Chasing the New in Ministry
What’s next is not always what’s best
I am an expert at starting projects. It’s seeing them through to completion that I struggle with. The number of finished projects pales in comparison to the number of proposals I’ve launched.
My garage workbench is an odd assortment of unfinished projects. There’s the framing job for my daughter’s fourth-grade artwork that lies incomplete. She’s in sixth grade now. Then there’s the new outdoor lighting my wife purchased a few months before Christmas. I still haven’t installed that.
Or how about the bag of grass seed for that bare spot in the backyard? This spring, that bag will celebrate its three-year anniversary of lying in my wheelbarrow.
My professional life sometimes gets out of balance in the same way. I feel excited about starting a new project, while those approved and needing my attention gather dust. This article, for instance, was greenlighted a couple of months ago. Now, as I write it, I’m fighting the urge to go research a different topic altogether.
In ministry, it’s easy to get distracted by what’s new. The next big thing is much more exciting than the tried-and-true programs. What we’ve always done can become repetitive, boring. It has the feel of drudgery, to be honest. But it’s often no less effective.
When we constantly find ourselves chasing the new, we’re usually looking for successes. We are dissatisfied with the current course and want to improve. It’s tempting to think the new is always improved, but it’s not. Just ask Coca-Cola how New Coke turned out.
If it’s successful ministry we’re hoping for, we need to adopt consistent disciplines and not always new innovations.
New Does Not Equal Better
One reason we are so distracted by the new is that we believe it’s better. A new car has to be better than the old clunker we’re currently driving around. A new dishwasher will save water and money. A new pair of shoes will fit better, a new pair of glasses will help us see better, and a new restaurant will surely offer better food.
But new is not always better. New software often has bugs. New automobiles come with a higher price tag. Perception plays a large role in how we find success in ministry. And the new has the lure of success without the guarantee.
Doing something different doesn’t guarantee effectiveness. Think about all the factors involved. We normally try something new in ministry because we’ve seen someone else, or some other church, try it. It’s new to us. It worked for them, so why wouldn’t it work for us?
For one thing, you’re not them. Your effectiveness is measured by a whole different set of criteria. Is your church ready for the change? Consider a radical shakeup in your worship style, for instance. Do you have the resources, the volunteers and the talent to pull it off? Does it align with your vision?
If you are constantly chasing the new, the only consistency will be inconsistency.
That other church asked and answered those questions. You may not have the same answers. And therefore, your results can vary drastically.
Be careful of large-scale changes. And be just as cautious of making changes too often. If you are constantly chasing the new, the only consistency will be inconsistency.
A Different Shade of Green
The other reason we chase the new is discontentment or dissatisfaction with our current status quo. We begin to think of better places or brighter ministries. We start to imagine ourselves in those roles. And before we know it, we’re chasing the new of a different church or position.
That’s not always a bad idea. But always walk into those seasons with plenty of wisdom and guidance. One principle I’ve tried to hold to is never to run from something; instead, run to something. Don’t take a new position just to get away from a bad situation.
Make a move that is in line with your skills, passions and calling. Don’t make a move to alleviate stressful circumstances.
We don’t always run from something, but we often think we’re running to something better. We peek over the hedge and are sure that the grass is much greener. I don’t have to tell you that’s not often true. Every new yard has its own problems, its unique set of concerns and list of chores. You may just be trading an old headache for a new one.
That new church may have a better salary, better facilities, better volunteer base or even a better location. But it may also have worse retention rates, worse debt, worse attitudes or worse divisions. Be mindful of what you’re stepping into when you think the grass will be greener.
Chasing the new as a principle is a bad idea. That doesn’t mean you should never make a change. When you are feeling discontent, however, you need to discern whether it’s divine. Feelings of dissatisfaction may be God’s way of moving you on when it’s time. Or it may simply be a selfish motivation. Learn the difference.
Below are three questions to consider when struggling with discontentment. Ask these regularly when you feel like chasing the new.
1) Is it from God? To get an answer to this, you first need to establish open communication with the Lord. Regularly speak to Him, and listen often. Watch for the hidden signs He places in your life. Get to know His voice.
2) Is it growing you closer to Jesus? Any change should make you more like Christ, not more like yourself. How will this new endeavor make you a better disciple? How will it create a more tender heart in you? How will those around you benefit from it?
3) Is it developing spiritual fruit? Are you wanting this change for self-centered reasons or from a Spirit-centered walk? The evidence is in the fruit. A move that is motivated by love, made with plenty of patience and taken with humility certainly seems more Spirit-led than not.
The new can be good, but it’s not always better. Before chasing after that next new ministry position, new worship innovation, new technological upgrade or new financial investment, ask yourself whether it’s good for you. And in the meantime, keep working diligently at what is right in front of you.
You can never go wrong with being consistently faithful where God currently has you.