Two Dangers of Copying Ministry Practices from Others

Here is a typical scenario in local church ministry…

In the spring, while at a conference, Danny attends a breakout session on small groups. Though the breakout session leader spoke passionately about the “why” of small groups and the importance of a solid ministry philosophy beneath the surface, the vast majority of the questions from those in attendance were about small group practice: How many people in each group? How often do you launch new groups? How often does leader training occur and in what format? What are the leaders called? How does…? Danny feverishly takes some notes on small group practice, notes he plans to implement when he returns to his church.

Several months later, Danny has lunch with a respected pastor of a church he has looked up to. He is really grateful for the time, and because he only has an hour, he wants to make the most of it. So he fires off a plethora of “ministry practice” questions: How do you plan your weekend worship services? How do you plan your teaching? How do you…? Danny feverishly takes down some notes that he deems very practical and plans to implement them as soon as possible.

Danny, who loves the Lord and is constantly looking for practical ministry help, clearly has a tendency to copy ministry practice without considering the theology and philosophy beneath the surface. He is not alone. Many church leaders jump straight to practical questions, looking continually for insight on church practices. And this by itself, without a deep commitment to a solid theology and ministry philosophy, is dangerous. Copying ministry practice can result in one of two errors:

  1. Shallow ministries: If church leaders run to copying ministry practice, the result is ministries that do a lot of things without a reason for the things that they do. Over time the church leaders will not be able to articulate why their group ministry functions as it does, why the kids ministry operates a certain way, and so on. The ministry practice is not built on a ministry philosophy that is connected to a theology that serves as the foundation for the entire church.
  2. Schizophrenic ministries: When church leaders look first to ministry practice, they often succumb to the temptation to grab ministry practices from a variety of sources and expect the result to be healthy for the church. But in many cases the underlying theology or philosophy beneath the surface of a particular practice is often contradictory to a ministry practice already in place. And while the leaders feel they are only blending “ministry practice,” they can unintentionally blend contradictory ministry philosophies that cause the church to head in different directions. Some ministry philosophies don’t blend well together.

In Creature of the Word, Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson, and I offer a framework that I believe is very helpful for church leaders. Instead of running straight to practice, we encourage church leaders to first understand the undergirding theology of their churches and the ministry philosophy that guides how they think of church ministry. Neither a shallow ministry nor a schizophrenic ministry will be as impactful as it could be, as God intends the ministry to be.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eric Geiger

Eric Geiger serves as the Vice President of the Church Resource Division at LifeWay Christian Resources. Eric received his doctorate in leadership and church ministry from Southern Seminary. He is also a teaching pastor and a frequent speaker and consultant on church mission and strategy. Eric authored or co-authored several books including the best selling church leadership book, Simple Church. Eric is married to Kaye, and they have two daughters: Eden and Evie. During his free time, Eric enjoys dating his wife, playing with his daughters, and shooting basketball.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
 
— Glenna Hendricks
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
 
— winston
 
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
 
— Russ Wright
 

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