“Goal-setting,” in the context and on the terms intended by a leadership-obsessed and management-programmed business mentality that infiltrates the church far too frequently, is bad spirituality. Too much gets left out. Too many people get brushed aside. Maturity cannot be hurried, programmed, or tinkered with. There are no steroids available for growing up in Christ more quickly. Impatient shortcuts land us in the dead ends of immaturity.1
Too often I think how quickly can I make this happen? I come up with a vision, set actionable and obtainable goals, and develop my strategic plan to reach those goals and make that vision a reality. This is what our “leadership-obsessed and management-programmed business mentality” tells me is the best way to achieve success.
Here’s the catch for ministry leaders like me: church is not business. As ministry leaders, we are not dealing primarily with products and pricing and financial gain. We are dealing with people–broken, imperfect, messy people–who were initially created in the image of God and who desperately need to be restored to that initial image. God says so.
In Romans 8:29 we see that God’s purpose for every believer is that they be conformed to the likeness of Christ. Don’t be misled by your own interpretation here. We may be tempted to read “likeness of Christ” and think of a photograph or a portrait–a “visual likeness” of the person. But the important word in this phrase is conformed. To conform is to be the same as; we are to be the same as Jesus. And when we look at Jesus in the gospels, what we see is One who serves–He serves His Father God and He serves humankind.
Serving is not something that comes easily or naturally to us humans, and especially not in the rugged individualistic culture of America. So why is it that ministry leaders think we can hurry people into spiritual maturity by establishing programs that channel them through gifts assessments and plug them into serving opportunities? Will this really hasten spiritual formation? Not in and by itself.
Certainly serving is an integral part of spiritual formation. Throughout the New Testament scriptures we see Jesus and the disciples serving others. By definition, then, to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus means we learn to serve. But learning to serve is not simple and it certainly can’t be rushed. Too often I talk with ministry leaders who want to get an “equipping program” implemented so that they can move on to whatever is next on their business…oops, I mean ministry plan. I find myself reminding them again and again that this will take time and patience and perseverance. It requires frequent reinforcement of equipping values through preaching and teaching, not to mention personal conversations and coming alongside others as they stumble through the process. No, we simply can’t hurry this process.
Want to develop an equipping culture in your church community? You need to first accept that there are no steroids and no shortcuts. Your plan must be designed to fit your context, and even then will need to allow for mid-course corrections and be bathed in grace. You will need to ruthlessly eliminate hurry and cooperate with God, who has all the time he needs to conform those entrusted to your care into the likeness of Christ.
If you are experiencing frustration in the area of volunteer ministry within your community, I would be blessed to come alongside and help you design a system that works in your unique context. Please contact me through my website if I can be of service.
1Eugene H. Peterson, Practicing Resurrection (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2010), p.133