Many pastors take time to write out and teach on the values of their church in order to guide decision making. However, I think that there are many leaders out there who mostly only focus on their top-tier values (like in our case it would be: “Love God, love each other, and love people who don’t know God yet”) but they don’t take time to write out their medium-level values.
Medium-level values are things within a group or organization that guide decision making, but are often picked up subconsciously over time, rather than written out and discussed. And whether they are written out or not, every leader and every group has them. There are certain ways of doing things that one group will have that differs from some other group (even if that group has a very similar purpose statement and overall goals).
Over the years that I have been a leader at Good News Church, I have picked up on some of these values and principles that I have been relying on, and I decided to share them with you. Perhaps they will help you understand some of the decisions that we’ve made, or perhaps you are a leader of a ministry and would like to consider them as principles you could incorporate into your own service to God (I know that’s how I got some of them myself. Many of them are principles that I didn’t make up, but heard from some other leader.)
MINISTRY MAXIM 1
"What is rewarded is repeated."
I heard this one from Andy Stanley. I’ve maybe said it a hundred times since then. It’s such a powerful principle. And it works two ways.
If there is behavior you want repeated, then reward it. When a church volunteer does a good job, praise them for their work. This makes it more likely that they will keep doing it.
If there is a behavior that you don’t want repeated, by all means, don’t reward it.
This is something people accidentally do all the time. You’ve probably seen it in the context of parenting. A child pitches a fit and the parent gives them whatever they were demanding. This will inevitably cause more fit-pitching in the future. It’s important to understand that this principle applies to adults, too. It’s not surprising to me that leaders who “hop to it” and try to fix every little complaint that people pass along to them end up with a church full of whiners. You will get more of whatever you reward.
MINISTRY MAXIM 2
"What you catch ‘em with is what you have to keep ‘em with."
This one might be related to the first principle, but I typically think of it as a separate maxim for a separate situation. This particular phrasing (above) might be mine, but I did not make this one up either. I don’t remember where I first learned it, so I don’t know who to credit, but it’s so true.
Every church “catches” people with something. In other words, everyone in the congregation showed up initially for some reason. They were interested in something you were doing. But here’s the deal - that thing, whatever it was, is usually going to be the same thing that keeps them involved. Whatever “caught” them, is likely to be the same thing that “keeps” them around.
I’ve seen plenty of churches (and youth ministries and children ministries especially) who do a lot of special events. They’ve got bounce houses, free popcorn, give-away prizes, special speakers, and other similar things. The problem is that anyone you attracted because of those things is not as likely to stay once those things are gone.
Many churches put on an expensive and masterful VBS, attract 100 new kids, but then wonder (with great disappointment) why those kids don’t come back to their regular children’s programs all year long. Many youth groups put on a glitzy outreach night, get hundreds of kids to show up for the free pizza and iPads, but sit around confused as to why those same kids don’t come back to the church basement for a verse-by-verse study of 1 Peter. The way I see it, if you want to get teenagers to come to a verse-by-verse study of 1 Peter, then just do a great study on 1 Peter that is actually helpful to teenagers. Don’t bait them with something other than 1 Peter. Temporary bait doesn’t keep people for the long haul.
This is one reason that Good News Church doesn’t do “outreach events” and also why our Christmas and Easter services are not drastically different from our normal weekly services. I’ll admit that we do a few special things during holidays (that’s what holidays are for; they aren’t like all the other days) but we typically don’t try to make holiday services significantly better than what we normally do. I think there would be too many people who end up feeling let down when they show up the week after Easter and the dancing bears are gone.
MINISTRY MAXIM 3
"Do it the least expensive way possible (unless that will cause it to be so low in quality that it won’t work well)."
This one might stem from the fact that I’m cheap. But I simply hate to see money wasted, and I’ve observed churches spend a lot of money on expensive things that could have been accomplished by less expensive things.
When I visit another church facility and notice that the bathroom countertops are, say, marble, when formica would have got the job done, I think to myself, “I’m sure glad we don’t do it this way at Good News.” It seems to me that, over time, all those marble sinks add up to a lot of money that could have been used to organize community groups, fund a missionary, fund an organization that helps the poor, or to pay for a children’s worker to have enough time to implement a really great curriculum. So, at Good News, for many years we operated under the idea that when you look at the different options, just go with the least expensive one.
However, after several years, we actually had to modify this one by adding the parenthetical expression, “unless that will cause it to be so low in quality that it won’t work well.” We found out that there is such a thing as “too cheap.” If the deacon’s brother-in-law has access to some really low-cost formica that needs to be replaced every six months, it will become obvious that a medium-grade item would have been better for the ministry over time.
