I grew up in Zimbabwe, Africa. When we did church camp, we did church camp. Outside in the bush, sleeping in tents, experiencing God’s creative beauty African style. For our meals we would have to line up in order to get our food. I hate to wait. I especially hate to wait for food. So it was not uncommon for me to be calling out to those in front of me, “Go, go, go – ah, ah!”
That became my nick name for the week – “Go, go, go -ah, ah!” God wired me for action. I hate to sit still. I like to keep moving. To feel stuck in “analysis-by-paralysis” is the worst kind of torture for me. So it is no surprise that I have this kind of approach to ministry. When I read the book of Acts I see that the church of the New Testament was on the move. I believe that a stagnant church is at least a discouraged church and at worst a disobedient church. James reminds us that faith and action go hand in hand.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. James 2:14- 17 (NIV)
My passion for action has been a double-edged sword. In my early days of my ministry I did everything I could to live out the maxim – “Better to ask for forgiveness than for permission.” I soon learned that approach to ministry created more problems than it solved. I am grateful for the patience and forgiveness of my elders and staff in sticking with me when I rushed ahead up hills that were really not worth dying on. Lead your people up too many of those hills and soon they will not be following you. So how do we “be action orientated and not mistake driven”?
Here are six things that I have learned to create a culture of action in ministry:
1. Have the right model for your role as leader. Senior ministers are not the Chief Executive Officers of the church, driving the church from on high towards maximum ministry effectiveness. Nor are Senior Ministers the Chief Servant Leaders of the church, being at the beck and call of every member making sure they are happy. The Biblical model for a leader of the church is the shepherd. The good shepherd who leads his flock from the front, whilst also caring for them and protecting them. To be a Biblical shepherd is to be a brave protector, wise decision maker and compassionate care giver. If God has called you to lead in His church, study what it means to be a good shepherd and follow that playbook.
2. As a shepherd if you get too far ahead you will be mistaken as an enemy. I had to learn this lesson the hard way. Too many times I would forget that pace is more important to effectiveness than anything. If you are going to lead towards action, don’t get too far ahead. All you need is to be ONE step ahead in order to lead.
3. One of my favorite Proverbs is Proverbs 27:23 – “Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds…” This is about paying attention to what God has entrusted to your stewardship. In order to move your ministry towards action, be in touch with what’s going on with your staff, your elders, your financials, your ministry leaders, your people. A good shepherd knows the condition of his flocks so that he might make wise decisions moving forward.
4. Make mistakes in the right direction. I tell my staff that I expect them to make mistakes. I want them to try things without fear of failure. Mistakes are opportunities. Opportunities to learn. But they have to be mistakes in the right direction. For the church the right direction means being in line with the Great Commission.
5. Accept that criticism comes with the territory. When you do things in the church, not everyone is going to like it. The people of God have been complaining about their leadership since Moses! The leaders of the church are shepherds; we are not representatives of constituents. Sometimes doing the right thing will cause folks to react in the wrong way. Listen, be a good shepherd, stay the course.
6. Demand that strategic vision retreats, discussion meetings and planning meetings produce specific actions. There is nothing worse than to dedicate prayer, resources and time into meetings and to walk away with no action items. We seem to love to do this at church. We meet. We talk about all these great ideas. We say “someone needs to….” But we then do nothing. It drives me nuts! Action items work best if they have a date attached and a name responsible. I have often said in a meeting – “there is no one named SOMEONE around this table…so who is going to take responsibility to get this done?”
The story of the people of God in the Bible is one of movement. Faith is described as a walk. We are talking action. Don’t let the fear of mistakes paralyze you from being action orientated.
“Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:15-16 (NASB)
Didi has been the Senior Minister of the Mount Carmel Christian Church located on the east side of Cincinnati for 21 years. The church was started by a number of young families who had a vision to establish a Restoration Movement church in their community in 1968. It has since grown to a congregation of over 1000, after relocating to their new building location in 2015. Mount Carmel has committed to being a church of “disciples of Jesus who make disciples of Jesus!”