Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Is Ministry the New Idolatry?

I'm at Missouri Ministers' School this week.

Tim Keel said this afternoon that we worship our ministries, and the way he said it was basically saying we are guilty of idolatry. His point was that we attach so much importance to the programs that they become the most important thing, far more important that the faith they are supposed to nurture, not to mention the God they are supposed to serve.

Congregations spend (waste) a lot of time trying to put programs into place rather than allowing things to come up from within the people. It seems like we see the "success" of a congregation and immediately try to emulate it in our own context. Not emulate - duplicate. So we say that what we need here is such-and-such a program and then we bring in someone to do it and try to make it fit our context.

Does your congregation worship it's ministries? Have the things you do become more important than what you are?

That's not to say that we cannot learn from other congregations. We need to hear the stories of other congregations, if not to simply do what they do, then to understand how they do what they do and grow from that. We are connectional; collaborative. Tim Keel's word is "postures." We adopt postures toward life, and it is these postures which we can learn from others.

If we adopt a "posture of availability," we set the stage for the work of the Holy Spirit in a way that is impossible if we try to artficially impose a program or a ministry from another place onto our context. The trick is to stay open, stay "available," stay on the lookout for where God might me moving next, and remember that it might very well be in our midst.

There was more to Tim's presentation, but that idea really caught my attention. Tomorrow we hear from Robert Martin from Saint Paul School of Theology and Craig Miller from the General Board of Discipleship. I'll write more later about what they have to say.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing; I'm not able to attend Minister's school. After being in program ministry for so long, I have wondered myself how we can enable ministry to just flow from the gifts of the people. Yet, as clergy and/or staff, how is our effectiveness measured? By the number of programs implemented? Or by the number of passionate volunteers serving in their area of giftedness?

Anonymous said...

Is this a chicken or the egg debate? Programs are intended to spark discipleship not be ends unto themselves. If we were all where we should be there wouldn't be a need for programs, but that's clearly not the case. So which comes first? Did Tim suggest ways to lead folks into engaging discipleship without a program?

Andy B. said...

Mitch, Tim didn't advocate trying to go without "programs" altogether. His ideas are that what we do is most effective/meaningful/faithful when they emerge from the context. Ministry idolatry happens when we try to force the latest fad or gimmick in a place where that really isn't going to flourish. It also happens, he said, when we do a ministry so long and without sufficient renewal that it becomes a rote excersice, stale and empty. (Those are my words, but the gist of what he was getting at, I think.)

Anonymous said...


Good to see you this week. I have to say this came out amazingly cogent given the context of the writing. I agree with Tim. Seems that in my experience until at least three folks see the new vision and have a passion for the new ministry then it has little chance for success. Transplants don't work. The question of how to measure that success is key. Gil Rendle has said that what we primarily measure is inputs - how many people came, etc. What we should measure is outputs. How were lives changed? What was the impact on the community? Who would notice if the program/ministry ceased to exist?