MINISTRY MAXIM 4
"It’s not about YOU doing all the work; it’s about making sure that it gets done."
This is something that we’ve communicated to both employees and volunteers. If you are in charge of an area, you don’t have to personally do all of the work that is needed in that area, you just have to make sure that someone does it.
For instance, Isaac Johnson is the pastor in charge of counseling at our church. That means, he’s the one who makes sure that people who need advice about Christian living get hooked up with someone who can help them. In many cases, this might mean that Isaac actually advises the person. But in other cases, he might equip someone else to do it. In most cases this takes place in the context of community groups (which Isaac is also in charge of.)
Christian leaders need to see the value of equipping other people to do ministry. I can imagine that there could be some churches out there who view it as a “failure” when the “Care Pastor” doesn’t actually show up and visit someone in the hospital. I can picture someone saying, “When I had a kidney stone, all I had were a couple of deacons visit me. The pastor wasn’t even there.”
At Good News, that’s not only not a failure; that’s a win. The pastor can’t do everything (especially as a church grows) and when other people are empowered to do ministry, that’s a win. And it's in line with Ephesians 4:11-12.
MINISTRY MAXIM 5
"It not about the hours you put into your work. It’s about the work you put into your hours."
This is something I heard in a staff meeting from a senior pastor, back when I was a youth director. He was trying to point out to us, his employees, that it really doesn’t matter how many hours you work as much as it matters what you are actually accomplishing.
A children’s minister who spends 60 hours per week cutting out little snowflakes for the Christmas project, isn’t a “better worker” than the one who works 39 hours per week training up church members to better minister to children. Yet, in some environments some people might actually say that it is the first children’s minister who is such a hard worker, putting in those extra 20 hours per week more than is expected, while the other one was lazy, “cheating” the church out of one hour of work!
The way I see it, one person’s “laziness” could be another person’s “efficiency.” And one person’s “hard work” might be another person's “stupid work.”
One thing I’ve tried to instill in the people who call me their boss is that I don’t care much about how long it takes you to do something. I’m evaluating you by what you actually accomplish. If there is a week where you accomplish in 35 hours what would normally take someone else 70 hours, I will not consider you to be lazy. And if you spend a lot of time doing things that don’t matter, I don’t consider that a job well done.
Note: I realize this principle doesn’t apply to all jobs. If you are a greeter at Walmart, or a security guard at a bank, then 70 hours IS twice the work of 35 hours. I get that. But it’s important to note that ministry work is very often unlike those kinds of jobs.
MINISTRY MAXIM 6
"Informal ministry is still ministry."
This is an important belief that I think is quite rare among American churches. Unlike the other principles in this list, this one makes Good News Church a bit unusual. I’m not sure I know of another church that highly values this concept, though I suspect they must be out there.
So many churches believe that if something isn’t an official ministry of the church being accomplished through a formal program, then it simply isn’t getting done. And even if it is getting done, it almost seems like it doesn’t count unless it’s done through a program.
For instance, I can imagine a conversation like this:
PERSON A: What does this church do to minister to single moms?
PERSON B: Uh, nothing, I guess. We don’t have a single mom ministry.
PERSON C: Well, wait. I’m a single mom, and I’ve been ministered to by this church.
PERSON A: Good for you. But what about all the other ones?
PERSON B: Yeah, there’s not a single mom ministry here.
PERSON C: Well, I’m actually friends with several single moms at this church and I know a lot of stories of how they’ve been ministered to. For instance, Tina is a homeschool mom in our church. Her husband died last year and she had to go back to work, and then Rebecca (a church friend) offered to homeschool her children while she was at work. Also, Whitney’s husband left her just before she started attending Good News. She’s had a hard time making ends meet, but the men in her community group have gone over many times to help her with car and home repairs.
PERSON A: Well, that is cool. But I’m talking about a single mom ministry.
PERSON B: Yeah, like the kind that is done by the actual church.
Can’t you picture that conversation happening? I think that a huge reason why people like person A and B can’t get their head around the fact that their church is actually doing single mom ministry is because they have a faulty definition of the word church. In the Bible, church = people saved by Christ. Nowadays, people think church only means “non-profit organization.”
The way I see it, often times churches (meaning congregations), for the sake of convenience and in order to minister well in the twenty-first century, begin non-profit organizations in order to help them better do their mission. This organization will often have a bank account, a building, and accept donations. But that organization doesn’t change the fact that it is the church’s (I’m still meaning congregation here) job to do the work of God. When the people of God do the work of God that is the church doing the work of God!
To be clear, none of this means that I would be against a formal single-mom ministry existing somewhere, or any number of other formal ministries organized by non-profits and paid staff. I’m just saying that informal ministry is ministry, just as much as the organized stuff, and it is a huge mistake to overlook that and act as if it doesn’t count.
