Is church ministry a waste of time?

Oldchurch Is local church ministry a waste of time?  Sometimes it really seems that way.  After all, the state of the local church today is really sad.  It is no wonder most are declining or at best holding on and the ones holding on are aging, losing the chance to pass on their cherished faith to a younger generation.  Churches last about 40 years.  That’s it.  One generation and they die.

Ministry would be a waste of time if what I pointed my life’s work to was the propping up of an institution, especially a declining institution.  Yes, lives are touched, history was made in these places.  Often, the people left are curators in the museum of what they and others have done before them.  They whine about the fact that the next generation is not taking the mantle and adding their picture to the wall in the church memory halls.

If you are not growing you are dying.  That is true of a local church. It is true often of our personal faith, too. But, often a church will see a mill closed, or some other unforeseen series of events occur that devastate that church.  When things are kicking, growing and working in a church it is problematic to ask the hard questions.  Why rock the boat when numbers and money is up?  Why confuse people with introspection when the season is one of upward motion.  Do not critique a winning team.  It just annoys the boys in the game.

All this is to simply say that spinning wheels to keep status quo is not my calling.  I see that as a waste of time.  Some are called to plant, water, and others to pull weeds.  The lucky one gets to harvest or even be a part of all those points in the journey of a local church.  I actually like pulling weeds.  I enjoy the challenging times I spent planting.  But, never, do any of these activities assume  the reign and protection of status quo.

I think of a passage that has stuck with me since my Bible training days:

Do we, like some people, need letters of introduction to you, or from you?  No, you are are all the letter we need, a letter written on our heart; anyone can see it for what it is and read it for himself.  And, as for you, it is plain that you are a letter that has come from Christ, given to us to deliver; a letter written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, written not on stone tablets but on the pages of the human heart.

2 Corinthians 3:1-3 (Revised English Bible)

What is clear is that people matter.  What makes sense is that if ministry is people, then it is not a waste of time.  People are eternal.  What you and I do to build into people makes a difference for eternity.  Often, it is easy to see the institutional issues and judge our work in ministry based on that.

Growing numbers of people and success does not mean that people have you written on their hearts just as much as declining numbers of people does not mean you are not writing your ministry into the very hearts of people.  As long as that is happening, I think it is not a waste of time.  It may be good to actually give a funeral to many churches, but even in that process the people we serve will take with them our ministry.  That is much better than a plaque on the wall, an article in Leadership Magazine, or authoring a book.

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Rich Kirkpatrick

Rich Kirkpatrick

Writer, Speaker, and Musician. Rich Kirkpatrick was recently rated #13 of the “Top 75 Religion Bloggers” by Newsmax.com, having also received recognition by Worship Leader Magazine as “Editor’s Choice” for the “Best of the Best” of blogs in 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

36 comments

  1. I think you are right about churches being a one generation thing. Christians are notorious for being slow to react, never able to change, and beyond that not wanting to change. This is where we see the problem of their ability to continue. One of the most famous churches in the world hasn’t even been around that long (Willow). Most churches aren’t willing to bring in young leadership and to push their comfort zones and so they die a slow death as their congregation and leadership gets older.

  2. I think you are right about churches being a one generation thing. Christians are notorious for being slow to react, never able to change, and beyond that not wanting to change. This is where we see the problem of their ability to continue. One of the most famous churches in the world hasn’t even been around that long (Willow). Most churches aren’t willing to bring in young leadership and to push their comfort zones and so they die a slow death as their congregation and leadership gets older.

  3. I think you are right about churches being a one generation thing. Christians are notorious for being slow to react, never able to change, and beyond that not wanting to change. This is where we see the problem of their ability to continue. One of the most famous churches in the world hasn’t even been around that long (Willow). Most churches aren’t willing to bring in young leadership and to push their comfort zones and so they die a slow death as their congregation and leadership gets older.

