Each day millions of new ministry ideas are conceived in the mind of God’s people but sadly are never birthed into a reality that helps the sinner or the saint. Thus, moving an idea from the heart to the hand is paramount for church leaders. So what’s involved in turning a ministry idea into a ministry action? What will help put “wheels” on the spiritual engine so it moves forward?
In 1 Corinthians 4:3 passage Paul writes, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow.” He goes on to explain that no one deserved credit for the spiritual growth of the Corinthians except for God. Likewise, we must always admit that grace gives the growth. But, notice that there’s an act of obedience along the way. Paul was clear that something had “been planted.”
Over the years I’ve had dozens of young men tell me they feel called into ministry. Yet, most of them never went out and did anything with that feeling. We must remember that a call to ministry is a call to action. It is an alarm clock summoning the man to rise, a bugle summoning him to warfare. Ministry is not seminary, ministry is not a fine desk, ministry is not prayer, ministry is not books, and ministry is not even a staff position at a non-profit or local church. Each of those items power ministry, and could even be called the engine of ministry, but ministry itself is using those things to save and serve people. In my estimation, there is nothing more frightening than to call one’s self “minister”, take a salary from God’s people, but never produce any fruit for God. How will we explain that in heaven when called to give account for our deeds? Can a fisherman come home without fish? Can an attorney not argue his case? Can an athlete not play the game? Souls must be won, disciples must be made, and then we can call it ministry.
Ministry means something tangible is planted. Surely, it begins with prayer and planning, but once the plans are laid, something real must go in the soil. One of the most spurious detractors from tangible ministry today is the amount of time people spend online fabricating their personal platform. It is staggering how many in my generation call themselves “minister” or “pastor” in the virtual space of social media. It is also staggering the amount of time people devote to blogging, argument, and building an international follower base while rarely, if ever, leading a tangible person into relationship with Christ.
Ultimately, healthy regional movements will be birthed out of healthy local movements. This post isn’t meant to be missiological but even the early church was told to first witness to their peers, then to the Samaritan outcasts, before eventually considering the “remote” parts of earth (Acts 1:8). Their task was to start local before going global. Ministry is one leader effectively serving his family, his community, eventually a region, and if the Lord should will, the world. Scores of notable churches, missionary societies, and parachurch organizations stand as evidence of one team obedient to a local ministry which blossomed into much more.
Brothers and sisters in ministry, something tangible must be planted. It may be three buddies in your dorm room, a local rescue mission, one friend at the coffee shop, a street corner, ten kids in youth group, a men’s theology class, or missionary work in Kenya, but it will always begin with getting real people in a real room to sit and discuss real Scripture and experience real life change. Something tangible must be planted but not all of us are naturally gifted nor resourced to take a ministry from ideation to graduation so let’s discuss the most crucial steps in planting a tangible ministry unto God’s glory:
1. Pray. A Christian ministry will always flow out of Christ’s heart. If you aren’t seeking Christ through His word and available to His will then you simply won’t be used how you hope. God sometimes uses ability but most often uses availability. One of my favorite examples of a true prayer warrior who made herself available was Corrie Ten Boom. In the early 1940’s Nazi’s were plucking Jews from her streets in Holland. And, it was during prayer that she realized her little watch shop could be the location used to save Jews from death. Further, it was during prayer that while locked in a Nazi concentration camp she realized even the fleas were being used to provide her the space to hold bible study away from the guards privy! All true ministry starts with a heart burdened for the things of God.
2. Picture. While spending days, months, even years in prayer, a ministry idea will emerge. Be sure to always have a journal ready and begin jotting down “what” this ministry could be. Don’t spend too much time in the early phases focusing on “how” it will transpire as that will come later. In the early stages, simply document what it is and why it must be accomplished. Do your very best to document why this particular ministry must be done now. What does it add to the world now? What would it do for the kingdom of God now? What would the world miss if it didn’t happen? If there’s no pressing “now” then it’s likely not a very relevant idea.
3. Propose. Proverbs 11:14 tells us, “Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory.” After you’ve documented in detail the idea for tangible ministry God has stirred in your heart, dare to propose it to trusted people of wisdom and stature. When presenting your idea to them, don’t just present the idea, but also present yourself. Ask that they examine you. Are you gifted in this area? Are you the right person for the task? Are there others who might do better? One of my favorite examples of a person willing to trust authority was Katie Davis, a college girl who felt called to rescue orphans in Uganda. She had promised her father that she would attend college, so even though her heart was set on Africa, she came home and attended a semester at the local university, all the while preparing for Uganda, and in the mean time earning the trust of her parents. The point is that if we aren’t willing to proceed with wisdom in our current commitments why should we be trusted in future commitments?
4. Plan. Proverbs 21:5 tells us, “The plans of the diligent surely come to advantage…” If the art of planting tangible ministries is vision casting then the science is proper planning. This has been an area I struggled with early in ministry and I find it to be true for many leaders. Many people with incredible vision lack the foresight to sit down for many hours and craft a plan that will get them from point A to point Z. One simple way to think about planning is to draw out a desired end and then formulate the building blocks that will take you there. I call this “starting with the end in mind.” The following steps aren’t comprehensive but they are a starting place. They can also be used for personal growth or in a family setting by husbands, wives, mothers, and fathers.
- Document the Objective. Step one is to define the goal or objective in a measurable way. For example, an objective could look like this, “In one year, I will lead a youth ministry of 25 servants of Christ.” (Notice in the objective that I’ve documented who, what, and when because these are tangible parts of the new ministry.)
- Document the Steps. The second part of proper planning is to define what steps are necessary to reach the goal. Using the example above regarding youth ministry, I must determine and write out “in order” everything it will take to reach my goal: 1) Attaining my pastor’s permission 2) Determining which venue I will use 3) Recruiting my leadership team 4) Pulling a roster of families with youth 5) Funding my promotional material 6) Visiting the local Middle School 7) Determining a launch day etc.