If someone from Good News were to approach me and say, “I and several of my church friends are involved in helping tutor underprivileged kids. But I sure wish the church would get involved.” I could honestly respond, “Good job for doing that! And based on what you are telling me, our church is involved!”
MINISTRY MAXIM 7
"Sometimes the right decision involves losing someone."
This one is so obvious that, at first, it seems like it hardly needs to be said. However, sometimes we can get into such a bad habit of trying to please everyone that we will do whatever it takes to not lose a member, even if that means an unwise or sinful decision.
I’m sure there have been situations at churches where an influential member should have been confronted about his adultery, but no one said anything because they didn’t want to offend him. Especially if he’s a big donor. “How can we say anything? We can’t afford to lose Mr. Smith. He’s a big tither. Sure, we saw him on a date with another woman last week. But is it really worth offending him if it means we have to cut the children’s ministry budget by 40%?”
For anyone who has ever read 1 Corinthians 5 and/or James 2, you already know that the correct answer is yes. Of course, it’s worth it to rebuke him! What are we even “doing church” for, if we aren’t going to actually follow the Bible?
There are many instances like these. And not all of them revolve around sin like the example above. For instance, let’s say that the best decision for a particular church is to not have an official youth group. But also imagine that the decision to not have a youth group would also mean that the Johnsons and the Browns are going to leave to go to the megachurch down the street. What do you do? Well, if the best decision truly is for the church to not host a youth group, it would be better to lose the Johnsons and Browns to the megachurch. Over time, you simply can’t do what everyone demands. The church doesn’t exist to do whatever the Johnsons and the Browns want. Besides, next time it will be the Smiths and the Strenkowskis. There will always be an endless line of people who want you to do something that isn’t actually in the best interest of the entire church. Sometimes, the right decision involves losing someone.
MINISTRY MAXIM 8
"Under promise, Over deliver."
There are too many times when leaders use hype that they simply can’t back up. It seems like every event they put on, no matter what it is or who is in charge of it, is announced to the congregation as something that is going to be amazing and life-changing. Then when you actually show up, you find out that it’s just a regular old Sunday school class.
The thing is, there’s nothing wrong with a regular old Sunday school class! Bible classes have been fulfilling their role in the body of Christ for a long time. The mistake wasn’t offering the class. The mistake was acting like it was something bigger than it is.
When we put on a class or a special service, or whatever else, I try to keep expectations in the middle. While I don’t say that the upcoming event is going to stink, I also don’t go on and on about how great it’s going to be either. That way, if we do an adequate job, then the event was as described. However, if we actually are able to pull off something amazing, then people are pleasantly surprised.
MINISTRY MAXIM 9
"Don’t worry about something until it happens."
Jesus once said, “Do not worry about tomorrow. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
While I do not believe that it is wrong to plan ahead or to anticipate problems before they arise, I have also learned that some personality types (mine) can become anxious and almost paralyzed by considering everything that could go wrong ahead of time.
Every once in a while someone will ask me, “Mario what will we do if _____________ happens at Good News Church?”
Sometimes, if it is something that I’ve thought of, I answer the question as best I know how. Other times I just say, “Let’s worry about that if it actually happens.” Spending a lot of time solving problems that haven’t taken place can be a waste of time. And imagining all the ways something could go wrong could push some of us right out of ministry altogether.
MINISTRY MAXIM 10
"It's better to serve God at 1,500 rpms for 50 years, then 6,000 rpms for 2 years."
This is an important one. The idea here is that more is accomplished by a slow and steady faithfulness (think of how a canyon is formed) than a bunch of short-lived frenzied activity.
I’ve told the staff of Good News, "I would rather you work at sustainable levels and remain here for many years (with healthy families and personal lives) rather than watch you work as much as humanly possible, neglect your family, burn out, and quit the church two years from now."
MINISTRY MAXIM 11
"Don’t sacrifice your family on the altar of ministry."
This one goes along with the last one. Too many ministers have thrown their whole lives into their churches and neglected their families as a result.
I remember hearing a preacher named Matt Chandler once tell a story from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, where that one kid starts kicking his dad’s car saying, “You loved this car; I hate this car!” I don’t think Chandler quoted it exactly, but he made a great point. He said that he never wants to see his kid kicking the side of the church building shouting, “You loved this church; I hate this church!”
In 1 Timothy 3, the Bible gives qualifications for church overseers and one of them is: “he must manage his own household well.” In other words, family ministry must come before church ministry, because one qualifies you for the other. It’s not being a good pastor that qualifies you for being a good father. It’s the other way around.