Ministry Magic

Have you ever felt the expectation to create “ministry magic?”

Sometimes this expectation comes from others. And sometimes we’ve talked ourselves into thinking we have to create ministry magic.

After a recent talk at my church, an intern on staff found a picture of me presenting and decided to dress up it a bit. While I thought it was funny, it also reminded me this unspoken expectation I’ve felt before…to create ministry magic.

“You’re paid,” or “You’re called,” and then they say, “You can make this happen, right?” They/us want kids to magically appear in the preschool. They/us want to have a trendy stage area like so and so church. They/us want to be as a large as the church across town. They/us want the financial debt to go away, overnight. And while seminary provided lots of things for me, it didn’t provide magical outcomes.

But the temptation is still there. The temptation to make ministry magic happen. Yet, there’s dangers in pursuing magical mans, and if you actually do have an “Abra cadabra” moment, well, that can be dangerous too (for your ministry).

Dangers of a ministry magic mentality

You spend too much time looking for a silver bullet (I blogged last week about that bullet not existing). At the chance of offending readers…magic isn’t real. It’s sleight of hand. It’s perception. It’s creating a distraction. I’ve been guilty of this in ministry programming before and I’ve blogged about the “dust of perpetual ministry.” Magic is looking to woo people. Ministry is rarely that. And one or two magical moments may woo you into believing it’s something you can repeat. Magical silver bullets rob you of the hard and spiritual discerning work that will create the best long term pathway for effective ministry.

Even if you do create magic, it’s short lived and shallow. Sure, we all stumble on some magical moments (they’re actually probably Holy Spirit moments). But like the smoke in a magic trick or the bunny in the hat, they do go away, and go quickly. And then there’s an expectation you’ll do it again. You’ll have an encore problem. And when you can’t repeat it, you get booed.

It perpetuates a consumer mentality. Who goes to magic shows? That’s right, people who want to be entertained. That is not our job as church and ministry leaders.

You become the center of attention and applause. If you’re good at creating magical ministry moments, you’ll be the one getting all the attention. It won’t be your fellow staff members or the faithful volunteers, and may even takeaway the attention of the actual miracle Worker.

What magic have you been forced into for your ministry lately? What are you doing that isn’t sustainable, but just short-lived magic? What are you doing that’s making you the magician and therefore always in the spotlight?

If your ministry is one big magic show—incrementalize change. Determine one thing you’ll begin to adjust so that ministry becomes sustainable and is substantial to the Gospel message?

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Micro Shifts for Macro Ministry

Despite writing there were “no silver bullets” for churches, he still had me with the offering that there are “Micro-shifts that have the potential to produce macro-change in your church.”

Even for a guy that struggled through his micro and macro-economic courses, the idea intrigued me. Daniel Im has written a new book titled, No Silver Bullets and I wanted to explore one of his ideas here and I recommend you digging deeper with a full read of his book. For this blog, I try to write “Practical takeaways for everyday church leadership” and I think Daniel does the same in No Silver Bullets. It comes from a place via Daniel of deep experience in the local church and deep love for the local church.

In Im’s first chapter, “From Destination to Direction” he begins to build a case for how churches go about the maturing of disciples. He provides a practical influence matrix and as a part of working through this idea Im describes four different church personas…

  1. The Copy Cat Church
  2. The Silver Bullet Church
  3. The Hippie Church
  4. And the Intentional Church

Just from these persona titles, most of us have already identified which one our church is and which one we’d like to be. As you’d imagine, Im aptly provides habits and cultural ethos for each of these church personas. And truth be told, I see parts of each of these personas in the one I serve. In fact, there were part of Im’s descriptions that were uncomfortable for me to read.

Because Im’s writing is better than mine, and because to fully understand the content, you need the full context (his book). Here, I’m going to simply poach one idea in hopes it will cause you to reflect. Perhaps reflection that leads to a deeper dive of No Silver Bullets.