  4. I think you are right about churches being a one generation thing. Christians are notorious for being slow to react, never able to change, and beyond that not wanting to change. This is where we see the problem of their ability to continue. One of the most famous churches in the world hasn’t even been around that long (Willow). Most churches aren’t willing to bring in young leadership and to push their comfort zones and so they die a slow death as their congregation and leadership gets older.

  5. Tyler,
    Absolutely true, even though that point was a backdrop to my main point. I am no so “young” anymore, but young enough to know what it is like to feel on the outside, dis-empowered, and disillusioned. Things must change. And, they will. Hopefully we will be able to pass the mantle better than those before us. It is never easy to give up power, or position. But, that is what Paul instructs even his young Timothy to do!

  6. Tyler,
    Absolutely true, even though that point was a backdrop to my main point. I am no so “young” anymore, but young enough to know what it is like to feel on the outside, dis-empowered, and disillusioned. Things must change. And, they will. Hopefully we will be able to pass the mantle better than those before us. It is never easy to give up power, or position. But, that is what Paul instructs even his young Timothy to do!

  7. Tyler,
    Absolutely true, even though that point was a backdrop to my main point. I am no so “young” anymore, but young enough to know what it is like to feel on the outside, dis-empowered, and disillusioned. Things must change. And, they will. Hopefully we will be able to pass the mantle better than those before us. It is never easy to give up power, or position. But, that is what Paul instructs even his young Timothy to do!

  8. Tyler,
    Absolutely true, even though that point was a backdrop to my main point. I am no so “young” anymore, but young enough to know what it is like to feel on the outside, dis-empowered, and disillusioned. Things must change. And, they will. Hopefully we will be able to pass the mantle better than those before us. It is never easy to give up power, or position. But, that is what Paul instructs even his young Timothy to do!

  9. I love what you said about if ministry is people, then it’s not a waste of time. In my own experience, I’ve wrestled with a lot of those dynamics…numbers, growth, money, and investing in people. I have found that I am the happiest when it is about relationship. Sounds quite co-dependent, I’m sure. It’s part of the way I’m wired…if it ain’t about investing in people…what’s the point? Jesus told us not just to ‘go’….but to ‘make disciples’…How do you do that…relationship…BAM!
    I’m done. Thanks Rich.

  10. I love what you said about if ministry is people, then it’s not a waste of time. In my own experience, I’ve wrestled with a lot of those dynamics…numbers, growth, money, and investing in people. I have found that I am the happiest when it is about relationship. Sounds quite co-dependent, I’m sure. It’s part of the way I’m wired…if it ain’t about investing in people…what’s the point? Jesus told us not just to ‘go’….but to ‘make disciples’…How do you do that…relationship…BAM!
    I’m done. Thanks Rich.

  11. I love what you said about if ministry is people, then it’s not a waste of time. In my own experience, I’ve wrestled with a lot of those dynamics…numbers, growth, money, and investing in people. I have found that I am the happiest when it is about relationship. Sounds quite co-dependent, I’m sure. It’s part of the way I’m wired…if it ain’t about investing in people…what’s the point? Jesus told us not just to ‘go’….but to ‘make disciples’…How do you do that…relationship…BAM!
    I’m done. Thanks Rich.

  12. I love what you said about if ministry is people, then it’s not a waste of time. In my own experience, I’ve wrestled with a lot of those dynamics…numbers, growth, money, and investing in people. I have found that I am the happiest when it is about relationship. Sounds quite co-dependent, I’m sure. It’s part of the way I’m wired…if it ain’t about investing in people…what’s the point? Jesus told us not just to ‘go’….but to ‘make disciples’…How do you do that…relationship…BAM!
    I’m done. Thanks Rich.

  13. Impacting and changing lives can never be a waste of time. I like what you said about maybe giving some funerals to churchs. If we did this, more people might come together and unite as THE church, not “MY church.”

  14. Impacting and changing lives can never be a waste of time. I like what you said about maybe giving some funerals to churchs. If we did this, more people might come together and unite as THE church, not “MY church.”

  15. Impacting and changing lives can never be a waste of time. I like what you said about maybe giving some funerals to churchs. If we did this, more people might come together and unite as THE church, not “MY church.”

