Challenging the rushed ministry decision

Every person involved in leading or organising a church or Christian ministry activity will have had the experience of a member dropping out at short notice, leaving sudden gaps to fill, even gaping holes at times.

And of course, the member generally thinks they have a good reason. And sometimes they do. There are true reasons of urgency and compassion which any decent pastor understands.

But unilateralism and abruptness in decision-making worries me in a Christian. How should we react when such situations arise?

For example, recently, in a church I’m aware of, a congregation member told the pastor:

I need to leave immediately and am not available for any more rosters at 10am, effective immediately.

Often in these situations, the decision is taken, the mind made up. All we can do is listen to their story, accept their decision, wish them well as appropriate. And say—without sounding too grumpy or self-righteous—that we’ll sort out the problem, in this case of rosters.

Now my pastor friend handled it well. And in what follows, I make no comment on the man’s particular situation.

But I use it as an opportunity to reflect more broadly on how we might encourage people who claim Christ as Lord:

  1. to follow through on their commitments;
  2. to avoid the habit of making of hasty decisions;
  3. to seek, where possible, to make decisions in fellowship with others.

I realise we would be counter-cultural with any of these matters. But I think they are worthy  goals.

But the need to think about the above three factors has not even dawned on the average Christian. They are not being difficult; they are just doing their own thing. After all, that’s what everyone does! In a world that emphasises individual choice, personal rights, and self-reliance, people naturally just make the decisions that seems best to them. They’ve done it that way for years.

But is that really God’s way?

Anyway, I think when something like this comes up, we need at least to consider whether to raise any of the following questions/issues with the person concerned.

Of course, we allow for emergency situations, or where pastoral sensitivity or lack of Christian maturity means it might be counter-productive to raise these matters.

Could we say,

Friend, we’ve already issued the roster for the next term (or whatever) and/or we’ve been counting on you for your contribution/leadership in this ministry, until the end of the year. Is there any way we can help you keep those commitments that have already been made, until the end of this term/period/year?

This points to the need for Christians to be people who keep their commitments, and let their yes be yes (Matthew 5:37). After all, our God is a promise keeping God, and we Christians should aspire to reliability and loyalty to those around us, whom we’ve committed to.

Or alternatively, could we ask,

Friend, have you talked about the impact of your dropping off these rosters/responsibilities with others who might be affected (e.g. Office staff, congregational ministry team, fellow youth leaders, etc.)?

This points to the fact that we are the body of Christ; and the actions of one ‘body part’ impact on others. We need each part to do its work (Ephesians 4:16).

Christians are those who ought to, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). So if we don’t like being “left in the lurch” or burdened with extra responsibilities at short notice, then why would we do that to others God has called us to love?

Or alternatively, could you inquire,

Friend, has this decision been taken in a rush? Have you taken a chance to talk over the decisions/options you face, in advance of taking the decision? Do you think there could be wisdom in taking it a little more slowly, or even getting a second opinion from a trusted Christian friend or elder?  Do you think that could help (or would have helped)?

After all, the Bible suggests that, “The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice” (Proverbs 12:15); that we should “Make plans by seeking advice; if you wage war, obtain guidance” (Prov 20:18).

Above all, Proverbs 19:20-21 says:

Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise. Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’S purpose that prevails.

Have we taken time to discuss what the Lord’s purpose maybe for us in our situation? Have we searched the Scriptures? Have we asked trusted Christian friends or our local church leaders for their perspective?

Perhaps these things are obvious to you.

Or perhaps the theory looks good on the screen, but you can imagine it going badly in personal conversation, especially if a person has already made up their mind, but feels sensitive about it.

But I think we at least need to be thinking through whether we should seek a conversation that raises at least some of these matters.

And perhaps this article is a helpful way of educating the rest of our congregations in advance?

5 thoughts on “Challenging the rushed ministry decision

  1. Hi Sandy,
    Great article, and these are definitely things which all Christians should consider. I personally am poor at making slow and considered decisions; thanks for the wisdom which you have conveyed here.

    However, I would also suggest that the way that we set up rosters etc, etc, lends itself towards these kinds of exits. Within most church rostering systems, once you are on the morning tea roster – you are on the morning tea roster; often until you have one of these conversations with the minister of the congregation.

    Do leaders of teams have conversations with those in their team about whether they are thinking of continuing next year, or next term, or what they have found good or challenging about the role that they are undertaking — or is it assumed that they will just buck up and get on with the job?

    I think that there is a second side of the conversation which is best raised by the leader of these teams (whether that is the minister or someone else) in preventing discussions like this.

    • Mick, good comment.

      There should be periodic reviews of commitments, both at the individual level and built in structurally.

      It’s also good to have conversations in advance. For instance…

      * The trial option (for both parties)
      Let’s put you on the [insert category] roster, and see how you go; and if we find it’s not working out after a term, then let’s feel free to review it.

      * The fixed term option
      All our rosters normally run for X months. We’d like your commitment for that time, but won’t assume this means you’ll continue in the same ministries next time around.

      * The expected tenure option
      This ministry is a long term work, and so with our youth leaders [or insert other ministry] we are keen for long term thinking where possible. So we typically want a minimum two year commitment (barring major unforeseen issues arising). Are you able to give that?

      Of course, things like needing to move as the only way to find work, or major illness, or a highly significant relationship change etc., may mean that a commitment cannot be kept, without breaking ‘good faith’.

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  3. I’d like to make another suggestion, one that involves better leadership and, I think, a better pastoral approach.

    You need to find out what the real issue is. If someone drops out very suddenly and dramatically, there is often a “reason behind the reason”. It’s worth sitting down with that person and taking the time to understand what’s happening.

    “John, this is very sudden – you only signed up for the dishwashing roster a month ago. Has something happened?”

    “No, I just can’t make it anymore.”

    “Tell me, how has it been going?”

    “Well, since you ask…”

    You might find the real reason John has dropped off the dishwashing roster is that no-one else turns up and he’s been carrying the load on his own. Or perhaps he’s had a personality clash with someone on the team. Or perhaps something else has changed.

    The “reason behind the reason” can very often be solved – but it does require a strong trust relationship with the person(s) involved. My concern with your approach, Sandy, is that it might plug the gap for another few months, but you may be simply setting yourself up for a huge explosion in the future.

    Now, John might just be an A-grade slacker. But if so, you are probably not going to solve that in a session or two.

    The other thing I’d say is that it’s a real pest if you, as rector, are dealing with these sorts of roster issues. Find a trustworthy man or woman with the gift of leadership, and appoint them “Meeting Director” to take care of that stuff. Then invest lots of time in that person. My two cents!

  4. Hi Craig, and great comments. I was particularly thinking of those who indicate they are leaving altogether, e.g. for another place. But I think your suggestions are very relevant for those staying. Gently explore the reason behind the reason.

    In regards the the rosters, we have great admin team people, who handle it really well. And most members are great at finding swaps etc. Most roster hiccups I never see. However, the reality is that sometimes people will come to one of the pastors with their news. And in the flip-side, I don’t normally think it is the average admin staff member or volunteer’s job to have the potentially difficult pastoral conversations suggested here (unless it was crystal clear is was part of their job description when they signed up).

    However the main reason I wrote the article was to educate all church members in advance that rushed, individualistic decision-making should be avoided and the keeping of commitments encouraged, as a matter of Christian godliness – I still think this applies even to those who have a reason behind the reason.

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