Stop missing the mark.
By Rev. Brent Dearnell
Somewhere along the line longevity of your church and its particular ministries became an intentional or unintentional goal. Whether we are talking about holding on to events from the past, keeping church families of today, or how to make sure things are around in the future we find ourselves in an era where longevity is an assumed goal. On the surface thinking about your church or ministry being around for the next 100 years is beautiful. However, in those 100 years will your church be the community transforming organization or slowly draining their investments seeking quantity of years over quality of years?
As we get started I want to be clear, I am not bashing the finance people at your church. I worked as an Executive Pastor of a relatively well to do church. I get it. Stewardship is essential. When it comes to the longevity in your career, hear me cheering you on for an approach that focuses on health over the long haul. When it comes to the longevity of sharing the Gospel with ALL those in your community for the generations to come I am ALL in on this mission. But, when it comes to the longevity for your church/organization to remain what it was or is, this is where things get a little shaky for me. In my opinion, longevity may not be the best goal. It is my observation, when churches start to aim at longevity as a goal an issues arises.
Issue: When the bullseye shifts towards longevity it is often away from mission.
At some point things will get tight (space, money, volunteers), dreams will get big, or an opportunity will leave people feeling stretched. When the aim stays focused on the mission sacrifice and risk are a natural part of ministry. God places opportunities in front of us calling us to be the hands and feet now. However, when longevity creeps into the conversation it becomes easy to water down things that are tight, seem too big, or over stretch us so we can be around longer. We start trading in quality for quantity. This is the same thing we do to make the jug of lemonade stretch for the extra kids we didn’t expect to come to the last big event.
Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.”
He (Jesus) replied, “You give them something to eat.”
They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.”
The disciples started to feel like things are tight and too big for them. They started to tell Jesus they didn’t have enough. Can't you hear it in their voice: what about us? what about tomorrow? Jesus responded without hesitation. Take ALL that you have and step forward with faith. As a soccer coach I always reminded my players that there is not a 5th quarter, so leave it all on the field. Jesus wasn’t worried about longevity. You can see this is true in Jesus’ own bold life/ministry that lasted 3 years but powerfully transformed the next 2000 plus years. Jesus knew he needed to continually face what was in front of him and shift to the demands of sharing the love of God in this moment. Be present and willing to shift to what is now. Ian Davis describes how this is also a principle for businesses, “A company that learns to adapt and change to meet market demands avoids not just the trauma of decline or an unwanted change of ownership but also very real transaction and disruption costs.” by Ian Davis (Reflections on corporate longevity.) Taking risk and adapting to the opportunity in front of you will help you be more focused on the long term transformation over the short term existence of your ministry/church. Let us have faith that God will carry on sharing the Good News after we, our ministry, our church dies.
SOOO, why is this an important message for those working with young people? It is important because you have the ability to fight. Fight for the now, don’t accept a promise of what has been, makes people happy, or may be about securing the future. You get any set of children (11 years), students (6 years), or young adults (5 years) for a very short but critical part of their journey. Your church being around in 20 years may not matter if the young people you are working with feel overlooked and underwhelmed by the love you offer them in the name of longevity. Dream of what could be if a.) you assumed God will provide the next set of fish and bread while doing the best we can with the baskets He has already given us. b.) you believed the mission of sharing the Good News will carry on with or without you. Let us be the ones that gave all we could while we could. As Andy Stanley has said, “Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.”
Let us aim at the mission and allow longevity to be a side effect. Every living thing, our local church included, will follow a lifecycle started in birth and ending in death. However, the work of those "living things" (the church) can live on in those it transformed. The true success in this mission is allowing God to work through us with the people God brings us in God's time.
Rev. Brent Dearnell
Brent is married to Sara and is a father to four young children. He has served as a volunteer, interim, and full-time youth pastor, discipleship pastor, and executive pastor. Before going into ministry full-time he was a middle school teacher in an urban environment as well as a varsity soccer coach. He is passionate about helping young people live into their passion, faith, and call. This passion is why he is one of the cofounders of Colocate Ministry Consulting and serves as one of our coaches.