  16. Impacting and changing lives can never be a waste of time. I like what you said about maybe giving some funerals to churchs. If we did this, more people might come together and unite as THE church, not “MY church.”

  17. One of the main catalysts is when churches become culturally irrelevant. In a changing world and a changing culture people need to see the purpose of God and church in their lives. As soon as that is gone, the church is pretty much a swirl in the drain.
    Hymns from 1747 no longer speak to people, the challenge is finding what does speak to this generation and how to effectively use it in church.

  18. One of the main catalysts is when churches become culturally irrelevant. In a changing world and a changing culture people need to see the purpose of God and church in their lives. As soon as that is gone, the church is pretty much a swirl in the drain.
    Hymns from 1747 no longer speak to people, the challenge is finding what does speak to this generation and how to effectively use it in church.

  19. One of the main catalysts is when churches become culturally irrelevant. In a changing world and a changing culture people need to see the purpose of God and church in their lives. As soon as that is gone, the church is pretty much a swirl in the drain.
    Hymns from 1747 no longer speak to people, the challenge is finding what does speak to this generation and how to effectively use it in church.

  20. One of the main catalysts is when churches become culturally irrelevant. In a changing world and a changing culture people need to see the purpose of God and church in their lives. As soon as that is gone, the church is pretty much a swirl in the drain.
    Hymns from 1747 no longer speak to people, the challenge is finding what does speak to this generation and how to effectively use it in church.

  21. I see something more in this post. As I was reading it I thought, what if there were no church? Actually, what if there were no paid position for me in the Church? Would I still do what I’m doing now? Would I still give my heart toward making our gathering, celebrations and studies as great as they can be?
    I think I’ll write on that one. Thanks for the inspiration…

  22. I see something more in this post. As I was reading it I thought, what if there were no church? Actually, what if there were no paid position for me in the Church? Would I still do what I’m doing now? Would I still give my heart toward making our gathering, celebrations and studies as great as they can be?
    I think I’ll write on that one. Thanks for the inspiration…

  23. I see something more in this post. As I was reading it I thought, what if there were no church? Actually, what if there were no paid position for me in the Church? Would I still do what I’m doing now? Would I still give my heart toward making our gathering, celebrations and studies as great as they can be?
    I think I’ll write on that one. Thanks for the inspiration…

  24. I see something more in this post. As I was reading it I thought, what if there were no church? Actually, what if there were no paid position for me in the Church? Would I still do what I’m doing now? Would I still give my heart toward making our gathering, celebrations and studies as great as they can be?
    I think I’ll write on that one. Thanks for the inspiration…

  25. I believe the local church is where it all happens. That’s why I put a lot of my time in the people that are there.

  26. I believe the local church is where it all happens. That’s why I put a lot of my time in the people that are there.

  27. I believe the local church is where it all happens. That’s why I put a lot of my time in the people that are there.

  28. I believe the local church is where it all happens. That’s why I put a lot of my time in the people that are there.

  29. I fully agree a church that isn’t growing is dying. The question becomes, “How do you measure growth?” Over the 30 year period before I arrived, my church declined from 1400 to 140 members. In my first year, we added maybe 9 members, went up in attendance and financial giving by 20%.
    Now, I realize this is not unusual given the enthusiasm of a new pastorate. It looks like we are starting to plateau already in my second year, which is discouraging.

    The real test will be – for the next 5-10 years, are we living out our faith in such a way that the Lord “adds to our numbers day by day”?

    Growth may not happen overnight, but I would say if it doesn’t happen in a generation, you need to evaluate the value and purpose of the ministry.

  30. I fully agree a church that isn’t growing is dying. The question becomes, “How do you measure growth?” Over the 30 year period before I arrived, my church declined from 1400 to 140 members. In my first year, we added maybe 9 members, went up in attendance and financial giving by 20%.
    Now, I realize this is not unusual given the enthusiasm of a new pastorate. It looks like we are starting to plateau already in my second year, which is discouraging.

