The Lord knew when good things were eclipsing the crucial things in his ministry. In Mark 1:35-39 we find Jesus and the disciples involved in a thriving healing ministry. Yet the he rises early in the morning, tiptoes out over the slumbering forms of his friends (they lived in a small home in Capernaum) and finds a “desolate place” to pray. That prayer time changed the course of their immediate ministry. When Peter and the others find him as the sun crests the Golan Heights, they expect the Lord to come back to the house to continue the healings he had been doing late into the previous evening. But after prayer, Jesus, with clarified vision says, “No, we are going into the villages to preach. That’s what I came for.” He understood the difference between good things, and mission critical things.
Peter Drucker (management granddaddy and bestselling author on leadership) reminded us years ago that good leaders don’t just do things right (management), but they do the right things. The Bible illustrates this bit of wisdom from one end to the other. Every one of the Lord’s leaders, no matter what other characteristics they had, possessed the ability to discern what was “mission critical” to the work of the Kingdom in their area of impact. Pastors must find this discernment regularly. But it is easier said than done. As a church grows, increased pressure comes upon the leadership to “do more,” and the “more” often is not part of the biblical or Spiritual mandate. It’s amazing how many good things pastors do, and are expected to do, that are conspicuous by their absence in the Bible.
I stopped performing weddings (except for family and friends that I had previously committed to) about 20 years ago. We licensed several of our elders to assist our other pastors in offering this service to the body. When people came to me and asked if I’d do their weddings they were shocked that I was unavailable. They wondered (sometimes aloud) what on earth I did do if I didn’t do weddings! I pointed out that no apostle or prophet or pastor in the Bible ever performed a wedding, and at the only wedding Jesus attended he made the wine. This answer elicited mixed reactions. It had never occurred to these good people that this pastoral expectation was entirely cultural. I explained that my main job biblically is to teach the gospel in and through the Scriptures, and that Saturday (the usual wedding day) was crucial to me for study and preparation. The average wedding represents anywhere from 20 to 30 man-hours by my calculation, depending on who does the pre-marital counseling. And even if the counseling falls to another pastor the day of the wedding usually requires much time and emotional energy from the officiant. Our church reached a size where, if I was the one doing the weddings, I would not have the quantum time necessary for my real job. So, I delegated the wedding ministry. Leadership literature calls this “planned abandonment.” It is the skill of stopping something that is not mission critical. But it requires some thought and prayer, especially when well-meaning Christians offer so many good suggestions for “what we ought to do.”
When people suggest new ideas for ministry I ask the following four questions in an effort to keep doing the right things:
First, does it fit our biblical mission? For this we need a clear and well-thought-out mission statement. It’s crucial if for no other reason (and there are other reasons) than to vet the many good requests that will come with church growth. If the body of Christ is really the body of Christ, then no one church is called to do everything. The suggestion must fit in the center of our mission and work with our long-term sense of vision.
Second, do we need to do it? There are many good things that we don’t need to do. Over the last few years we have taken on the AWANA program for our area. But for years prior to that we simply refused to do it because another church in the area was offering it with gusto. We sent our families over there on Wednesday nights to plug in to their outstanding program. Only when they stopped offering AWANA did our elders seriously consider taking up the cause. And only when we discovered called leaders who had a vision and the expertise to promote the program did we begin to implement it.
Third, do we have gifted people to run it? Are there folks in the body who can oversee it and blend it with our existing ministries? God staffs by gift, not by program, no matter how popular the program is in other churches and in the pastoral literature. If we don’t have somebody we know is part of our body and who is gifted and called to run with this thing, we don’t do it.
Fourth, can we afford it (or the monthly payment for it)? This is more spiritual than it sounds. The doctrine of providence is true. God has given us everything we need to do what he wants us to do right now. If we cannot reasonably afford to do the thing on the table, based on the Lord’s monthly and annual provision to us over time, then we “table it” until we can. Trusting the Lord includes living within the means he has supplied.
Remember, all a church really must do is preach the gospel through the words of the apostles, pray, worship at the Lord’s Table, and create venue for koinonia (Acts 2:42). These four mandates involve other subsidiary activities of course. But many of us could simplify our ministries by planning to abandon things that are not mission critical.
Just a Thought,