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.