Pastoral Essential: Having the Guts to Ask Hard Questions About Your Ministry

I am currently reading through Tim Keller’s masterful new book entitled Center Church. In so many ways it is a textbook for church leaders. Keller has spent many hours at the whiteboard planning and evaluating ministry. We are the beneficiaries of his prayerful and faithful ministry for these many decades.

He draws one particularly helpful contrast early on. He writes of how some church leaders simply evaluate their ministries by their faithfulness. Without discounting the priority of faithfulness he cautions that ministers might feel too much security to question ministries that are bearing little fruit.

Those who claim that ‘what is required is faithfulness’ are largely right, but this mind-set can take too much pressure off church leaders. It does not lead them to ask hard questions when faithful ministries bear little fruit.

Keller is not saying here that apparent fruit comes from faithfulness nor is he saying that faithfulness will automatically bring bushels of fruit. Instead, he is encouraging faithful ministers to ask hard questions about their churches, even through the lenses of fruitfulness. (Fruit does not always equal numerical growth and numerical growth does not always equal fruitfulness. However, fruitfulness does always mean gospel growth.)

In our context at Emmaus we think in terms of an overall game-plan, or as Keller would say, a theological-vision. We exist to make and train disciples who make and train disciples. This is not questioned; it is intergal to our church’s mission. But what we do question (regularly as needed and annually whether we think we need it or not) is how fruitful the ministries are. This process is, in my view, absolutely essential. It helps to identify weakness in a ministry.

For example, some questions we ask are:

  • What is the ministry’s objective?
  • Is it meeting this objective?
  • Is it constructed in such a way that it is able to deliver its objective?
  • What does fruitfulness look like in this ministry?
  • How does this ministry serve to meet the church’s mission and vision?
  • Is it functioning on an island, distinct from the rest of the church’s direction?
  • Is it being led by qualified, gospel-saturated leader?
    • Is the leader thriving?
    • Is the leader tired?

There are many more questions to ask, but you get the idea. The bottom line is for me is having a clear understanding of what the church is trying to do, asking the right questions in evaluation, and then having the guts to make changes accordingly. This is hard, time consuming, pride-smashing work. But it is also ministry refining, vision casting, mission propelling work. Therefore, it’s work that is worth it.