricky because some times congregations get their whole identity caught up into a ministry that was wildly successful in its time but hasn’t really worked for some time. No one wants to be the guy who stands up and calls it like it is because it would be bashing the sacred congregational cow. Something has to change but often, in situations like that, there is a lack of vision to figure out what will fill the void if that ministry is dropped. So change is avoided entirely. Some times even more effort will be pumped in to try to kick start it and increase its effectiveness but without changing the underlying assumptions and models of ministry it will just prolong the inevitable need to move on to something better.
- Ministries begun with good intentions but never turn out as expected. It is hard to turn down someone who wants to champion something. Volunteer help is so hard to get that when someone wants to do something the temptation is to let them have at it. But just because something has a champion doesn’t mean it will automatically be effective. These ministries had a goal but there was never any follow up to see if it was actually working. It needed evaluation but never received it because the assumption was that something good must be happening with all the time wrapped up in the effort and that otherwise the leader might not be doing anything at all. This doesn’t mean any0ne is to blame or that we can all point fingers. It just means it needed evaluation and followup.
- Not wanting to offend anyone. It is easy to think that if something is not going well then someone is to blame. For fear of upsetting someone who has worked hard on something we let something continue that could be better or the energy could be used better elsewhere. Refining ministry is not a blame game. Paul told us to “speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15). There are times when my own ministry needs critiquing. If I am not open to evaluation or critique from those who might see something I can’t see for myself then I should just expect what I do to never live up to what it could be had I been open to criticism, critique or suggestions.
- The character of the ministry leader is compromised. When a minister, elder, deacon, etc loses their credibility through lapses in their integrity and character there is often a lot of fall out. I heard Fred Asare say something along the lines of , “If I great tree falls in the forest, it does not fall to the ground alone. It brings lots of other trees and plants down with it.” As ministers we have to uphold the highest level of integrity and be willing to admit when we are wrong.
Bottom line, we have to realize that none of this is about me/us. There is a bigger picture and goal that we are all working toward and it is time well spent to evaluate how things are going. Before we do another question has to be asked. Do we have open enough environments in our congregations to be able to evaluate the effectiveness of our ministries in a way that helps them become better through the necessary critique? Or do we have environments that don’t want anything to be questioned and assume that everything is okay and will always be okay as long as nothing changes? If we don’t feel safe enough to voice concern or helpful advice to those who are ministering or to church leadership then there are some unhealthy dynamics that need to be addressed first. More on that later.
In what ways have you seen ministries lose their saltiness?
What obstacles have you seen to changing things for the better?
What success stories have you had or seen in refining the ministry process?