A Season for Everything (Part 1)

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1. This passage goes on to tell us that there is a time to be born and a time to die, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to keep and a time to throw away. Christians often quote this passage when making a transition in our personal lives, yet when we think of the season for a program within the church ending we are rarely so casual. There is a season for everything and even as summer must turn into fall so must the programs within the church pass to make way for the next season. With the end of one season comes some happiness and some sorrow. Such is also the case with the passing of a program within the church. Now, I am not trying to say that we should approach the passing of a program as casually as spring turning into summer. What I am saying is that we should accept this inevitability even as we accept that the next season is going to come, with or without our approval. No matter how passionate we may be about summer, winter is going to come and, likewise, no matter how passionate we may be about a program, event or ministry their season is going to end.

That brings up the question, “how do I know when the season for a ministry is ending and how do I end it well?” This is a big question, and it’s one I’m certain most people in ministry have considered. In this article I will do my best to address the first part of this question, in subsequent articles I will give some ideas of how to save a dying program and finally how to end it when the time comes. One thing I will not do is tell you that there is an easy way to know when the season is ending, or that there is an easy way to end it. What I will do is give you some signs that it might be ending. I refer only to programs in this article, but the concepts here will apply to any program, event, ministry, or other activity within your church.

Purpose. This seems to be one of the few things that most people are seeking, both Christians and non-Christians. It is also the first measure of when a program is coming to the end of its life. Hopefully this was considered when starting a program. If not, then take some time to consider the program’s primary purpose. Is this an evangelistic program, or is it aimed at discipleship? Is fellowship the goal, or worship, or ministry? Determine what the primary purpose is, and then ask the question. Is this ministry achieving that goal? If the answer is no, then it may be time to end this program.

Passion. The next thing we should look at is passion. Talk to the people that are serving in this program. Are they passionate about it, or do they simply serve out of obligation or routine? What about the leadership? Are the ones that started this program still passionate about it? Do they look forward to every opportunity to work in this program? Does the program get them excited, or is it simply something that must be done? Are they energized by it or is it sucking the life out of them? A lack of passion may not mean that the program is dying, but it is something that needs to be considered.

Pry. Next take some time to talk with your Christian friends and family. Let them know what you are thinking and see what their thoughts and feelings are. Talk with the people serving in the program, and those that lead it. Consult the pastors and any others members of the church staff. Seek out people that lead other ministries within your church. Reach out to those that lead similar ministries in other churches. The internet and sites like Ministry-to-children.com and CMconnect.org have made this easier than ever. Reach out to these different groups of people and let them help you determine if the program is coming to its end.

Pray. This may seem obvious, but it can be easy to over look the importance of prayer in a situation like this. Pray and ask God for wisdom and guidance. Ask Him to point you towards people that can help you determine the best course of action. Ask God to open your eyes, your ears and your heart so that you can see, hear, and feel what you need to in order to make the right decision.

None of the stuff here is definitive. These are signs that a program, event, or ministry may be reaching the end of its season, but none of them is diagnostic in and of itself. You must consider each of these items individually and collectively to see if the seasons are getting ready to change. Even if everything seems to be pointing to a new season, there may be some things that can be done to re-energize the program, to bring it back to life, to help it do what it was originally designed to do. But, for that you will have to wait for the next article.

For those of you that follow Kidmin1124.com this article may look familiar as it was first published there. That wonderful site is coming to an end so I have decided to repost some of the articles I wrote for that site on my blog.

Matt Norman

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Why I’m Done Wearing Christian T-Shirts.

For years I have been one of those guys that was always wearing t-shirts with some sort of Christian message. Sometimes the message we cleverly hidden and sometimes it was just right out there. I wore these shirts hoping that it might give me an opportunity to talk to people about Jesus. In my mind people were going to read my shirt and begin asking be questions opining the door for a presentation of the gospel. Well, this NEVER HAPPENED. Not once in my 37 years has a non-believer approached me and asked me questions about Jesus or my faith. In fact the only  people who have ever said anything about these shirts have been other Christians. 