- Document Convictions. As we’ll see in the next section, surprises and setbacks will come. Knowing this, a leader must determine which items are convictions for he/she and the ministry. Much more than core values that change, convictions are items that cannot be surrendered, items for which we’ll walk away, or even die for if necessary. Clearly for church leaders these will come from a proper interpretation of Scripture.
- Adjust for Surprises. Proverbs 16:9 says, “A man determines his course but God determines his steps” and this remains a valuable reminder that God’s plans may include different people and different timing than my own! Every person who builds or leads a ministry will run into obstacles along the way and must determine if the obstacle is simply a bump in the road to be overcome or strong enough that God may be redirecting him/her entirely. In my experience, small obstacles that deal with people and timing simply require adjustment while large obstacles such as rejection by trusted leaders, venue relinquishment, or lack of funds, require deep prayer and evaluation about God’s will. Money tends to follow ministry so if you find yourself without people or funding you need to seriously evaluate the calling.
5. People. Once you’ve set your plan in place (or sometimes before you’ve set your plan in place) you MUST build a team. Leadership by its very definition supposes that you will have followers. If you find that no one is willing to follow you (or your plan) then accept that as a major warning light. [Of course there are examples of heroic men and women who’ve succeeded alone however we know of these because they are the exception and not the rule!] An valuable key to good leadership is recognizing where you are gifted and where you are not. If you have a strong speaking gift, you may need help with administration. If you’re strong in administration, you may need help with building community etc. On a good team there is normally one person who is leading, another who is administrating, and another caring for the people. Of course, at the beginning one person may need to do it all but the primary goal should be to develop this level of team balance even if it takes a few years. As you build the team, consider incorporating the following strategies to insure your ministry idea is shared by all:
- Team size. Don’t attempt to lead a large team alone. I’ve seen ministries where a leader attempts to lead 30+ staff/volunteers alone. Sadly, no one is discipled and ultimately the team begins quarreling. Most every study in military history agrees that any one person can only directly develop and lead a team of 3-6. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus had twelve disciples and three of those were his “inner” circle? Most every military in history used a semblance of corps, divisions, brigades, battalions, companies, platoons, squads, and fire teams because a leader must be able to insure direct communication both up and down the chain of command. Further, a leader must have time to work with his foremost team to develop desired traits and core convictions that he can trust will be passed onto the next tier of ministry leadership. If a ministry team is well structured and the initial team of 5-6 inherit the qualities of the leader, eventually the same ideology will be passed forth.
- Team Development. It’s important for a ministry leader to create a culture where the immediate team unifies around singular vision, thrives in open communication, and passes down the spiritual culture to their direct reports. The larger a team gets the more complex this becomes but there are certain elements that can guide a team into building and translating a culture of open communication that protects vision while maintaining unity and joy. One way to remember is the acronym S.H.O.R.T. standing for Small, Heart, Objectives, Reporting, and Tolerance.
Small. The first dynamic previously mentioned is keeping teams small. Even as the ministry grows, it is vital to build in an organizational structure that replicates itself many times over instead of forcing one person to attempt discipleship of dozens of paid staff or volunteers. Especially in Christian ministry, we must remember that discipleship of “who” a person is carries as much, if not more weight, than simply overseeing “what” a person does. Sadly, many church ministries that were founded on close quarters purity grew into corporate style bottom dollar.
Heart. The next dynamic in maintaining a culture of conviction is insuring that everyone within the ministry hears the “why” behind leadership decisions and has the right to question the “why” if they are confused. In the 1950’s when corporate America boomed there was a generation that built companies on workers who took their paycheck but asked no questions. The result of this was workers who had no vested interest in the company. In ministry, the Bible and deep spiritual factors of honesty, integrity, and motivation for souls should be driving our decisions, so relate those to your team, and demand that if they don’t understand they come and ask. Ultimately, if all team members understand “why” they will leak that passion (and unity) into their own teams.
Objectives. Every year, ministry leaders must reevaluate their core convictions and determine if they are in fact meeting their stated criteria for the year previous. Subsequently, a culture should be created where every subsidiary ministry also does the same. In essence, everyone in the ministry should have evaluated their reasoning, set their goals, built out the steps to that goal, and worked diligently around any obstacles. A ministry without convictions, objectives, or accountability will naturally proceed into the second law of thermodynamics which says, “Everything goes from order to disorder” and ultimately prompting a nosedive into ineffectiveness.
Reporting. Any team that doesn’t communicate will certainly lose. The best teams communicate to one another and work in harmony. Reporting should not just flow down from the ministry leaders to the teams but back up from teams to their leaders. Whatever system you use, find a way for information to flow freely! Picture your ministry as warfare (because spiritually speaking it is) and realize that if any troops are under “fire” from the enemy everyone must know and come to their aid.
Tolerance. A culture is not maintained by what you say but by what you tolerate. The weakest link on the chain will always be the bar for your ministry and everyone will observe how we deal with this issue or individual. Even in spiritual life, there will be people who are lazy or defiant and you must deal with them appropriately, giving them an appropriate chance for restoration, and eventually removing them from the team if there’s no change. If you do not act, eventually the team and ministry at large will build contempt for the leaders and the organization. Proverbs 22:10 reminds us, “Drive out the scoffer and contention will go out also…”
To summarize, the engine that drives ministry forward is grace, but the wheels and chassis are the tangible touch and teamwork within it. Whether it’s a church plant, youth ministry, missionary work, or a club at school, to be true ministry it must include the real Gospel, led by a real team, transforming the lives of real sinners and saints.