There are many subjects which fall beyond my knowledge and capabilities, but blogging about ministry mistakes is well within my expertise. I have made my share of them in 25 years of serving churches. It is only by God’s grace that those ministries were successful and yielded fruit. As I ponder on leadership, and in particular my own ministry, I am reminded of things that I would do differently if given the opportunity. With that in mind let me give you 5 common mistakes that church leaders make.
1. Using statistical data alone to determine ministry success. I recall a church in my area that was thriving a few years ago. The leaders of the church would often speak of their overflowing attendance and their lofty offerings. They would muse on their effective ministries and would even host workshops to show other churches how well they were doing. It was true that they were busting at the seams and it was tough to get a parking spot on Sundays. They eventually relocated their church to a brand new multimillion dollar facility a few miles away. However, I knew things about the church that bothered me. I knew first hand of shady things taking place with the church leaders and saw first hand the lack of fruit in many of their members. After moving to a new location, the church eventually folded as the pastor experienced a moral failure and the church lacked the spiritual veracity to hold it all together. From the outside looking in, the church was highly successful. Statistical it was as strong as any church in our area. However the lack of spiritual depth found in the staff and members eventually was the undoing. Sad, very sad. The effectiveness of a ministry should never be found in statistical and numerical analysis alone. Church leaders who look only at the attendance boards to determine ministry effectiveness may be fooling themselves. Don’t get me wrong, numbers are helpful in determining and analyzing ministry effectiveness but they are not always reliable. Growth doesn’t always equal health. Cancerous tumors grow, but they are far from healthy. In analyzing effectiveness church leaders need to take a more rounded and systemic approach. The most important question is not “How many people were in church Sunday?” The most important question is “What type of believers does this church produce?” Is your church producing world changing radical followers of Jesus Christ? That is something that statistical data can’t measure.
2. Investing in programs rather than people. The body of Christ is not made up of programs it is made up of people. It is possible to have healthy robust programs and weak fledgeling members. Church leaders can get easily caught up in promoting and running programs in the church meanwhile neglecting the individuals that are in the programs. A wise pastor will intentionally invest in his people every week. A phone call, a visit, an email, a hand written note, a brief conversation and prayer in the hallway at church, these moments bring lasting results in the lives of the members. Be careful not to simply work on keeping programs performing and all the while neglect the flock that God has entrusted to you.
3. Labeling “Evangelism/Outreach” as a ministry. Among the last statements that Jesus gave to his church we find clear commands on what his church should be about. Matt 28: 18-20 & Acts 1:8. These statements were not given to random people, they were handed down to the people who would become “The Church.” Often times I see churches offer an “outreach ministry” or “Evangelism Ministry”. While this is admirable it should be noted that these things are not to be segmented as something we “offer”, rather they should be engrained in to what we are. Being missional is within the DNA of the body of Christ. Every other ministry should be birthed from the missional nature of the church. In a sense every activity of the church should be evangelistic and outreach driven. The early church in Acts never had an “outreach” ministry, they had an outreach mentality. Every fiber of their being was dedicated to reaching their world for Christ.
4. Planning that is based on what “the church wants to do.” Most churches construct their church calendars based on what the “members want to do.” It is easy for a church leader to fall into the same mindset. We fill our weeks with fellowship meals, trips, traditional events, homecoming, cantatas, and events that will minister to “our members.” There is nothing wrong with planning these types of events, what is certainly wrong is if we plan them only to keep the members entertained, happy and engaged. Leaders should often examine their bulletins, budgets and buildings and ask themselves, “How much of what I see is for the comfort and entertainment of Christians?” Without even realizing it many of our churches become civic clubs for believers. How much of your budget, how many of your monthly activities, how much of the functionality of your buildings is committed to reaching your community for the Gospel? It is easy to fill our calendars up with activities our members enjoy. Every activity scheduled needs to have a missional component. Great commission churches are intentional in reaching their community. Our budgets, bulletins and buildings ought to reflect the commission the Lord Jesus has handed down to us.
5. Hoarding the ministry opportunities. An effective church leader invests time in equipping people to do the work of the ministry. Let us never lose sight of our biblical responsibility to “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” Eph. 4:12. It is so easy for church leaders to just do it themselves. Though it robs us of time, energy and resources we will do something because we know we can and it will be done right. However, many pastors have burnt out with this mentality. Give your ministry away. Invest ministry opportunities in your members. Help them realize their spiritual gift and hand them opportunities to use those gifts for the edifying of the church. We must get back to the biblical model of equipping our people rather than doing it all ourselves because “the church is paying us to do it.” What ministry activity can you hand off to someone else today as to give you more time in the Word, in prayer and with your family? You are not superman, you have limits. I often enjoyed taking deacons with me on hospital visits or ministry visits. I would talk to them before and after the visit on the best way to minister to those who were hurting. The next time someone needed a visit I felt much more comfortable sending that deacon because I intentionally equipped them to minister.