This week we asked the Outlook bloggers to share a “ministry hack” they’ve learned. Here’s what they shared.
OK… I’ve never really liked the term “hack,” because it reminds me of a “hack job,” which seems to be a term for barely getting the project done. But, even though lots of churches seem to prefer “doing it the way we’ve always done it,” efficiency is a very biblical and necessary criteria for ministry leaders. I am a self-described type-A individual, so I love being efficient. In fact, one of my favorite things is to update policies and procedures so that my church is more accurate, successful and efficient moving forward (yes, I’m a total nerd).
Despite that introduction, I will humbly declare that the greatest ministry hacks I’ve discovered so far are hardly my discoveries at all, but perhaps obvious reminders. The first is delegation, or put even more humbly: not trying to do someone else’s job. The leadership of each Presbyterian church is made up of elders, deacons and pastors. We recently ordained and installed new elders and deacons, and as I read the liturgy for the service of ordination and installation what stood out is this: We are all equally there, on one line, together. (And, in fact, pastors are listed last if you want to put an order to it.) Yet, I sometimes find myself acting like I’m the only one flying the plane. I can revise the church budget, update the newsletter and check on communion supplies, but that doesn’t mean I should or that the church has called me to do those things. Like any church leader, I struggle to stay in my lane. I want everything to be perfect, but God often has other goals that are more important.
Our church focused on hospitality last year, and when it comes to serving people in need, we adopted the phrase, “do what you can, when you can.” But, when it comes to our church leadership doing ministry together, that phrase does, could and should get us into trouble. Instead, as another church leader cautioned me, it is instead a case of, “do what only you can do,” or perhaps “do only what you are called to do.” When we find ourselves doing someone else’s designated work, we not only discourage them from serving, but we make ourselves inefficient at our own called work. Paul’s analogy was of the human body and all parts of the body needing other parts to function well. I think Paul knew that we would desire to help one another, but taking over, moving into areas in ministry that are not our own, eventually causes more pain than gain.
The second ministry hack that I have discovered (again, I recognize that this hardly qualifies as my own discovery) is to never put individuals above what God has called the church to do. This one can tug at the heartstrings, but God has called all of us to important work as a community of faith. No one person is worth abandoning that call. Now, that is not to say that we don’t take care of individuals from time to time; a healthy worshipping community takes care of itself and each other. But, if an individual’s needs run contrary to the called ministry of the church, we must make decisions that protect and further the ministry of the church. I have never been part of a church that didn’t struggle with this piece of the call — especially when it comes to employment, mental illness and long-time members.
Power struggles are just as real in churches as they are in politics. And, sadly, many individuals serving in the church fail to recognize when their passion for the church somehow becomes perverted into their personal passion. We all like to get our own way, but our way does not always align with what God is calling the church to do. It is so tempting to “just be nice” and avoid conflict when desires compete, but it stunts or postpones ministry — often for lengthy time periods. And, when a church ignores their God-given calling in order to protect the feelings of an individuals, it ultimately hurts the church as a whole (and can even cause a church to go against the calling of God).
When choosing which hacks to share, I almost wish I had picked some low-hanging fruit like using the calendar app on my phone or storing prayer requests electronically. But, while those certainly make my ministry more viable, they are easy fixes. Easy fixes seem to make small impacts. Delegation and choosing the calling of the church over other competing callings are hard to implement but are sure to have large impacts. And they are two ministry hacks that I can see myself legitimately working to incorporate in all ministry contexts and throughout my days as a Minister of Word and Sacrament.
JULIE RAFFETY serves as the pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Franklin, New Jersey. Julie is a violinist, aspiring writer, snowboarder, runner, identical twin and crazy about popcorn.