You’ve heard the joke about changing a light bulb: “How many Baptists does it take to change a light bulb?”
“None. Baptists don’t change anything.”
Several years ago, I was working with a ministry that invested a great deal of money in an annual fall event. The event was fun, reached a lot of people for a weekend and had become a tradition. I was the bad guy who suggested that the money spent on this three-day event could probably be used more effectively in ongoing ministry throughout the year.
We “killed” the event but not without some tears being shed, but not by me. I think I am still friends with those who wanted to keep it going, but saying “so long” to an established ministry is never easy.
In his book, “Axiom: Powerful Leadership Parables,” Bill Hybels addresses the challenge a leader faces when the time comes to evaluate the sustainability of an established ministry. He suggests that a leader can do one of three things: give it a facelift, overhaul it or have a funeral. Every once in a while, we would do well to look at ongoing ministries and perform this kind of triage.
Some ministries (worship services, Bible studies, community projects and so on) may just need a facelift to make them more attractive. This could be a new time, a new name or a new location. In this situation, the core idea is good and the ministry is fulfilling a needed function, but it just needs a little sprucing up.
Others may need an overhaul – new leadership, new purpose or new target audience. Although this may step on someone’s toes, if the decision has been made that this ministry supports the values of the church, leadership must seek out the new perspective that is needed to make it more productive.
And then there are those things that just need to be put to rest. The ministry has outlived its usefulness, it no longer supports the mission of the church, no one wants to lead it, or it just costs too much to continue. Giving a ministry a funeral requires all of the care exhibited in putting a loved one to rest. It must be done with respect, gratitude and love, but at the end of the service, the lid is shut and the casket goes into the ground.
Action number one produces little pain. Action number two hurts a bit. Action three may result in more than one funeral! The good leader prays for wisdom, seeks to build consensus and then proceeds with the task at hand, acknowledging that change is never easy.
Ircel Harrison is an associate with Pinnacle Leadership Associates and director of the Murfreesboro Center of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. A version of this column appeared previously on his blog.
Ircel Harrison is coaching coordinator for Pinnacle Leadership Associates and is supplemental associate professor of missional theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary.