Why You Should Waste Church Resources

©ImagePixel/ Dollar Photo Club

It’s hard to walk away from something that’s taken a significant investment of time and resources. But I’m learning in my position as executive pastor (and it’s likely applicable for other ministry leadership positions), the investment of time into things that never see the light of day is actually me doing my job effectively.

I assume all leaders are frustrated by sunk costs. But, as ministry leaders, should we not embrace them? Or at least embrace the process which often leads to them?

Last year, I was significantly involved in two minister searches for our church. Each process took more than four months. It included countless calls, flying to their homes, and flying them to our church. I’d count up the hours I spent in this process, but it might make me nauseous. When we got down to the last stage of selection, it was determined the match wasn’t best. All the work invested tempted me to pull the trigger anyway… “I can’t walk away from this, I have too much invested.” But we knew something wasn’t right. We didn’t feel this was what God had for us, or for the candidate. It was hard for all involved, but I’m confident the time and resources of the selection process helped us avoid the wrong hire.

In his excellent book, Essentialism, Greg McKeown says we have a “sunk cost bias.” McKeown describes it this way:

Sunk cost bias is the tendency to continue to invest time, money or energy into something we know is a losing proposition simply because we have already incurred, or sunk, a cost that cannot be recouped.

It takes a strong leader to fight this bias. But for your church, the difference between good and bad decisions lies in your ability to fight through the sunk cost bias.

A lot of my work has no measurable results. That is, unless you count problem avoidance as a result. (I’ve blogged before on why problem avoidance is better than problem solving.) Vetting and due-diligence processes are part of problem avoidance. This is true whether you’re considering staff hires, determining your church’s future direction, or considering new ministries or strategies.

Investing time with nothing to show for it is frustrating, but I take solace in serving the church this way. You can view work that produces no tangible results as a waste of time, or, you can embrace the reality that some work is part of a larger process, for which your time was well used.

Using your time working hard on something is one thing, but to waste the church’s resources is another. That’s why you have to stand in the gap. Do the hard work to determine what’s best for the church. At the end of the day, you might find that you shouldn’t begin a new ministry or hire that person you’ve been interviewing, or you might decide that the desired direction is just not viable. And when you realize this, don’t bemoan the human and financial resources you’ve put into it, but instead celebrate that your church didn’t engage its time and resources in a person/program/direction that wasn’t best.

Practical takeaway: Fight the sunk cost bias.

Get Posts Delivered to Your Inbox

Join my mailing list to receive all my blog posts in your inbox and other special subscriber-only content.

You have Successfully Subscribed!