    The real test will be – for the next 5-10 years, are we living out our faith in such a way that the Lord “adds to our numbers day by day”?

    Growth may not happen overnight, but I would say if it doesn’t happen in a generation, you need to evaluate the value and purpose of the ministry.

  31. I fully agree a church that isn’t growing is dying. The question becomes, “How do you measure growth?” Over the 30 year period before I arrived, my church declined from 1400 to 140 members. In my first year, we added maybe 9 members, went up in attendance and financial giving by 20%.
    Now, I realize this is not unusual given the enthusiasm of a new pastorate. It looks like we are starting to plateau already in my second year, which is discouraging.

    The real test will be – for the next 5-10 years, are we living out our faith in such a way that the Lord “adds to our numbers day by day”?

    Growth may not happen overnight, but I would say if it doesn’t happen in a generation, you need to evaluate the value and purpose of the ministry.

  32. I fully agree a church that isn’t growing is dying. The question becomes, “How do you measure growth?” Over the 30 year period before I arrived, my church declined from 1400 to 140 members. In my first year, we added maybe 9 members, went up in attendance and financial giving by 20%.
    Now, I realize this is not unusual given the enthusiasm of a new pastorate. It looks like we are starting to plateau already in my second year, which is discouraging.

    The real test will be – for the next 5-10 years, are we living out our faith in such a way that the Lord “adds to our numbers day by day”?

    Growth may not happen overnight, but I would say if it doesn’t happen in a generation, you need to evaluate the value and purpose of the ministry.

  33. What I hoped to lay out here is the idea that regardless of the season a ministry is in, our ministry to people really is what matters whether or not that ministry can make the church gro–or not grow or even survive.
    What validates us, is our ministry to people. That is separate sometimes from the circumstances, or context of our church. We can be assured in the eternal sense, even when things look bad or do not really work out the way we had hoped. I worked in two church plants that closed their doors. So what. People were reached and touched. Yeah, it would be best to see BOTH happen but I also have been in huge numerically successful situations that failed, too. They failed in other ways. It is just that the numbers make their failures invisible to people.

    What lasts is the people we touch and reach.

  34. What I hoped to lay out here is the idea that regardless of the season a ministry is in, our ministry to people really is what matters whether or not that ministry can make the church gro–or not grow or even survive.
    What validates us, is our ministry to people. That is separate sometimes from the circumstances, or context of our church. We can be assured in the eternal sense, even when things look bad or do not really work out the way we had hoped. I worked in two church plants that closed their doors. So what. People were reached and touched. Yeah, it would be best to see BOTH happen but I also have been in huge numerically successful situations that failed, too. They failed in other ways. It is just that the numbers make their failures invisible to people.

    What lasts is the people we touch and reach.

  35. What I hoped to lay out here is the idea that regardless of the season a ministry is in, our ministry to people really is what matters whether or not that ministry can make the church gro–or not grow or even survive.
    What validates us, is our ministry to people. That is separate sometimes from the circumstances, or context of our church. We can be assured in the eternal sense, even when things look bad or do not really work out the way we had hoped. I worked in two church plants that closed their doors. So what. People were reached and touched. Yeah, it would be best to see BOTH happen but I also have been in huge numerically successful situations that failed, too. They failed in other ways. It is just that the numbers make their failures invisible to people.

    What lasts is the people we touch and reach.

  36. What I hoped to lay out here is the idea that regardless of the season a ministry is in, our ministry to people really is what matters whether or not that ministry can make the church gro–or not grow or even survive.
    What validates us, is our ministry to people. That is separate sometimes from the circumstances, or context of our church. We can be assured in the eternal sense, even when things look bad or do not really work out the way we had hoped. I worked in two church plants that closed their doors. So what. People were reached and touched. Yeah, it would be best to see BOTH happen but I also have been in huge numerically successful situations that failed, too. They failed in other ways. It is just that the numbers make their failures invisible to people.

    What lasts is the people we touch and reach.

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