I have always been a fan of Western movies. Cowboys, outlaws, rolling hills, and of course, horses. However, every now and then a cowboy’s horse will stumble and become lame. This majestic animal who has faithfully carried his owner through good times and bad has just one option remaining, a quick and painless death via a bullet to the head. It is always a sad point in the story when the cowboy realizes that his faithful companion has outlived his usefulness.
The same story plays it’s self out over and over again in life and in ministry. In the business world, when a product or project is no longer needed a good CEO makes the decision to give it the bullet. However, in the delicate arena of ministry we often struggle with such difficult decisions which impact the people we serve and the people we serve with. Good leaders know when it is time to pull the trigger. Great leaders do it.
Often as I have worked with pastors, missionaries, and other church leaders the question arises; “When should we consider stopping a particular ministry, to reinvest our resources elsewhere?” It can be a hard question to answer, especially when we consider all of the emotional and relational aspects of the decision. I have come across a few questions which have helped to guide in this decision making process. These are certainly not the only questions which need to be asked, but they provide a good starting point.
Is there duplication or redundancy in service?
It is important to evaluate the significance of what we are providing. Is the same service being provided elsewhere? Are other people able to provide a better service than we are? In one of the churches I pastured we wrestled with this very question. Parents in our small congregation wanted to have a certain children’s program…
Is there a diminishing vision and passion?
We know that where there is no vision, people perish. The same is true for churches and ministry. In many denominations there are as many churches closing as there are new ones being planted. Often this is the direct result of a lost or stagnant vision. When a vision ceases to grow and challenge a congregation, the congregation will also stop growing and slip into a new ministry paradigm and focus more attention toward the “good old days.”
Unless a ministry is staffed with passionate participants with a vision for the future and what their ministry can accomplish, it runs the risk of becoming a lame horse.
Is there a lack of inspirational Leadership
I believe that there are times in ministry when we fail to see and hear what the Lord is trying to communicate to us. If we believe in the sovereignty of God, then we must believe that he will provide the right people at the right time to serve and lead in the right things. Too often we make the mistake of hanging on to ministries long past their effectiveness. We result to twisting arms and begging people to help in a certain program or to teach in a particular class. Sometimes a lack of inspired volunteers and leaders is a sign that we need to stop something and try something new, which leads to the final question.
Is there a need for new management.
We have all observed businesses and restaurants that fall into a slump, only to pick up again when a new owner comes along, freshens up the product or delivery, and hangs out the sign, “Under New Management.” There are times in life when for various reasons we run out of steam or creativity. It is easy to slip into a rut and start coasting. There are times in ministry when it takes a new driver, or new drivers and passengers, to get the vehicle out of the ruts. New leaders bring new experiences and perspectives. Fresh eyes see things anew and can often help to inspire new vision and passion. I believe that just as there are times in life when the horse needs to be put down, there are also times in life when the horse just needs some love and care and perhaps a new rider.
Am I implying that when a ministry or church is plateaued that they need to kick out the pastor/leader and start over? By no means. Most of the time the leader just needs a little encouragement and inspiration from a coach or mentor to help them over the present hurdle. But there are times when the leader knows in his or her heart that he has given all that he has to give and it is now time for someone else to lead the ministry for the next mile.
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