For much of my life I have suspected that standard ministry practices are not nearly as effective as they are assumed to be. One main reason for my skepticism is that I have observed how little rigor goes into decisions about what we should do, when, why and how we will determine whether something has actually delivered the outcome we hoped for.
What’s sad is to realize how much unnecessary leakage there is in our efforts. I sleep with a CPAP machine each night, forcing air into my lungs so I can get proper rest. If the seal on my mask isn’t tight the otherwise wonderfully designed machine can’t help me achieve the results I need. Sloppy, misguided or lazy thinking by ministry leaders breeds practices that waste everyone’s time. They leak. Tragically, they often de-form people on their spiritual journey. Of such leaders Jesus said they would be better off with a big ol’ rock tied around their necks as they are thrown into the sea (Luke 17:2).
With so much at stake, why spend limited capacity on low-return ministry investments?
One answer, is that we simply don’t know a better way than the practices we’re most familiar with. Add busyness to cluelessness and it’s not hard to understand why we don’t risk innovation.
A second answer is that those we’re serving don’t know any better. If they aren’t squeaking why bring out the renovation oil?
Both of these are plausible reasons. But I don’t think they get at the depths of why so many are bent to malpractice. As Henri Nouwen observed (see In the Name of Jesus), too many of us too often give in to the temptation to let others’ needs set the agenda for our efforts rather than listen carefully to Jesus so we can follow his lead in ministry.
Jesus has much to teach us about economizing our activity to maximize our impact. We need ears to hear.