And now we come to the most delicate part of rethinking church. Control, manipulation, and sloth are equally possible when beginning a new ministry or rebooting an old one. Any birthing or rebirthing of ministry is a supernatural act that can only begin and end through the direct intervention of God.
But what does it look and feel like when God is birthing an emerging ministry? How do we know we are in line with the work of God in starting a ministry and not just running ahead with our carefully laid plans? I’m not sure because every situation is different. Nevertheless, I think we can be aware of a few principles and patterns.
According to Plan
If I take the time to strategically plan out a ministry and execute it to perfection and later write a book about my plan and its results, there is something wrong. As Warren Weirsbe said, “If we could explain it, God didn’t do it.” I strongly believe that planning has its place. In fact, I could spend hours on Excel developing my goals, action steps, and key result areas. But where does if fit in?
The Element of Surprise
When I compare the ministries that have tanked and those that have been effectively used by God, there appears to be an element of surprise. Unexpected relationships bring about ministry opportunities in the least likely of places. Pieces of the puzzle appear and fit into place, even if we didn’t notice them on the box cover. We certainly have plans and ideas, but we quickly realize that they are not completely our own and will be revised at the leisure of our maker.
And the kicker in all of this is: “If I can explain to you how this works, then it will not describe God.” Think of a sail boat for a minute (the sunfish variety). While I cling to the side for dear life, my mariner-wife will take the family sunfish, bobbing like a cork one minute, and then slice through the lake in a sweeping gust of wind. In one sense she is perfectly in control of the boat. The center board is down, the sail is up, and the tiller is angled for maximum velocity. And yet our movement is wholly dependent on the wind. We can plot our course and steer the boat, but the wind must drive us there.
Too often I have seen strategic planning strap a motor on the boat and go wherever deemed prudent. A need is discovered, a plan is developed, God’s help is beseeched, and then the ministry nose-dives like a neurotic sea gull.
I think of John Knox and his heart’s cry, “Give me Scotland, lest I die.” Even if Knox was a controversial figure, that statement reveals a burden laid on someone by God. And even with so noble a catalyst, it is possible to get ahead of God, take control of the ministry, and run God right out of the picture.
And so we are left with burdens, plans, and the surprises. There is no step-by-step recipe for God-directed effectiveness ministry. While we can expect some combination of these three at some point in our ministry, it is perhaps most helpful to be mindful of the wind driving us forward, keep our hands on the tiller, and let go when necessary.