Over recent months, I have been reflecting on what enables Christian ministries to thrive. I am involved with a number of Christian charities and love to be inspired by work which is growing and blessing both church and society.
There is a but coming…
But time and again, I encounter Christian work which is floundering. Rather than just provide a litany of failure, I want to look at the heart of the matter.
I am sure these issues have undoubtedly been outlined elsewhere by far better writers and theologians than myself. But I offer this piece to help us all think carefully about some of the core factors involved in ensuring that Christian work thrives.
When I first became a Christian in my late 20s, the letters WWJD were quite prevalent. Being encouraged to ask ourselves ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ was a helpful guide for a new Christian such as myself.
In 2022, I would like to come back to asking myself the same question when it comes to Christian ministry. What would He do? What did He do?
A different pattern
At the start of his ministry (Matthew 4) Jesus was taken out into the desert and offered it all on a plate: power, devotion and control. But he rejected that approach and embarked upon a different pattern for his ministry.
One of the essential aspects of His leadership was that He took every opportunity to build-up those he came across. He was forever building-up others and sending them out, replicating, equipping and empowering at every turn.
From 12 close disciples to the wider group of 72, Jesus continually decentralised power and control. For one who could have claimed all the power, He did everything He could to give it away.
This is how Christian ministry thrives: discipleship which truly challenges and equips others for ministry. As Paul puts it in Ephesians 4:12:
‘To equip the saints for works of ministry for building up the body of Christ’
So let’s look at the inverse of this in Christian ministry. What are the obvious signs that no discipleship is at play? Here are three for a start:
1. When it all revolves around one person
I bet everyone can think of Christian ministry where [insert name here] does it all.
Everything goes through him/her and nothing happens without them. He/she prides themselves on their busyness and that the organisation’s phone is in their pocket. This poses enormous risks for everyone involved – especially when that person leaves.
I know of a great charity which, even three years after this central person’s departure, is still struggling to pick up the pieces. It pains me to hear of the great work which is now floundering because one person leaves in a huff or burns out. Sharing workloads and sensible succession planning is essential.
2. When no new volunteers get involved
New volunteers are vital because they inject fresh energy and vision into the life-blood of a project or initiative. The reality that 20% will always do 80% of the work might be true but those ratios can be improved by supporting and empowering new people.
I think of two sizeable churches I know with contrasting approaches. In one, they are crying out for people to help with the children’s work, while the other a mile away has a long-established tradition of expecting the younger members of the congregation to commit to help with the children’s work. One is intentionally discipling its members; the other is hoping for the best.
3. When a church is run ragged
Some churches seem to want to ‘collect the set’ when it comes to social action. They have a Food Bank, Christians Against Poverty debt centre, Night Shelter, Street Pastors…but their volunteers are exhausted with it all.
To some churches, being seen as the Christian social provider in the town is very important to them. But sometimes their work is a mile wide and an inch deep.
This is basically the same as my first point but on a collective scale: everything revolves around one church.
Discipleship should extend to encouraging other churches. It might be time for one church to hold back from starting something and collaborate with another church to develop something new.
Rather than build one church’s empire, we should be about extending Jesus’ kingdom.
These are my thoughts to start discussion. I love helping Christian ministry to be as extensive and as kingdom focussed as it can be. And I think focussing on what Jesus did is the best place to start.
If you help to run a ministry, I would value your feedback. If you vehemently disagree with me, I’d be even more happy to hear from you. If you are a worried trustee, it would be great to talk.
Gavin Howard started The Besom in Cambridge in 2005 which enables churches to get stuck into social action. He is married to a curate and lives with two teenagers and a couple of boisterous dogs.