One of the biggest roles of the discipleship office at University is facilitating people in ministry. We have countless leaders of Bible studies, small groups and other gatherings and events. One of the biggest challenges I face is trying to sort though all the people who come to us with ideas for stuff they want to start. On one hand, we are called to support entrepreneurial leadership. In other words, if people feel called by God to do something in ministry, we really don't want to quash that. However, the flip side of that is saying yes to everything with no discernment. A church that did that could end up full to the rim with programs that may be interesting or fun or useful, but have nothing to do with Jesus. There is a balance that requires saying no to some things that aren't related to what the church is about in order to be able to say a strong yes to the things that the church is about. It is hard to believe for some but University UMC does have a limited amount of resources. We only have so many rooms, so many televisions, and so many people who can set things up. If we said yes to everything, we would literally run out of room.
Also, if we are more discerning about what we are starting, we have the ability to be more supportive of the new ministries. This is especially true if we are clear on the purpose and goals of the ministry.
Because there is a pretty high volume of requests that come in and because we are Methodists, I am working with a new system for discernment. People with ideas for starting new ministries, whether they are Bible studies, fellowship groups, recreational activities, anything that requires church resources, are going to be asked to fill out a form (I know some hate this already) that asks them to reflect on a few questions. (Thanks to our Directing Pastor Charles Anderson and our Vision and Values team for help in creating and refining these questions.)
1. In a couple of sentences, please describe the ministry you are proposing: This may seem like a throwaway question but if you can't describe the ministry if a few sentences, how are you going to tell anyone else about it?
2. Would you say this ministry primarily targets people:
Already involved in the church (inside the walls)
Not yet involved in the church (outside the walls)
People in ministry may not like the word "target" but we need to be clear on where we think we are going. A ministry that reaches outside the walls needs to look a little different than one that reaches in. Often we want to say "both" which may be a little true but figuring out who we primarily have in mind helps us to do a better job.
3. Would you say this ministry is primarily targeted towards:
Ages: Under 18
Even more people dislike this because we want to be inclusive. As long as I have been in ministry, I have seen Sunday school classes promote themselves as open to ages 18-100, men and women, lifelong Christians and new Christians. When I have gone to the room I have found that the membership was much more clearly defined by that. This is an internal question. Anyone may be invited to come, but if we have a group in mind, we might make it more inviting or effective for them.
4. Would you say that the primary outcome of this ministry is:
Reaching out to people in our community with the good news of Jesus
Reaching in in an effort to shepherd members of the body of Christ
Reaching deep in an effort to deepen relationships with Jesus
This question is in response to a statement that I have heard quite a few times that goes something like this: "I am sure church members will want to bring their unchurched friends to this." Whether or not they will want to, they usually don't. It is okay to have an event that is about taking care of those in our family of faith. It is important to reach out to the world that surrounds us. It is important to study and learn and deepen our faith. It is nearly impossible to do all three at once. While you may pull off two, you have got to pick which one is the main thing.
5. Describe the primary outcome of this ministry: When I spoke about this with Charles Anderson, he suggested that most ministries have a product and a bi-product and both may have value. I may have a cookout for church members and the main product is just fellowship and quality time together. Someone might bring a friend who ends up meeting Jesus. That is a high value bi-product. On the other hand, say I have a cookout and tell everyone that they must bring an unchurched friend to get in. Introducing people to the church and eventually Jesus might be the "product" there (I know product sounds harsh when talking about introducing people to Jesus, but bear with me) and the high value bi-product is fellowship and quality time together. If we want to do the best job possible we just need to figure out what we are trying to do.
6. How will you measure the success of this ministry? In other words, describe how you will know if this ministry is succeeding: From experience, I believe that most churches are full of ministries that failed a long time ago and our still going. Do we not believe that if God has called us to and anointed a ministry that it will have some measure of success? This is not about large numbers of people. It is a question of whether or not the ministry is doing what it set out to do. A ministry can be effective if it changes the life of even one person. But what about when it changes the life of no one? We need to know how we will know if something is doing what it set out to do. Here is the neat thing. Sometimes, we set out to do one thing and God does something else. That is perfectly wonderful. But even when that happens, we should look back and what we thought we were trying to do, evaluate that and see if we need to make changes to follow the leading of God. We also need to look at things that have just plain failed, learn from then and move on. We really need to stop doing things that use time, talents and resource and are not an effective part of the ministry of Jesus Christ.
The form has some other questions but they are mostly logistical. If you are involved in a ministry, consider taking it through these questions and see where it leads you. This is work in progress, so I would love to read your feedback.
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