My oldest son called last night to hear my voice, he said, and to talk with me about his summer experiences. He is taking part in what could be described as a mission trip with elements of outreach, spiritual development, community development, service, and fun.
He told me about how the pastor of the church sponsoring this experience. It’s now a large church with multiple campuses. Worship services are often standing-room only. When the current pastor first took over, he lost membership initially until its reinvention took hold in the minds and souls of people in the area. A specific action that stood out was the replacement of handbells with electric guitars.
I have mixed feelings about such actions. I would never say that we should routinely toss out the old in order to make room for the new. And, I’m guessing that not all handbell-guitar exchanges have gone as successfully as this one.
I expressed my concerns about always ditching the traditional in favor of the contemporary. But certain traditions can become irrelevant. Our discussion reminded me about irrelevant efforts.
A couple of years ago, I suffered an injury and its treatment led me to new friends. At the time, I was leading the strategic planning efforts at my church; my goal was to get people to share their God-inspired dreams, talk about their fears, and somehow impart courage to take action. So I was especially attuned to hearing about other’s ministry activities.
One of my new friends in this process served in a deaf ministry, which involved training others on sign language that was then performed during worship services. Previously, she had lived in an area with a large deaf population and so was fluent in sign language.
There was just one thing that I found confusing about this ministry: there were no deaf people receiving the message. There were no plans to recruit or minister to this population. The program, then, seemed irrelevant. It could have become relevant in a different setting but within the strategy, there was no real meaning.
Acknowledging that there may have been reasons to maintain this ministry beyond the scope of my understanding, I feel that someone should have considered whether it was relevant to those it sought to heal or serve. Honest discussion should have taken place to avoid ineffective use of resources, whether time, money, or emotional energy.
You might be in a similar situation, either as a participant or leader. Consider asking yourself or leading a discussion exploring these types of questions:
- Is it relevant to its intended audience?
- What are you trying to accomplish with the program?
- Are you communicating these goals to those involved in supporting or funding the program?
- Are your goals being attained?
- How many people are being reached? Is this program the only way they are being served?
- Are you accomplishing unexpected results in addition to or instead of your original goals?
- Is this program the best way to accomplish your goals?
- What would happen if you discontinued or changed the program? Who would be affected and how?
As you consider the responses, extract yourself from attachment to a specific outcome. Just see what happens.
Don’t take my comments as saying that only massive participation from large groups are deserving of nurture and resources. I strongly believe that where two or three are gathered, fruitful ministry, deep friendships, and meaningful conversations can happen. But I also know that many gather out of obligation and duty, not out of genuine excitement.
Determining what is relevant and what isn’t relevant may be painfully obvious. If so, you know what to do. But very often, the path is not crystal clear. Be thoughtful and prayerful; then decide whether to continue, stop, or reinvent a program.
Looking back on my conversation with my son, I sense valuable messages. First, I should respond to a God-given vision and take definitive action, neither kowtowing to or discounting popularity as a measure of effectiveness. Second, I should evaluate my efforts not only in terms of response but also based on relevancy to audience, mission, and purpose. And throughout this process, I should remember that God knows precisely what is relevant.