Don’t let the Great get in the way of the Good

I’m a big fan of vision. I understand its power in motivating people, getting them excited, and helping everyone to double down in their efforts to get something done.

But sometimes we allow a great vision of what we could be doing to get in the way of the good work we should be doing.

What exactly do I mean? Consider these examples from the life of the church.

  • Imagine a church that invested serious time, and some treasure, in a great coffee ministry to attract new people. Not necessarily a bad idea, but a series of these new visions forced the community to defer maintenance that was needed on the facility. Eventually, this led to an emergency closure of the building due to structural issues caused by a leaky roof.
  • Then consider the young pastor who devoted a lot of time in a great new social media strategy for his old church. And while the strategy had the potential to pay dividends down the road, the pastor was also neglecting to care for his existing flock through visitation and relationship building. Without eager partners, the church’s ability to welcome those new people was stymied by a lack of enthusiasm for any new ministry offerings.
  • And then there is the arena of our personal discipleship. For many of us, it is easy to get excited about a great mission project, or some essential task that provides us a clear sense of our importance. However, the day-to-day nurturing and development of our spirituality, that basic soul care which will prepare us for the unexpected, we often find boring and tedious.

Now there isn’t anything wrong with coffee shop ministries, social media outreach, or mission projects when undertaken in the right context – one where we are already doing good ministry. Outside such a context, chasing great ideas can quickly become an addiction. Authors, consultants, and self-help gurus regularly pitch the idea that great is the solution to all our problems. It’s an attractive notion that sells lots of books as it feeds our egos and aligns with a culture that values productivity as the highest metric of success.

Despite what we may often be told, great ideas rarely solve the problems we face individually and/or corporately. What they are more reliably capable of is aggravating those challenges, especially when they are initiated haphazardly from a crumbling foundation. More often than not, good work is a prerequisite for great work.

Yet another problem with chasing Great

Chasing the great, while neglecting the good, also leaves churches in a state where they aren’t very good at great when a genuinely great idea comes along. While a leader within a failing system can sometimes summon enough personal time or corporate energy to get something moving, they will typically fail to have the systems in place to allow great ideas to realize their full potential. And since the idea was sold, and believed to be great, this failure leads to distrust of the leader and systemic inertia.

Being incapable of meeting a great challenge is a consequence of neglecting the good. When we see to the good regularly, when we are diligent in attending to the mundane, it gives us the opportunity to build, nurture, and optimize the systems necessary to do the great.

So, should churches stop looking for the great work God has for them? Absolutely not. But faithfulness requires us to diligently administrate the good tasks we’ve been given so that we can be prepared for the great when it presents itself.

Focusing on good work isn’t the same as accepting the status quo. Everybody’s understanding of what good work is, isn’t always in perfect alignment and sometimes, the accumulation of past good work needs to be culled in order to make room for the future. Pruning is an important part of attending to our good work as church. Paying attention to the administrative tasks of ministry provides us the necessary opportunities to wind down pet projects, and to tip over the sacred cows, that don’t really align with the current mission.

Focusing the church’s ministry upon the good shouldn’t imply that we cannot respond to urgent and clear need. After all, you can’t plan for a natural disaster. But when it comes to such things, our attention to the mundane administrative functions of the church, and to regular spiritual discipline, leaves us in a better place to respond to those things we can never plan for.

A few questions to consider:
  1. Has your church ever chased a great idea without attending to the good? What happened?
  2. Why do you imagine we are so addicted to the next great idea? How do we get better at focusing on the good work before us?
  3. How has a lack of attention to the good work (basic administration, maintenance of property, spiritual disciplines, etc.) in your context impacted your ability to respond to the situations God/life has put before you?
  4. Has your church been successful in pruning the good work of the past to make room for new things? What challenges did you face in the task?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below.

Photo Credit:For the Greater Good” by Flickr user Jeremy Brooks.

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