Over the years of my ministry, I have learned – often, the hard way – that there are some things that can (and often do) kill ministry and have been known to kill a church. Sadly, pastors and leaders are as likely to participate in these attitudes as church members.
The fact is, these diseases are often contagious, infecting the entire church. Just as with a virus, these attitudes prosper because they have a host in and through which they thrive and multiply. The key is to recognize them early on and guard one’s self against them, refusing to play host, which will eventually result in a healthier church and ministry.
1. Rut Thinking
This is the mindset that invokes the "7 Deadly Words of the Church”: We’ve never done it that way before. It is a paralyzing fear that stifles forward movement in its tracks. It speaks of one’s fear of doing something that might make him/her uncomfortable and reveals a heart that the ministry or church is for them and not those who follow after.
Remember the old adage: The only difference between a rut and a grave are the dimensions.
How often have you heard someone say “I’m only being a realist” in response to a perceived crisis? My first response is “No you’re not! You’re being a pessimist, not a realist.”
A pessimist is one who says “Here’s the problem; what are you going to do about it?”
A realist, on the other hand, says “Here’s the situation as I see it; what can we do to resolve it?”
Hear the difference?
A pessimist focuses on what’s wrong and prefers to gripe, complain and blame. A realist chooses to focus on the solution and how, working together, it can be realized.
3. Control Freaks
Control freaks are easy to spot simply because they like to be in control as well as in the spotlight. They are fearful people who believe that if they could control a situation or persons involved, everything would be done properly.
Control freaks are glaringly insecure. The only way they know to relate is to be overbearing, accusatory and self-righteous in an attempt to cover their own insecurity and poor self-esteem. By attempting to control every situation to their specifications, they believe they are able to take the focus off themselves and onto the situation. However, just the opposite often occurs: their true personality becomes even more glaring.
4. Bottom-line Thinking
“Bottom feeders,” as I call them, are dangerous to the ministry of a church if they are left unchallenged. Bottom-line thinkers look at the bottom line of a budget and wonder where the budget might be cut. This is not the same thing as being a good steward of the people's financial support; this kind of thinking can – if left unchallenged – lead to allowing a budget to determine a church’s ministry rather than allow the mission to determine the budget.
Bottom-line thinking will ask questions such as “Does such-and-such a ministry generate enough income to justify our budgeting for it?”
Wrong question! If the church were to build a budget based on that question, many ministries would be cut. Does Sunday school generate enough money to pay for the curriculum? Does the men’s or momen’s Bible study generate enough income to buy the books and DVDs used? Does the children’s ministry bring in enough funds to off-set its budget?
The answer is very likely “No.” And if that is the case, according to bottom-line thinking, all such ministries should be cut.
Remember: budgets should never determine ministry. Rather, mission should drive budgeting.
5. An Unwelcoming Spirit toward Those “Not Like Us”
If it were not for those who are “not like us,” the church would have died out long ago. Those who are not like us (whatever that means!) are the very reason the Church exists.
The church is not a country club that can choose who gets to take part, or who is worthy to be a member. If that were the litmus test of church membership or involvement, none of us would be welcomed!
Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple once said, “The church is the only organization that exists only for its non-members.” A truer word was never spoken.
6. Herd Mentality
This is the inability for people own up to their own opinions and say “I think” or “I believe," finding it easier just to go along by saying “we think” or “we believe.” There's safety in numbers, they think.
“Herders” are often those who cannot think for themselves and look to others to think for them. Even if they know it’s wrong, they still identify with it simply because they like not having to think for themselves; and it gives them a group of which they can easily be a part because no one is challenged to think differently.
“Herders” prefer to be spoon-fed rather than getting messy learning to feed themselves.
Remember: “I” think; “you" think. But “we” don’t think.
7. Opting for Comfort Over Risk
We are all guilty of this. It is much easier, less stressful, and simply cozier if we stick to what we like, what makes us comfortable.
Risk is, well, risky! It might mean we get hurt or embarrassed or have our ego bruised. But the fact remains, without the challenge of risk, growth is often stunted, at best. A tree grows stronger when it is buffeted by wind and storm.
No one ever promised us an easy, cozy life. In fact, Jesus even warns us that we will have trouble. Ignoring such a wise word is foolish. It is best to welcome risk so that we can grow stronger and stand taller.
Who was it that first said, “The Gospel comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable”?
The Church should encourage uncomfortable risk-taking, whether it means opening ourselves up to new people, trying new types of ministry, and in general putting God's work before our own comfort.
8. Reacting Rather than Responding
This is another one that is easy for us all to fall into. Reaction is often the result of self-protection, a knee-jerk reflex. Reaction does not take into consideration the results it will bring about, which often worsen the situation and prove to be destructive. It is panic mode. It is short-term thinking.
Responding, on the other hand, takes time to see the bigger picture. It takes time to form a proper answer that will bring about the greater healing and growth. It is calm. It is long-term visioning and thinking.
Sometimes, this plays out in committees that panic over a perceived problem (real or not), which then bleeds out to the larger body and causes even more panic, which often results in creating a larger, or even new, problem. The snowball grows larger.
Those in leadership set the tone for how the larger body will respond. Keep this in mind and much conflict and panic can be avoided.
9. Inability to Dream
Unfortunately, the church too regularly either stifles a dream, dreams small dreams, or chooses not to dream at all. Or, worse yet, leaves all the dreaming up the pastor! But, in this case, at least some dreaming is going on.
If a church does not dream, it will not survive, let alone thrive. The failure to dream leads to stagnation, which will lead to death — a slow and ugly death.
The church should be the one place on earth that welcomes dreams and dreamers. Dreams keep us fresh; they force us to think differently; they may even throw us off kilter every once in a while, causing us to move in a new direction.
If we are going to dream, why not dream big? In the Church, no dream is “too big” if it helps us live our mission.
10. Expecting Leaders to “Do” Discipleship for Members
Let’s face it, church members to not pay their pastors – and other church leaders - to be good on their behalf! But how often do we actually see this play out? Members come to worship and other discipleship-training events in the church, but when it comes to actually living out the faith, some believe that is the pastor’s job.
I have actually had a member who had a new neighbor move in right next door and, rather than inviting the neighbor to church himself, drove to my office, sat down to tell me about the new neighbor, and told me I needed to pay them a visit to invite them to church. When I asked if he had asked them as well, since he was literally living less than 100 feet away, he said, “No. That’s why we pay you.”
If it is true that “God has no grandchildren” (and it is), the same can be said about discipleship: no one can do another’s walk of faith for them; no one can be a disciple of Jesus for another person.
To follow Jesus and nurture a thriving church, we all have to take responsibility for our attitudes, our actions, and the mission of our congregation.