That spare tire isn't such a bad thing

When I was a kid growing up, I used to hear adults complain all the time about how hard it was to keep their bodies in shape as they aged. Everyone once in awhile, one of them would look at me and my friends and say something like, "You kids have it made. While you keep growing up, all I seem to be able to do is grow out. It looks like I've got a spare tire around my waist!"  As cheesy as this statement is, it holds a lot of truth for today's churches.

Ask any pastor or church leader if expanding the kingdom of God is priority, and he or she will unequivocally say, "Yes!" Ask those same leaders what strategy they have in place to make that happen, and the answers you get probably won't be so emphatic or unified. How do we expand the kingdom of God while we are here on earth?

I realize that this is a theologically loaded question, so let me narrow the scope a bit. What can churches do today that will effectively increase their impact and influence for Jesus? Having heard variations of that question asked over the years, I have heard lots of conflicting answers:
  • We need to build another building. That's one sure way to grow.
  • More programs are what we need. People will flock to our church if we can offer them more.
  • We can go to two or three or four services to accommodate all the people we want to reach.
While none of these suggestions is inherently bad, they do miss the point. If all we do is add to what we already have, then the only direction we are going to grow is upward, not outward. In other words, we will limit our reach to those who need to hear the gospel in favor of strengthening our base so that they have to come to us. I'm pretty sure that's not how Jesus intended it to be. Churches need to be more like the old guy who keeps having to buy size larger pants - continuing to grow outward.

Kings of old did not expand their territory simply by building bigger castles. They went out to conquer and acquire land. When Jesus gave His disciples - and us - the Great Commission charge in Matthew 28:19-20, His words were ones of expectation. "Go therefore" is better translated "as you are going," spoken with the assumption that we advance the kingdom not by building upward but rather by focusing outward.

If you want to be part of advancing the kingdom of God, make sure you spend less time building castles and more time beginning new villages and communities.

Fix it before it breaks you

Beaver Bottom Church had a problem. Actually, they had lots of problems but this one stood out more than any of the others. It seems that the new pastor, Rev. Donald Doorite, was wanting to nix the canine evangelism program that had been run out of their fellowship hall for the past 17 years.

The distinguished Mr. Harold Winston Higgenbotham, lifelong member and self-proclaimed top tither at Beaver Bottom Church, started and initially funded the canine evangelism program after his daughter came home from a Disney movie convinced that dogs could - and should - go to heaven. Because Mr. Higgenbotham was such a faithful giver and dominant voice in the church, no one really opposed the idea. Besides, maybe dogs do go to heaven, they reasoned.

Now almost two decades later, Mr. Higgenbotham and his immediate family was long gone, having left Beaver Bottom Church in a huff after a disagreement over the color of the new carpet in the sanctuary. Yet the canine evangelism program was still funded in the church budget even though not one pooch had yet to be baptized on a Sunday morning. Something had to give.

When Rev. Doorite looked over the church budget items in his first few weeks on the job, the canine evangelism line item immediately caught his eye. "What in the name of potluck dinners is this?" he half whispered, unable to believe what his eyes were seeing on the spreadsheet before him. His ire was further stoked when he realized that more money went to saving the souls of dogs than it did to seeing that men and women in the community had a chance to hear the gospel. Something had to change!

At the next deacon's meeting, Rev. Doorite waited until the regular church business was discussed before broaching the subject of the canine evangelism program. He began by expressing how much he enjoyed the companionship of his own rescued golden retriever, Goldie Locks, and that the humane treatment of animals was very important to him. "However," said Rev. Doorite, "I do not see how we can continue to fund and staff a ministry with volunteers that simply doesn't work. We are in the business of human souls, not doggie goals."

To the Reverend's surprise, the backlash he received at the suggestion of redirecting all the canine cash was immediate. "We can't cut that program!" hollered Edgar Needlemeyer. "The dogs really like it and we've had at least one family join the church as the result of the program." Marion Twopence chimed in, "We can't end that program! Sure, puppy proselytizing may not be popular in most churches, but what would Mrs. Mary Swanson do without it? She's been volunteering every week since it began. What will SHE do now?"

On and on came the dissent and angry protests. Rev. Doorite could almost feel the mutiny in the room and he knew he had to act quickly before he lost what little control he had. "Gentlemen, please! Let's table this matter for next month's meeting when we can come back together for what I hope will be perhaps a more helpful - and less contentious - discussion. In the meantime, I urge each of you to look over the church budget and see how these doggie dollars can be better served in other ministry areas." While this suggestion calmed the crowd for the moment, the grunts, glares, and mumbles of the deacons as they left the room let Rev. Doorite know that he had more than his work cut out for him.

Okay, so this story didn't really happen. And if your church does have a canine evangelism program in place then, well, I simply have no words. But I think you get my over-exaggerated point. Whether it is in a ministry setting such as today's churches or the business world, there will always be those programs that have either run their course or no longer effectively meet the needs or vision of your organization. When that happens, it takes forethought and courage to realize that it's time to shut it down.

"But we've always done it this way!" "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" "But we can't cancel this program because, well, we just can't!" All of these protests and more will be heard when ministers and other leaders see the value in redirecting the resources that unneeded programs can drain from an organization. When that happens, it can be very difficult to resist the naysayers in favor of maintaining the status quo, but resist you must.

Let me share with you what takes real courage for leaders to say when faced with a deficient pet-program that many in the organization still hold onto with a desperate grasp - "We tried, but it didn't work, so let's move on to something that will work." It is this mentality that is missing in so many churches and business organizations, yet it can be the most freeing and innovating concept that they can grasp.

Vision was never intended to be static. It is meant to grow and flourish as we nourish it with our passion for seeing others benefit from our efforts. If you are in the business world and you refuse to adapt and retool your vision to match the industry, your doors won't stay open much longer. In a ministry context, if our programs are not intentionally either pointing people to faith in Jesus or growing men and women to be more faithful followers of Jesus, then it's time to pull the plug on them, even if they are still popular and draw interest among our people.

Failure isn't the worst thing that can happen to your business or ministry. Being unwilling to admit it just might be. And that's the doggone truth.

Who's got your back?

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