Your Methods are Not Your Ministry: Reimagining Ministry in Light of COVID19

He was a big, burly man. The kind of guy a stranger normally wouldn’t look straight in the eye. But when you got to know him, you learned this grizzly of a man’s spirit was more plush than it was rough. He was kind hearted and gentle. Even still, I wouldn’t want to be on his bad side.

He sat in my office that morning with tears streaming down his face. “Broken” was the only word that came to mind in the moment. I listened as he explained that he had invested thirty years of his life into a well-known organization whose mission was to raise boys into young men of character and competence. But that organization had recently taken a sociologically and philosophically liberal shift. He was lamenting the inevitable truth that as a Christian man, his conscience would no longer allow him to be part of the organization. A thirty year investment was washed away in the sudden, sweeping current of liberal ideology. Or so he thought.

“What, exactly, were you investing in?” I asked.

“I invested my life in this organization.”

“No you didn’t,” came my gentle redirection. “You invested your life in young men. The organization was just a tool for your worthy investment. There are other tools—other organizations—out there you can work with/through to continue investing your life in young men.”

That truth was freedom to this monster of a man. His countenance almost immediately changed as he realized that the organization was not his investment, but merely a vehicle for his investment. The vehicle broke down. To continue the investment, he just needed a new one.

During this season of cultural crisis, brought on by the COVID19 pandemic, many church ministry leaders have felt like this bear of a man. They had momentum. They had plans. They had budgets. They had methods, events, and programs. And they were good. But ministry leaders who thrive through and after this season will be the ones who realize that those are merely vehicles for ministry; they are not the ministry themselves.

Your methods are not your ministry.
Your programs are not your ministry.
Your events are not your ministry.

“Your methods are not your ministry. Your programs are not your ministry. Your events are not your ministry… if you hitch your ministry to your vehicle, when the vehicle breaks down the ministry goes nowhere.”

If you are a Worship Leader, your ministry is not your choir, your orchestra, or your Christmas musical. Those are merely vehicles for ministry. Your ministry is leading Christ-followers to engage the heart of God through congregational adoration and praise of the God who loves them and has called them into his salvation.

If you are a Children’s Minister, your ministry is not Wednesday Night groups, Vacation Bible School, or monthly birthday parties. Those are vehicles for ministry. Your ministry is assisting, resourcing, and empowering parents in reproducing and reinforcing the Christian faith in the lives of the children in your community.

If you are a Youth Minister, your ministry is not Sunday morning breakfast tacos, organized school pizza lunches, or Summer camps. Those are vehicles for ministry. Your ministry is to work with parents to reach students for Christ, disciple them in the faith, and solidify a Christian worldview as they prepare to be sent out as missionaries into colleges and the workforce.

If you are an Education/Discipleship Minister, your ministry is not structured Sunday School, gathered weekly D-Groups, Zoom meetings, or quarterly fellowships. Those are vehicles for ministry. Your ministry is to lead the church in reproducing disciples of Jesus who are reproducing disciples of Jesus.

The list goes on.

None of these events, methods, or programs are bad. They have been good vehicles for ministry in the past, and they may be good vehicles for ministry in the future as well. But if you hitch your ministry to your vehicle, when the vehicle breaks down the ministry goes nowhere.

Here are 3 actionable items for you right now, if your ministry is to thrive through and after this season of cultural crisis.

1. Recapture your ministry purpose. Come up with a single statement that will serve as the funnel for all decisions in your ministry area. Be sure to grapple with how that purpose fits inside the purpose and goals of the overall church vision, under the leadership of your Senior Pastor/Elder. Refuse to think in terms of methods, programs, or events. Don’t hitch your ministry purpose to one or two method wagons. Think high-level, overarching purpose. Why does your ministry area exist?

2. Solidify your ministry’s core values. As you innovate and create new methods, events, and programs, there will be some things that always remain non-negotiable. What are they? What are the three-five words or short statements that will always describe the unassailable values of your ministry efforts? They must be transferable from method to method and program to program. Work to refine these with concision and clarity. It will be of more benefit to you and your ministry team than you can imagine.

3. Gather a team to evaluate old ministry vehicles and explore new ones. These need to be trusted leaders in your ministry area who are critical thinkers and team-players. Share with them how you have arrived at the answers to the previous two questions and ask for their input as well. Lay out the complications with current methods, programs, and events. Ask for feedback and ideas. Value their creativity. Let them help you dream about and shape the vehicles of your ministry area for today and tomorrow. Allow this conversation to take shape over time. Then enlist their help, taking appropriate action to either refuel old ministry vehicles or create new ones.

Your methods are not your ministry.
Your programs are not your ministry.
Your events are not your ministry.

The truth is, just like the culture is not going back to 1989, it’s not going back to 2019 either. What do you need to do away with? What do you need to reimagine? What do you need to create and innovate? Surely you have not invested your life in a method or a program. Surely your investment has been and will continue to be in people, under the banner of the Great Commission. Methods, events, and programs change. The mission does not.

How might God be using this season to refine and refocus your ministry back to what is most important?

Grace and Peace,
Tony

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