5 Building Blocks of a Strong Ministry
When we think of building a ministry we always seem to start with programming. I’d argue that programming is actually the last piece of the puzzle, not the first. Programming is one of 5 building blocks that need to be in place for a ministry to succeed. The others are leadership, discipleship, culture, and infrastructure. Each of these areas must be thought through and planned for a ministry to succeed.
In this post, I’ll outline the 5 building blocks and over the coming weeks I’ll explore each of them individually.
Everything rises and falls on leadership, beginning with you. If God has called you to give leadership to a ministry then I believe that your unique blend of personality, gifts, and strengths are what’s needed for that ministry. So, step 1 - understand and develop your own leadership capacity. Knowing who you are and what you are uniquely gifted to do will help to clarify what you should (and should not) pursue in ministry. For me, that means it’s unlikely that I will ever be called upon to lead a ballet focused ministry. (sure, it broke my heart a little, but I’ve made my peace with that.)
Step 2 - surround yourself with great people. Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great, says it like this:
“Good to great leaders understood 3 simple truths. First, if you begin with “who,” rather than “what,” you can more easily adapt to a changing world...Second, if you have the the right people on the bus, the problem of how to motivate and manage people largely goes away... Third, if you have the wrong people, it doesn’t matter whether you discover the right direction; you still won’t have a great company. Great vision without great people is
Jim Collins, Good to Great
Develop your leadership capacity and get great people around you. That’s building block #1.
Discipleship is at the very heart of ministry. However, few of us seem to have a real grasp of what a disciple is. A few years back, during my time in the Arrow Leadership program, the president of Arrow, Steve Brown, asked our class this question: how many of your churches have a mission statement that says something along the lines of wanting people to become ‘fully developed followers of Christ’? Most of us agreed that we did. Steve then asked a second question: How many of you can tell your people what a fully developed follower of Christ looks like?
It’s simple and profound. If we want our people to grow as disciples we need to paint a clear and compelling picture of what a disciple is and provide a path by which to get there.
Culture isn’t created by accident. It needs to be intentionally defined, nurtured, and enforced. Ethos is a greek word that captures this idea a bit more richly. Ethos is the guiding beliefs or ideals that characterize a community, nation, or ideology.
So, what will be the guiding beliefs - you might call them ‘values’ - of your ministry?
In my youth ministry, for example, one of our values is “family”. We make it clear to our students that every person who walks through the door has the right to feel welcomed, safe and cared for. We define that value by talking about it. We nurture it by showing our students how it’s done when new people join us. And, when necessary, we enforce that value by disciplining group members who violate it.
If you don’t define, nurture, and enforce the ethos intentionally a toxic culture will take hold. Once a toxic culture is in place growth and health disappear. Toxic culture will require years of effort to change; so it’s well worth your time to get it right at the beginning.
When we think of infrastructure in our cities we’re talking about highways, railroads, sewer lines, electrical grid - that type of stuff. It’s the things that allow everything else to function. Also, it’s the stuff that no one pays much attention to until it’s not operating well.
In Youth Ministry, our infrastructure is quite simply the stuff we have access to that will help our ministry function. You need to understand the infrastructure you have before you can develop your programming. For instance if you’re hoping to run a basketball outreach but have no access to a basketball court, you might have a problem.
Begin with knowing exactly what’s available to you. Are you meeting in your living room with a couple of couches and a TV? Do you meet in a church building with access to a gym, auditorium and maybe even a youth room? Do you have a budget? Are you able to fundraise? Are there people connected to you or your ministry that can offer stuff (money, vehicles, their house, cottage, game systems, etc) to you? Is there an organization in your community that you could partner with? Look for every possible way that you can acquire resources.
When you’ve done that, commit to excellence with what you have. Stop yourself from looking down the street or across the country at the program that has more whatever than you do. Instead, trust that God has provided exactly what you need to accomplish his purposes for the ministry He’s placed you in. When you need something else, He’ll provide it.
The final building block to put in place is programming. Often times in ministry we start with a programming model and try to get the leaders and infrastructure needed to fit that model. We disciple based on the avenues available to us within our program. This is a recipe for frustration and failure. I’ve seen leaders completely defeated because the programming model that was successful somewhere else is failing in their ministry and they can’t figure out why.
Design your program around the leadership you have, the discipleship your students need, the infrastructure you can access, and the culture you want to create. These considerations will lead to your program being something completely unique.
This isn’t to suggest that we can’t learn or borrow ideas from other ministries. Of course not. After all, there is nothing new under the sun. But, it’s also extremely unlikely that the programming model that works somewhere else will fit perfectly to your context. Study other models, read the books, and think through the ideas, but always filter them back through the unique context to which God has called you to minister.
If you’re just starting out in ministry, make sure you give due attention to each of these building blocks as you start out. If you’re in a ministry that’s already running, take some time to evaluate the strength of each building block within your ministry and see how you might improve them.
Next week I’ll look deeper into the first building block of leadership.