Recently as I set out into the community to try to connect with people and was deciding what to wear it occurred to me that the very thing that I was wearing to try to start conversations my actually have been preventing them. This was when I decided that I was done wearing Christian t-shirts. The last thing I want to do is anything that might make the job of sharing the Gospel harder. 
So, while I was thinking about this it got me thinking about the times in my life when people have asked me about Jesus or my faith. For the most part this has been with people who I work with or spend a fair amount of time with who have seen me trying to live out my faith and decide to come to be when they have questions. In the few instances where a conversation with a stranger has turned to spiritual matters it started somewhere else and ended up there.
I am not saying that Christian t-shirts are bad.  I’m also not suggesting that all Christians should stop wearing them. I’m simply saying that for me it is the right decision. However, l would encourage you to give this some thought next time you go to put on a Christian t-shirt.
Has wearing one of these shirts ever lead to a conversation about Jesus or the Gospel with  stranger. If so. I’d love to hear the story.
Matt Norman

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It’s Just Benadryl!

Recently the makers of a popular nighttime cold medicine came out with a new medicine that is just for sleep. When I first heard about it the nurse inside of me screamed, “I bet it’s just Benadryl.” Well, the next time I was at the store, I checked it out; and guess what, IT’S JUST BENADRYL. Don’t believe me, check out the active ingredients of both drugs… Yup, same drug and they are charging more for it.

Now, the point of this post is not to out a popular pharmaceutical company. Rather, as I watched this commercial today it struck me that the church has been doing the same thing for years. We put a new label on the same on stuff and call it doing church differently. Maybe it’s contemporary worship, or relevant, or missional, or whatever the next big thing is in church leadership. I’m not saying that there is no value in these things, but if they are just a fancy new labels on the same old product, then we are doing a disservice to people.

What can we learn from this?

Putting new labels on what we do is ok. However, we just need to make sure that if we do this that there really is a new product inside. If we are going to tell people that we are doing church differently, then let’s make sure we are doing it differently. Let’s make sure that aid we are changing that we are changing things that matter. And most of all let’s remember that while the methods may change the message never can. Never sacrifice the message for the sake of a new label.

Matt Norman

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Not My Daddy’s Church

We often look back at the way that our parents generation did church and talk about how it simply will not work in today’s society. In many ways I agree with that. There are many things that were done in the churches I grew up in that nearly turned me away from the church and would certainly turn someone without a relationship with Jesus Christ away. However, when I think about one of the churches that my father pastored when I was a child I think that this may be wrong.

This story starts back in 1980. My father was fresh out of college and was starting his first pastorate. The church God sent him to was smack in the middle of a very low income neighborhood. It wasn’t long before he began to see the needs that existed around the church. He realized that the way to reach these people was to minster to their needs. He then started a social services ministry that sought to help feed and clothe the people around the church. This ministry grew to serve many people each week and soon was getting attention from the denominational mission board and was getting inquiries from as far away as New Zealand.

Does this sound like an example of something to avoid? I don’t think so. Rather I think that there is a lot that can be learned from this example. Here are some takeaways from this example:

– He saw a need in the community around the church.
– He made a plan to meet these needs.
– God blessed his efforts.
– He got outside the confines of the church building.

When I look back to my dads ministry I tend to think that maybe I should be seeking to do church more links my daddy did.

We often talk about or hear about the bad examples from the churches we grew up in. So, what err some good examples from the churches you grew up in?

Matt Norman

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It’s Cheaper to Keep Her

The title of this post is from an old joke about marriage and divorce. The gist of the joke is that divorce would cost you so much that it’s just cheaper to keep her. Admittedly this joke is in somewhat poor taste. But, as I think of this joke, I see a connection with how we do ministry. You see as ministry leaders we often work very hard recruit new leaders and helpers. However, in many cases once we have them were we want them they no longer warrant our attention. In a way our ministries become like black holes; we suck people in and leave them to flounder around in the darkness.

Naturally, this is not intentional. It is simply a result of the business of ministry. Vacancies in our ministries weigh heavily on us. We feel a great sense of urgency to fill these holes. But, once they are filled our mind moves on to other things. We may not intentionally abandon our new teammates, but we do it none the less. Unfortunately, this action can lead to burnout, hurt feelings and ultimately that person leaving your ministry.

So, how do we fix this?

  • Put as much effort into keeping them as you do in recruiting them (if not more).
  • Equip them to do the job you have recruited them for. (If your a PASTOR then Ephesians 4:11 says that’s your job.)
  • Follow-up with them. I recommend meeting, or at least talking, with them weekly to begin with. Then as they settle in you can move it further out. As your ministry grows you will need to start looking for someone to handle this job for you as you will be unable to continue to do it as the number of people in your ministry grows.

So, what is your plan for supporting the people that you recruit into your ministry?

Matt Norman

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