The lose-lose of ministry

January 27th, 2015

When I started pastoral ministry as a seminary student I was told that I needed “skin like a rhino and a heart like Mother Teresa.” Now, only four years into pastoral ministry, I am still coming to grips with the truth of this advice. 

As a pastor, I seem to make — and am asked to make — decisions on an hourly basis. Fellow pastors have recommended that I read “The One Minute Manager,” but I have yet to find time to make it happen. Like many pastors, I have a “reading pile” that I try to chomp a chapter at a time, so perhaps one day I will read through it and all my problems will be solved. While I’m a person of hope, I doubt the book will perfect God’s ministry through me.

But even if I made every decision in a timely manner, and even if I made the most correct decision every time, I have come to learn that in church ministry someone will always disagree. We could be talking about the time of day a new ministry opportunity starts, the methods of taking attendance, the song selections in worship, the expectations of staff members (or clergy), the interpretation of a Scripture passage, the structure of lay leadership, the personal style of a clergyperson or whether the church should get involved in ministry with persons who are homeless. 

Regardless of what decision a leader in the church makes, it is bound to leave someone upset. Let’s be honest; my decision to write this article will likely be met with a little resistance. It isn’t hard to feel that making any decision in church ministry is a lose-lose. 

In an effort to minimize the hurt and anger that someone in the church is bound to feel when a decision is made, it’s not an uncommon experience in any church to see a committee or team of staff members venturing well beyond a helpful amount of time when weighing options for a decision. Our conversations awkwardly dance as we seesaw between problems, do-si-do in arguments, and finally fall to “analysis paralysis” without a conclusion. No one wants to misstep and mess things up when doing church, but in inaction we find ourselves stepping on toes and causing pain. Decisions are hard and require coordination, and the weightiness of these decisions make the lose-lose just rough enough that we can lose ourselves (and our purpose) in the process. 

How can we step beyond the lose-lose of decision-making? How can we effectively lead our churches and communities down forks in the road? 

Scripture tells us that the Word of God is a lamp for our feet and a light on our path. This doesn’t mean the prescription to the methods of taking attendance (or whatever dilemma you are facing) is found somewhere in the Bible, but, to me at least, it means that if we hold the Word of God in front of us, acknowledging that God goes before us through our troubles, then the pathway will be illumined. We still need to do our homework and creatively find solid footing along the way, but we can lead with confidence because we know we’re doing our best to follow God’s lead. 

Lift up your questions, options and answers in prayer, individually and as a team, and listen! As a group, place your options next to Scripture and see what you find. Where do you hear God calling you to step next? Finally, look for hints within our church tradition, within the group’s ability to reason, and within your own experiences. I realize this doesn’t fit the expectation expressed by (the title of) “The One Minute Manager,” but perhaps it shouldn’t. Getting beyond a lose-lose often means the team needs to lose itself; not to the decision, but to the mission. 

Try new things. Commit to experiments. Test hypotheses. Amend expectations. Celebrate tiny victories. Push for fresh concepts. Experience new angles. Ask visitors tough questions. Dare to say, “I don’t know. Come and see.” Cross ministry with social sciences. Blend tradition with technology. Prove your relevance. Build bridges. Cross them. Try again. Admit mistakes. Don’t be afraid to fail. Know that victory is found in Christ. 

At the end of the day, don’t worry; someone will likely still be upset with your decision. When you hear someone is upset, listen first and respond as best you can. This is where it’s handy to have “skin like a rhino and a heart like Mother Teresa.” How you respond is how you win.  

comments powered by Disqus