Five Ministry Landmines

May 27, 2013

Five Ministry Landmines

Much has been written about the church. Especially as it relates to growth and leadership. I do believe though, that there are some fundamental issues that every thoughtful church needs to wrestle through. If not, they become land mines and at some point they will need careful attention, otherwise they have the potential to blow-up.

Here is why I believe these 5 are so important. Whether you simply attend the church or have a leadership role, you have an opinion about each of these. You have an idea of how you see these working in your church. No matter what you may think, everyone expresses their view of church through these five.

They are a type of matrix or grid, and the way we approach these will often determine the effectiveness of a church. Whenever someone says, I like smaller churches, they are stating their preference for one of these five. Same for those who say, I'm looking for a church that does hymns. Again, they are stating what they believe should constitute the church.

We often treat these as personal preferences only, but in reality, they have the potential for major conflict, especially if a church is beginning to grow. Nothing will bring out the preferences of people faster than an established church that suddenly sees growth.

Most of us assume that the majority of conflict in a church is theological, but from my experience that is rarely the case. The predominant cause of conflict in churches is philosophical, which often spirals into personal conflicts.

Hopefully these 5 will help you understand the potential philosophical land mines that exist in your church and help give you clarity on where the conflict truly lies.

1. Change vs. Status-Quo

This is probably the hardest of the five. I'm not talking about change for change sake, but intentional and strategic change so that the church remains alive and vibrant. Most dynamic leaders like change, most congregants don't. That is a recipe for conflict.

Here is the rub with this one; if you decide that the church is strictly to cater to those you are presently serving that is a recipe for eventual death. The spiral may take some years but the day will come. But if you take the Great Commission to heart, it will demand that you consistently evaluate your ministry. Whether its the music, the way you do small groups, children's ministries, each need to be evaluated on a regular basis in order to keep in step with the culture around us.

For instance, take children's ministry. The major priority for parents today is safety and cleanliness of facilities. If your children's ministry is cavalier about the safety of the kids, especially those who are visiting for the first time, you can guarantee to never see them again. That is simply a cultural expectation today, and yet if we ignore it, we lose an opportunity to potentially touch those lives.

That is why this one is so hard. The majority of the people who attend your church like it the way it is, for the most part. So change could be seen as a threat. But you need to decide as a leadership the changes that are right for you and how to manage them, because the reality is this, when you stop changing, you die.

2. Growth vs. Fixed

Carol S. Dweck, a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University who studied personality development found that people fell into two primary categories – they either had a fixed mindset, or a growth mindset. She found that these were especially evident in their reaction to failure.

Here is a brief excerpt from a Wikipedia article on the subject. "Fixed-mindset individuals dread failure because it is a negative statement on their basic abilities, while growth mindset individuals don't mind or fear failure as much because they realize their performance can be improved and learning comes from failure."

These two mindsets play an important role in all aspects of a person's life. Dweck argues that the growth mindset will allow a person to live a less stressful and more successful life. Understanding this has huge implications for your church. We like what's comfortable, but because of this we tend to be adverse to taking risks. Mainly because we have an aversion to failure.

The reality is when we bypass the risk we forgo the miracle. Without taking a risk, or opening ourselves to potential opportunities, we will never experience God's power. It will be a church of human ability, not supernatural empowerment. God loves to do the impossible and to grow our faith through those times when we are wholly dependent on him.

Because God loves what grows. Now you will have to figure out how this applies to your context, but again, you need to be aware of this land mine.

3. Attractional vs. Missional

You can barely read anything on the church without coming across the idea of missional. Though it has many definitions it basically is a call for churches to be more proactive in reaching out. Its a "go to them" versus a "come to us" mentality.

It purports that the days are gone when a church could simply hang a sign and invite people to show up on a Sunday morning. Though the basic premise is good, the majority of what I've read tends to diminish the importance of the local church. Though we do need to be better at being missionaries in our own neighbourhoods, it shouldn't rule out the importance of the local church.

I believe we need to stress both, the invitational (or attractional) aspect of church and the sending out (missional). A stress on one without the other, will lead to problems either way. Here is another thought. In my experience, the churches that do missional really well, are the ones who have learned to do attractional really well too.

Here's why; without fostering an environment that is open and inviting for seekers or non-believers to feel welcomed, you will not be able to foster a missional mindset in your church no matter how hard you try. One really helps to build the other. This third land mine sort of grows out of the first two above, and again is something you need to wrestle through with your team.

4. Us vs. Them

Its pretty common in church to pit us against the outside world. Its an easy contrast to state. But the us and them land mines that concern me are the internal ones, not the ones that come from outside our walls.

Before Jesus went to the cross, he prayed for unity among believers. Jesus recognized that this one thing could undermine for many, the validity of his death, burial, and resurrection. Nothing is uglier in the church when we pit ourselves against each other. And I am going to drill down further here too. I am not even going to touch on the disunity between churches, denominations, etc. Let's just talk within a local body.

Have you ever heard people in you church talk about the leadership, or how one ministry competes with another for resources and volunteers? That is why vision and mission clarity are so important in a church. It's why exercises like clarifying the win for each area of ministry is critical for protecting the church from the us and them plague.

In today's climate, with so many things competing for our attention, a church needs clarity and focus. The more an us versus them environment is allowed in a local body the less clarity and focus it will have. I am not talking about healthy competition between departments, but an undermining of the entire church due to this internal land mine.

5. Consumers vs. Disciples

The engine of the church is discipleship. It should be the essence of all our planning and strategizing. Yes, I know this is God's work essentially, but we are what God uses to help grow them in their faith so we cannot be cavalier.

As mentioned above, everyone grows differently so it takes a lot of effort and intentionality to create a church that does this well. For many, the best way to initiate the process is to reach people at their point of need. We do this in a variety of ways and mostly with good intentions.

But, if we never move people into a deeper relationship with Christ we end up creating spiritual consumers and not authentic disciples. Its not wrong to want to reach people at the point of their felt needs. Jesus did this as well. But he always moved them beyond the perceived need to their real need; a deeper walk with him.

As churches, if we don't invest in ways of drawing people deeper, what we produce will actually be a superficial and consumer minded church, more interested in their own needs rather than others. Discipleship is the most difficult thing churches do. But the difficulty should not deter us from making it a key priority.

Otherwise, our reasons for existing as churches becomes greatly diminished.

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