By Hunter Melton
Hindsight is always 20/20.
I never fully felt the weight of that idiom until March 15, 2020. That was the first Sunday my church—along with thousands of others—chose not to meet in order to protect our congregations and communities.
At the time I remember thinking, “I hope we’re back in the building for Easter.” It was more than 20 Sundays until our church reconvened in person. Hindsight is always 20/20.
In my role as discipleship minister I give leadership and guidance to our discipleship groups and leaders. This pandemic has revealed how much of my ministry was “programming”—or simply trying to get people into rooms together.
At the beginning of this year I remember feeling as if I was becoming an event planner or even a “matchmaker” for people interested in biblical community.
When I look at my budget, I see now how many dollars went to things like food or other extraneous materials.
Those things, while not inherently bad or unhelpful, took too much primacy in my schedule and financial planning, and have mostly all fallen away in the light of social distancing and safety measures.
If the majority of my time is no longer spent on planning the next retreat or ordering the next catering option, then what am I actually doing?
Perhaps all of us in ministry have realized how much our calendar has opened up when the programmatic aspect of ministry has been sidelined.
There will always be meetings. There will one day again be gatherings where food is served out of necessity.
But if our congregations’ behavioral habits and willingness to get into larger groups has changed, what’s the irreducible minimum of our job description, the one or two things we have to do, moving into the rest of this pandemic and beyond?
We’re called to equip our congregation for the work of the ministry. Friends, that’s our irreducible minimum: the equipping of our people to be the ones who are actually doing ministry.
People don’t come to your church because you have the most irresistible events, or the best catered food, or even the most polished services on a Sunday morning.
For most of us this should be a breath of fresh air; for others this is a newfound reality the pandemic has forced upon us.
There’s nothing churches can do that a local concert or sports venue can’t programmatically do better. We’ve learned by now that we shouldn’t continue to spend diminishing time and resources in that way.
So what does equipping the saints look like in a culture where we’re no longer the reference point for our society? The first step comes in defining true success in ministry. What are you aiming for?
If success is the traditional “buildings, bodies, and budgets,” our heyday is behind us.
However, if success looks like training those in your church to love the Lord more through cherishing the Word, practicing the “one anothers,” and engaging lost neighbors, that’s biblical—and it’s where our future lies.
When we multiply disciples, we paint a more compelling story of what it means to be a Christ-follower in the 21st century.
My congregation has defined success as carrying out Ephesians 4:11—creating disciples who then go and make disciples.
Because the phrase “disciples making disciples” is open to too much interpretation, we’ve defined a disciple as someone who is having “gospel conversations,” who is in a “group,” and who is “going”—whether next door or to the ends of the earth.
In light of these three categories I can more effectively allocate resources and time. My schedule is already committed so I’m liberated to say no to other possibly good things.
I no longer feel the need—or maybe unhealthy desire—to be at every event or to create events simply because we’ve held them in the past.
The best part of this renewed perspective on discipleship is that I no longer crave increasing numbers of people coming to our gatherings because I know that the ones right in front of me still need to be equipped.
They still need encouragement to have gospel conversations. They still aren’t confessing sin and welcoming accountability in groups.
They still don’t see their college campuses or workplaces as the mission field. They still aren’t turning around and imparting what God has given them to someone else. There’s still work to be done.
Ministry leader, what program, ongoing meeting, or event has the coronavirus pandemic given you permission to cut? A better question is: Who has the pandemic given you the ability to equip for the work of the ministry?
Ephesians 4:13 says it’s not until we equip the saints for this that we will attain “mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
Schedule times with your ministry leaders to memorize Scripture together, give them tools to share their faith, and identify other areas where they need equipping.
It’s tempting to see our leaders in a transactional light where we dispatch them to accomplish tasks that we would complete anyway if we were omnipresent.
However, they’re designed uniquely as a disciple and disciple-maker. How are we equipping within them a hunger to fulfill their own ministry?
This process of equipping your congregation, especially your leaders, will yield less immediate results. But those results—once they come—will last an eternity.
It’s easy to quantify the success of a program, but a program’s fruit often lasts as long as it takes to display them to your direct report.
Equipping people is difficult in busy times. Perhaps we’ve been given the gift of a reset on the way we do ministry—to give the ministry back to our people by equipping them to do it.
Make fulfilling Ephesians 4:11-13 your top priority post-pandemic; align what you define as “success” with these verses.
Take the Bible at its word and give ministry away. If hindsight really is 20/20 let’s not allow this moment of clarity to fall through our fingertips on the way back to a full-programmed ministry.
Let’s equip and watch our people make much of Jesus.
HUNTER MELTON serves as discipleship and young adult minister at Church do the Avenue South in Nashville, Tennessee.