The Copy Cat Church

While not my proudest season of life, there was a time I “copy catted.” Better said, I cheated. Bottom line, I was convinced others were smarter than me; and there was no reason to have command of content myself when someone smarter already had it and I could just “borrow” it.

I had pretty complex systems for attaining this borrowed content. It involved money, people, dark cafeterias and code words (HBO is considering making a show based on my adolescent enterprise). And you know what, my system allowed me to make the passing grade I needed to begin my baseball season. But when the teacher decided to create two varying tests, well, my enterprise ended, and so did my baseball season.

In churches, our motives are probably not sinful. And in most cases our intentions are to just take our churches further, faster. One justification…we don’t know when Christ will return, and we don’t want to be found investigating or learning our own way when there’s an already developed and proven idea at the church across the city.

“Borrowing” in Church

In fact, our digital world allows us to view and understand content in new ways and this world allows a collaborative approach. Sharing is the new normal and there’s some great benefits to the collaboration and borrowing.

Yet, for churches, we must proceed carefully. No doubt, using the copycat method for your church allows for speed. Which is efficient, but it won’t always be better. It takes away the discovery and discernment that we need to walk through as church leaders when considering shifts in our ministries.

The other church’s version may be prettier and quicker, but what you don’t know is what it took to build their model. You don’t know what shortfalls they’ve experienced. If you pray, ask the hard questions and seek alignment with decision makers, and it still make sense to copy some, or all of another church’s way, then go for it (but no breaking of copyright laws).

But once a copycat, always a copycat? A new borrowed concept works for a while, but then it stalls or we get bored, so we look for the next thing to copycat. We feel we need a new way to provide an injection of growth into our church. Im writes, “They [copycat churches] move from one model to the next…and is convinced they are only one model away from breakthrough.”

So, if you’re tempted to “borrow,” I suggest slowing down and doing your due diligence. And if you need help with some questions and framework to tackle the larger issues of the church, then Im’s book can help, but remember, there’s no silver bullet.

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Mistake Fail Safe

Who’s keeping you from losing your job?

Who’s the person you reach out to and say, “Can I run something by you?”

Last week I was minutes away from publishing a new blog post. And at the last minute, I copied and pasted the content into an email and sent it to a friend. I asked, “As a church member, anything here that says to you, ‘He’d be an idiot to publish this on his blog?’”

He replied, “Yes.”

And I didn’t publish a blog last week. Do you have people who can answer “yes” when you’re on the brink of stupidity?

Now, I thought I had good content for the blog post. And maybe even clever content (I can say this since you’ll never read). But I asked for borrowed perception and he gave it to me.

Do you have people who can quickly and honestly give you an assessment of something you plan to say, write, or do?

We need people who give us unvarnished feedback.

I’m not talking about accountability partners. We definitely need spiritually mature truth-tellers in our lives to help us remain grounded in scripture and spur us on to godly things. That role is vitally important. But this is a lesser issue, but still one that can keep you from misstepping in your church leadership role.

Who can you text, email, or drop in on when…

…you plan to have a difficult conversation with your boss?

…you’re about to send an email to your team that might not be taken well?

…you’re about to introduce a new element into your worship services?

…you plan to rant about an issue in the public domain of social media?

All major decisions should have a process by which you get input and feedback. But I’m talking about who you can quickly get unfiltered feedback from when you’re not quite sure about your choice. At times, we need an informal and expedited fail safe opinion.

I think we’ve all seen or heard “it.” And when they’re done with “it”, we mutter to ourselves, “They obviously didn’t run that past anyone.”

Don’t be that guy. Don’t be that gal.

These are unforced errors on our part. We need a guy/gal (or better yet a gaggle of folks) who can give perspective on an idea. Who can tell you the email is, “Really good, except for that last sentence.” And someone who’s got the experience to tell us the likely consequences for our action.

Find the people who can help you with a quick opinion. Use them, and avoid these missteps which can hinder the ministry you’re called to do.

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