The Dangers of Our Perpetual Ministry Activity

Dust bunnies on white reflecting background.

“In the church, as long as you appear busy, people rarely question your knowledge or effectiveness. They assume whenever there is a cloud of dust, meaningful activity must be just ahead of it. So I started kicking up perpetual dust clouds.” – Fil

Fil Anderson is the author of a book I read more than a decade ago, Running On Empty. His book, sub-titled, “Contemplative spirituality for overachievers” is a helpful one I recommend. Fil began to see a revelation of who he was becoming… a minister on empty, in multiple areas of his life. In his own words, “So I started kicking up perpetual dust clouds.”

How much dust are you kicking up?  How do you identify if your ministry is kicking up dust clouds? Maybe the best way to identify the cloud is to understand the things it might be hiding.

What’s could be hiding behind the dust clouds:

  1. An absence of true direction

It could be you’re not called to vocational ministry or to lead your church’s vision, and when you don’t have that calling, you replace it with other stuff. You stir up dust clouds in hopes no one will notice there’s nothing holy or substantive about the work you’re leading.

  1. Sin

Frenetic work and ministry activities can easily conceal sin. And many times, the dust clouds aren’t even intended to conceal, but rather to compensate. You have guilt about your personal sin, so you strive to make up for it by manufacturing more ministry.

  1. Tired people

Within these dust clouds we create, there are tired volunteers. We don’t want to be tired alone, so we invite others into our dusty worlds. We recruit them with great vision and momentum, and when we tire them with our meandering mediocrity, they not only lose steam but also the beautiful spirituality of their service.

  1. Inadequacy

There will always be more dust to kick up. There will always be more ministry to do.  But there will come a day when your pace slows down, and people will notice… “He used to make so many more hospital visits.” “She used to offer more support groups for our community.” “I can’t believe he doesn’t attend our group study anymore.”

You’ll hear these whispers and feel inadequate…And the truth is, you are.

You can’t keep up a façade of assumed knowledge and effective ministry via meaningless activity. Albeit meaningless, it’s still tiring. At some point you’ll reach “empty”, the dust cloud will settle, and you’ll realize you don’t know what to do next.

So how do you avoid this dusty reality?

You can avoid the perpetual dust cloud by understanding who you are in Christ. By understanding what God has called you to do. By clearly understanding what the church has called you to do… and what it hasn’t.

I believe with all my heart God will provide you with enough clarity to take the first steps to move out of the dust clouds. Search scripture. Seek wisdom about designing ministry plans. Ask the next question in the church’s interview process, about how they define success (is it meaningful work they want you to accomplish, or frenetic work that will temporarily drive up attendance or budget numbers?)

What do the next seven days look like on your calendar? How much of your activities kick up dust clouds? Begin the hard work of making your personal and ministry life a dust cloud free zone.


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Doing the Scary Things of Leadership

Dirty Yellow Garbage recycling on street in thailand

Growing up in Tucson, we had an alley behind our house. On one side of the alley there was a cement wash for flood waters. On the other side, wooden fences to houses. During the day, this was a great area to play in. We’d ride bikes in the cement wash (even though we were told not to because of flooding [our parents forgot we lived in the desert]).

But in the alley was also our trash can. It was located about 100 feet down as we shared a big trash can with several neighbors. One of my chores was taking out the trash. I’d have to pack it up, drag it through our gravel back yard, and dispense in the alley’s trash can. This task was fine during the day, but at night, it was a long and scary 100 foot walk. And since I procrastinated, this was often a chore done in the dark.

I’d walk as calmly as possible lugging the trash bag over my shoulder while telling myself no one was out there to get me. But as soon as I heaved the trash bag in the can, fearing there might be someone out to get me, I’d sprint back to the house, sliding through the gate, and tossing gravel in multiple directions. Inside our fence, I’d always feel safe (except the times my Dad thought it was funny to hide just inside the fence to scare me).

So with that history, when my wife told me this week someone was outside our door, on the side of our house, in our trash can area I was a little alarmed. My first response was to be the “man of the house” and check it out. But then I thought, why would someone be in our trash? Why would they be that close to my house, my doors? It was unsettling to think about the person, who under dark’s cover, would be so close to my house.

Although reticent, acting brave, I said to my wife “I’ll check it out” (just like the walk down the alley in my childhood, I feigned bravery).

So in my pajama pants, out into the rain drizzle I went as my wife peered through the window blinds. Speaking loudly the universal accepted warning to intruders, I proclaimed, “I’ve called the Police and I’m armed with a baseball bat!”

I’ll leave what happened next for another blog, but I write all this to say: leaders don’t shy away from bad, hard, or scary work.

It’s our job to go out first. If something needs to be discovered, we need to discover it. If you’ve been given the role of a leader, go outside your office, and investigate the hard things. In a church setting, there’s so much at stake. And ignoring the possibility of dangerous things can literally have eternal consequences.

So whether you feign bravery, or even sprint back to safety after your discovery in the dark, check it out. Don’t send others to do your role as a leader (in my case, my wife is faster than me, so I did consider sending her to check out the trash can area).

Leaders lead.

Leaders check out the trash can in the darkness.

What’s the scary trash can for you? The hard conversation with someone on your team who’s not treating people kindly? The larger donor to the church who dictates how the church is run? The friend who is flirting with dangerous sins? Facing the reality that your church’s strategies aren’t working? A staff member who’s theology is wavering?

Even if you have to feign bravery, take the walk to your “trash can.”

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Planning a staff retreat (sans strategy)

Yellow plastic bat and white whiffle ball

This week our church’s ministerial staff will be on retreat. Once a year we take two and half days away. While we’re there on this annual outing, here’s what we don’t do:

  • Plot the next year’s activity calendar
  • Wordsmith our church’s mission statement
  • Review ministry opportunities and determine the wins/losses of our efforts

Instead, we strive to: Connect to God and each other.

That’s it. It’s a simple purpose, and it’s easy to plan. When I am planning each time-slot, all I ask is – will this time help our staff connect to God and each other?

I’ve written before about why strategy conversations are critical to church staffs. I also do my share of calendar planning, wordsmithing strategies, and reviewing a lot of our staff’s activities. But at this retreat, I think it’s best to pull away from that, both literally and figuratively.

Here’s what we do include in the retreat:

  • Teaching from our pastor
  • An outside guest who can bless and encourage our souls through teaching
  • Worship led by an outside leader, so every staff member can engage as a worshipper (and not a leader of worship)
  • Solitude
  • Suggested soul-care exercises
  • Late-night World Series watching. Due to the time of year, usually a whole bunch of people gather around the common room’s TV to watch a game.
  • Recreation (Wiffle ball tends to be our favorite) I highly encourage everyone to participate in recreation time… even if they don’t play, I want them there to laugh and encourage people (or make fun of others’ lack of athleticism).
  • A whole lot of eating…the best fellowship usually occurs during our meals together.

The pace is slow. I want to suspend our rushed lives, even for two days. There’s margin left in the agenda so our staff have more time to get to know each other deeper, and so they have adequate times to take their spiritual disciplines to a deeper level.

Does your staff have time to pull away and just be? A time when your focus is about relationships with God and each other?

Whether a retreat or half day away from the office, you’ll find significant value in unplugging from the ministry work routine, and retreating.

When you have a large group, it’s hard to satisfy everyone’s desire. You’ll hear lots of opinions about what should and shouldn’t have been included in a retreat. But here’s what I’ve determined about this retreat… they may not love everything that’s planned, but it’s going to be hard for them to not have connected with God and others while away. And that makes it worth it.

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