Buying the Right Diamond
In the summer of the year I graduated from college I was in the market for an engagement ring. My mother had a friend, who knew someone, that had a cousin (well, you get the idea). So I found myself in an office building being buzzed into a fourth story office. The jeweler only met by appointment, and I was the only person in his office for our appointment. We sat down and after some small talk, he began to explain what diamonds were, how they came to be, how they were classified, and why they were priced the way that they were.
I met with him for close to an hour before I ever even saw a diamond. We discussed my budget, and he then brought out a tray of diamonds in my price range. The jeweler and I began to go diamond by diamond holding them under a microscope, looking at them in light, and he would show the aspects (and the flaws) of each one.
It was because of this education, and one-on-one time, that I walked out (or was buzzed out) of his office feeling that I had made a great choice, had gotten a great price, and was proud to eventually give it to my fiancÃ©.
The jeweler began with a high level of explanation of the diamonds, and then moved to price, and then to specific diamonds. He did not start with the diamonds; he began with an understanding of diamonds. There were obviously diamonds out of my price range, and with my budget there were some of lower quality that I could ignore. I am glad that he did not waste my time, or raise my expectations â€“ we were able to move directly to what I needed, and to what I could afford. At the end of the day, I left his office feeling good about my purchase.
This same manner of thinking is needed in ministry. We need to start with why we do the ministry that we do (Why have AWANA, or Upward Soccer, or Royal Ambassadors? What are we trying to accomplish through these ministries? Could this be met in another way? a cheaper way? a less labor intensive way?)
Often times churches jump straight into programs because of a felt need (or because the church across town started it), without even thinking about why they are doing them. These new initiatives stand apart from other programming, competes for resources, and may even duplicate another ministry objective. For example, a church may have three programs that focus on discipleship, but none that focus on worship or evangelism.
Planning Your Crops and Master Planning
In agriculture you need four basic elements for crops to grow: nitrogen, lime, potash, and phosphoric acid. So in order for a plant to grow in a healthy manner these four things need to be present in the soil. So letâ€™s say that you are a farmer, and have noticed that your neighbor has a very nice crop of corn, but yours is not doing so well. So you go and ask him his secret, and he tells you that he added a ton of lime to his fields. So you go and add lime to your fields hoping to save or improve the crop that you have. Things get worse! Wouldnâ€™t it make sense that if he added lime, that you should also be able to add lime and have the same effects?
What is truly needed is for you to have a soil sample tested, where you would have discovered that you have plenty of lime (and now probably have too much), but your area of crops are low on nitrogen. Your neighbor planted a previous crop that left behind a nitrogen rich soil, where as you had decided not to plant a crop and just let it go fallow. Your neighbor has brought his soil into balance by adding lime.
Knowing what is needed in the soil to have a healthy crop before you begin allows you to know what steps need to be taken in order to keep a healthy balance. Evaluations and tests can be taken along the way in order to make small adjustments during the growing cycle. If you kept adding the wrong ingredients to the soil, you would actually cause your farm to become continuously unhealthy.
If we carry this principle over to ministry, we would call it a â€œmaster plan.â€ This is where concepts are established before the ministry of spiritual formation begins. Programs are then implemented based on this master plan, and basic goals are established.
Far too often churches launch a program, begin a ministry, or take some other step based upon what they see other churches do only to find out that it didnâ€™t work for them in the same way. The reason is because they may have already had a ministry that met that need, so by adding another, it only duplicated an already met need (thereby weakening the church as a whole).
A Case Study
You bump into a friend in the grocery store and after some discussion the friend tells you about what is going on in her church. She tells you of this wonderful new program that they have started and the church is growing significantly (ex. 40 Days of Purpose, Upward Basketball, Royal Ambassadors, etcâ€¦) Being very excited about this information you rush to your pastor and convince him that your church needs to do it as well. Your church launches the program but does not have a very good result at all. Excluding poor leadership, poor advertising, or any other planning mistake, what could be the real reason for the programs lack of success?
The church must take the time to identify the key ingredients that are needed for healthy growth in specific ministries, and then establish a master plan to bring these things into fruition. Once this plan is in place, there should be continuous tending of the crop, to make sure everything stays balanced.
Next time we will look at an example of a master plan for a Children’s Ministry.
PS — If you are ever in the market for a diamond, please contact Tom Neville, the Source Inc., 334-265-7775, 60 Commerce St, #1401, Montgomery, AL 36104. After all these years he still operates by appointments, and is simply the best.