Sometimes Starting Over Is the Smart Move


Has your process for discipleship become so large and complicated that's it's past the point of pruning?

Last summer I spent a couple thousand dollars cutting down and stump-grinding nine trees that I spent hundreds of dollars planting about ten years ago. Seems dumb I know.

But sometimes that’s what it takes, both in your landscape and in your church.

Perhaps you’ve seen these trees, they are called Cryptomeria. They grow extremely fast and easily reach 35-40 feet and more with a 20 foot spread at the bottom.

They are beautiful. I just didn’t know they would take over! What was once a handsome looking line of trees became the monster that threatened to take down the fence, rob the lawn of sun, attack the deck, and house all kinds of unknown critters that made strange noises in the night. When they waved in the wind it was if they were laughing at me. Not so funny the day they went into the wood chipper!

I suppose I could have planned better by planting something that didn’t get that big, but I didn’t know. This happens not only in life and landscaping, but also in leadership and ministry. We just don’t know. Things that we plant, water, nurture and grow must be taken down for a fresh new start or at least severely pruned. But we often merely prune ministry due to fear or politics when we really need a fresh start.

Several years back that happened at 12Stone Church. We were using a process for discipleship that became so large and complicated we had to take it apart and shut it down. Please note that I said that the process got so large, not the results. It was actually the process that took over and consumed all our time and attention. The machine took over the mission. All our effort and energy was in running the machine with very little life change at the other end.

It didn’t start that way. It started beautiful and brilliant. Everyone admired the step-by-step process to help people grow and mature in their faith. It was good and it worked. In fact, the church grew from 1,500 to 3,000 in attendance during that season.  When we started the results were greater than the effort expended. Just like those fast growing trees, it was great! But then the process took over and began to defeat the purpose. Like those gorgeous Cryptomeria that once provided beauty and shade, they simply took over the back yard.

It’s tough to make these decisions. You have so much time invested. It’s almost personal. For some leaders it is personal because of the investment. But it’s a process not a person.

Here are some good questions to help you evaluate what ministries or parts of ministries may need to hit the wood chipper.

1) Who started the ministry and why?

This first question won’t apply to your core non-option ministries such as ushers, greeters, children’s ministry etc. This applies to the unique ministries you believe God has directed your church specifically to offer. On many occasions I’ve asked a pastor why a certain ministry is in place and the response is something like: “Well, the former pastor’s Grandfather started it, and we just felt bad about stopping it.” Sometimes knowing the history will help you in the decision-making process.

2) What is the purpose?

It’s so important to be crystal clear about the measurable outcomes of each ministry. It’s true that most of what we do can be generally summarized to the purpose of life change. But you can also make the purpose of life change specific. For example, within your High School ministry, one life change objective may be to see some students called to full time ministry. Or see the Greeters Team so engage with each new person that they want to come back even before they experience the worship service! Sometimes you need to get tough in your decision-making. If a ministry is no longer on purpose, and can’t be turned back to that purpose, it’s time to restart it in a fresh way or close it down permanently.

3) Is it working?

This seems like a really simple question, but it’s surprisingly difficult. It’s difficult because in the local church we are temped to be faithful over competent. We remain dutiful soldiers with a losing battle. I want to offer you encouragement and freedom to make the needed changes! Ask these questions. What are the results? Is it operating smoothly? Do volunteers enjoy it and invite their friends to serve in that ministry with them? If it’s not working, why is that true? Do you have the right leader in place? Is it aligned with the culture of the church? Bottom line, is there a better way to do it?

4) Is the effort greater than the return?

I talked about this question earlier in reference to a discipleship process we used nearly a decade ago. There is no way to avoid good old-fashioned hard work, but we can also work smart. Lack of efficiency isn’t akin to holiness. God gives us freedom to make changes so that we see maximum return for appropriate levels of investment. Again, you may need to shut it down as you currently know it and start fresh!

5) Could your resources be better invested in another ministry?

This is a great leadership question, and one that your top staff and board should ask often. Every church has finite financial and people resources. Therefore, every dollar and ever hour must be invested for the highest and greatest good. This often requires complicated and difficult decisions to be made.

How about your church? Any trees that need to come down? Do you have any ministries that were once strong, beautiful and productive that now require far more work and maintenance than they produce results? Which of your ministries needs a fresh start?

It might seem crazy at first, but it may be time for the wood chipper.

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