When Failure Is the Desired Option
Christianity is based on one single momentous and miraculous event. The Resurrection.
Christ died, once and for all, that we might live. There is no need to repeat this event—even if we could. What a gift!
Yet the Resurrection story has become the fundamental argument in church circles for—of all things—failure.
Here is a characteristic logical progression.
- Every congregation/ministry has a lifespan.
This may be true, but what does this mean? Some congregations have been around for centuries with all kinds of ups and downs. Some last a few years. Without an analysis of what this means, it is deflection designed to intimidate.
- Quote Ecclesiastes 3. There is a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot. Sometimes a New Testament analogy is called upon—new wine in old wine skins. Christianity is the new wine.
- Remember the Resurrection. Only by dying can there be new life.
New life doesn’t always require a corresponding death. The miracle of the Resurrection is all about us not having to die.
The teaming of these passages creates justification for ministry tactics that otherwise are not biblical. The Bible condemns any effort to discourage the faithful. Matthew 18:6, Mark 9:42, Luke 17:2.
The Resurrection and Ecclesiastes passages are about hope—realistic hope and miraculous hope. Belief in the miraculous should energize the realistic.
The arguments can be used appropriately. Take an article recently published by Rev. Graham Standish, “Why Some Ministries Need to Die.”
He argues that congregations sometimes need to look at the effectiveness of existing ministries. He never argues that change should be forced. Instead he argues that those who appreciate the ministries should take responsibility for their continuation and allow others to experiment with different ideas. Makes sense.
But the extension of the logic gets a bit dodgy. Read this post by blogger, Rev. Ed Stetzer, Some Churches Should Die and Stay Dead.
He argues that troubled congregations be helped along in their dying so that re-planters have better odds of success without those troublesome laypeople. It sounds very practical in a world where clergy and lay leaders rarely reason together. In truth, the arguments are attractive to replanters for one reason. They want no one standing between them and church assets.
Theory hits the fan when it comes to implementation. Sometimes congregations don’t agree. It gets ugly and hateful. Communities (church and neighborhoods) are damaged long-term. While clergy come and go, church members still live in the neighborhoods where the strong-arm tactics were employed. The Church rarely revisits actions taken popularized theories. It is easier to leave the blame for failure with church members.
Our congregation heard these arguments. Oddly, we were growing quickly, but our regional body hadn’t been around to see our growth. They were practicing intentional neglect. One bishop said, “Ten years without a pastor and you’ll die a natural death.” His successor didn’t bother to check if that was the case or not! Both were blind to reality and hope by their own financial needs.
Church leaders buying into this cockeyed logic are betting on failure, squandering the sacrifice Christ made for all of us.
These arguments are lazy theology. They prey on trusting lay people. Regional bodies exist to assist congregations. That begins by listening. It continues by collaborating. It thrives on empowerment of lay leadership.
Denominations rarely revisit controversial decisions. They continue despite failure. The damage endures—mission opportunities squandered for decades.
Most lay people want to believe professional leaders know what they are doing.
Reality: Often regional bodies haven’t a clue how to lead in the modern spiritual zeitgeist, have failed to train the leadership for the realities of today’s ministry—and most dangerously—are struggling financially themselves.