By Eddie Pipkin

November 21, 2016

In honor of the Thanksgiving holiday and the delicious main dish with which it is gloriously associated, I thought it would be an appropriate time to share a list of 10 ministry “turkeys.”  These are things that churches routinely get wrong that turn off folks who are otherwise motivated to join them in ministry.

Sometimes these ministry mistakes are a product of overzealousness (as is the case of most of these youth ministry “fails”).  Sometimes it’s a combination of that or just general cluelessness (as is often the case with the many examples of church sign “fails” to be found on the internet).  Most of the examples below are the result of lack of planning, lack of organization, lack of follow-through, lack of attention to detail – wait, there’s clearly a theme here – it’s the general condition of “lack.”  And church visitors, as well as old hands, have sophisticated “lack” radar.  The Apostle John addressed this very issue way back in the first century, as he wrote these words to the church at Laodicea (the biblical equivalent of a blog): crazy-turkey-002“I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other!  But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!” (Revelation 3:15-16, New Living Translation).

Maybe if John were around blogging today, he would be holding local congregations accountable to these egregious lapses:

  • Dysfunctional and Out-of-date Websites. You get people all fired up to find out what you’re doing and get involved, but they visit your web site to find out it’s a Where’s Waldo treasure hunt, featuring event listings from six months ago.
  • Recruiting Volunteers for an Event, and Then When They Show Up, There’s No Real Work for Them to Do. They will likely never sign up again.  People are busy, their time is valuable, and they want to be engaged in meaningful activity (which is, after all, just good stewardship).
  • Having People Complete Spiritual Gifts Inventories, Interest Surveys, or “Would You Like to Know More” Queries, and Then Nobody Follows Up with Them. We ramp up the excitement about people discovering their spiritual gifts, and we even give them a nice interactive tool to use, but then the results sit in a drawer in somebody’s desk.
  • Assuming That Everyone Knows What You’re Talking About. Whether it’s terminology during the worship service or the mission behind that annual spring event you’ve been doing for the past 20 years, we forget to explain to people what’s happening and why it matters.
  • Talking about Things in Worship that You Obviously Aren’t Living Out. All people at all times being on the lookout for hypocrisy (especially those just trying out the church), it’s pretty obvious when we talk about things like diversity, mercy, integrity, or spiritual depth and we’re not displaying those values in our worship leadership.
  • Ignoring the Zeitgeist. There are things going on out there in the non-church world: news events, viral memes, cultural touchpoints, sports rivalries; your congregation is talking about all these things, and it’s odd to them if they never get mentioned at church because they aren’t part of the Revised Common Lectionary.
  • Hanging on to Never Changing Traditions. Heritage is great, but EVERYTHING has a season, and one of the keys to new folks and new energy is embracing new ideas, which inevitably means making room for the new by gently leading some old ideas to the treasured book of ministry memories.
  • Never Planning Ahead. Do you still enjoy the rush and anxiety of doing everything at the last minute, scrambling around to generate ideas, and burning out people who we routinely lean on to make things happen (as opposed to pre-planning in an organized and anxiety-reducing fashion)?
  • Talking About Stewardship for One Month a Year. Church leaders (although they have nodded their heads in agreement in many meetings in which someone has said, “We need to be talking about stewardship year round”) never actually embrace the model of creatively exploring this keystone of discipleship as a part of the fabric of regular communications and worship.
  • Not Setting High Expectations Because You’re Worried about Scaring People Off. Too often we work out of the mindset that if we are honest about the kind of commitment it takes to do great ministry work, we’ll scare people away, when the truth is that high performing leaders and servants love to have challenging goals to work towards.

It’s a great time of the year to be thinking about our turkeys, because this week begins the season of Advent, which is, of course, a season of hope.  As long as we lead with clear vision and an honest assessment of what we’re doing and why, we continue on that hopeful journey of partnering with people in meaningful ministry.   The list above is easily expandable, so go ahead and share in the comments section.  What are some of your favorite (or perhaps that is better phrased as “not-so-favorite”) ministry turkeys?