Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Stuck in Success

From Sustainable Youth Ministry, a book we're currently digesting in my student ministries team:
Too many churches become paralyzed by their fear of having a failing youth ministry. But, as absurd as it sounds, it is often our successes that keep us stuck rather than our failures. Almost every church has something it has done in youth ministry that has "worked," perhaps an annual beach retreat, a favorite service project or a memorable musical tradition. Many focus obsessively on getting back to the success they once experienced. But this journey in reverse (or, at best, in neutral) seldom leads out of the cesspool of dissatisfaction. If a ministry isn't working, it makes little sense to pour increasingly more energy into any single program, no matter how great a track record it might have had. A ministry that chooses to see its future only in light of what has been will always stay stuck.
I remember standing in the empty hallway of a church that had a long history of having significant influence in its city. In the hallway was a large trophy case filled with various awards, plaques, and trophies for past achievements. These awards had collected dust for decades while the church's influence had slowly slipped into irrelevance. The church had forfeit its potential impact by celebrating its past victories for too long.

Mark Batterson calls this doing ministry out of memory instead of imagination. And it doesn't just apply to ministry. You could replace the word "ministry" in the above paragraph with "business," "school," or even "family." It takes humility to remember that success--like the Gospel--is less like a destination and more like a journey. I'm evaluating which past successes could be blinding me to future ones. Which successes might be blinding you?

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