Keep it (increasingly) Simple for the Saints

A few years ago, I endured six straight months of participation in a personal healing ministry (which shall go unnamed to protect the guilty). We met for three hours every Sunday evening for 26 straight weeks. Well, we did get Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Super bowl week off. But there were 26 topics that we were forced to endure. If this wasn't bad enough, we were given a 2-inch thick spiral bound book (8.5 x 11) as our course material. The ministry's president had obviously added to it year after year to shore up weak areas of each topic. Moving through the week's material to prepare for the teaching and small group experience required at least two hours of reading per week.

While the healing I received through the process was amazing and I recommend the process for anyone and everyone who will listen to me, I invested a few minutes of each week griping about "project creep" and how the ministry's president had no accountability in this area. He was left unchecked to add and add and add whatever he felt the material needed each time he taught it or reviewed it. In case you haven't figured it out, "project creep" is when you decide to replace the sink in your bathroom and by the time you're done, you've put in a sink that's three times the price of the one you actually could afford and you swapped out the toilet to match the sink and the lavatory handles on the bathtub to match as well. And then you had to buy all new towels to match and keep it looking fresh. Project creep.

Small group/Cell group ministry is often guilty of project creep. Training for leaders becomes more complex and bloated year after year in hopes it will create better leaders. The forms the staff ask the leaders to complete about their group began as five simple questions and now are two full pages. Truth be told, it's MUCH easier to bolt on another book to read or process or qualification to meet to most anything. But what is needed is constant refinement and the whittling down of what we have in place to remove the wasted time, redundancy, inneffective bits, and so forth. This is hard work and sacrificial. Many pastors have labored tirelessly on the development of a process and it's their beautiful creation that should only be embellished, not violently cut back to the bare necessities.

Guilty as charged!
In the late 90s, TOUCH developed a year long course for pastors that required five weeks of on-site training to transition their churches. The weeks together were precious for many pastors who participated, but the depth of the training did not create hundreds of success stories in America. Now overseas where the cultures are more relational and people aren't as frenetically busy, it was a perfect fit. But not here.

What we didn't do in our second and third year of offering this training was to simplify it. It was not until three years after we stopped the training that we took out a clean sheet of paper and said, "If we were to distill all that the pastor's training offered in those five weeks, just how little would we end up with that was indispensible? And looking at the indispensable bits, how could we make each one easier to adopt or more simply communicate?"

Years ago I was asked what an implementation team was to do with their time together after they'd helped a church create groups and the support systems needed for them to thrive. My answer? "Go back and examine everything you do and why you do it and see how you can do less and get better results. If the results suffer, you've oversimplified. If results are the same, you've removed the fat and that's a good thing."

Ministry project creep. Don't remain guilty of it now that you know about it.


Gandalphar said...

I may mis-understand your meaning or intention, but this sounds like: make it quick and slick.
When we take so much time and care to educate and train ourselves in worldly knowledge; when the Lord told us that our curse would be to toil by the sweat of our brow, why would we take any less time, effort or care in our spiritual training and maturing? I agree that efficiency is a very necessary attribute for life, but it seems to me that anything worth doing well will also be a significant investment of resources.

Randall Neighbour said...

I'm never accused of making things quick and slick!

What I'm getting at is that most processes in a church are not reviewed regularly to see if they can be trimmed down and streamlined... but they are certainly made more complex more often than not.