By Zac Workun
In the last few years, leadership teachings have bent toward effectiveness and efficiency. Pastors are trying to do more with less and make shoestring budgets feel big.
But efficiency isn’t always effective.
Before I was a student pastor, I was a student of business management and studied all the reasons why it’s important to keep a business lean. We studied how to create value for the customer by optimizing processes.
A semantic substitute for “lean” might also mean efficient, but there’s something about lean business that doesn’t translate well for robust discipleship.
Lean sometimes means brittle
In the past few weeks we wandered in a quarantine wilderness of stripping away all the processes and programs we had. We began searching for how to make sense of what we used to do, but with tools that felt unfamiliar or new.
These weeks have exemplified that many pastoral leaders are more creative than they thought they were, and many congregations are willing to use digital tools when necessary. We’re all living through a revolution that’s challenged our giftedness and capacity to do the work.
The months of quarantine have been vital for our work, but I also hope they’ve refreshed your calling. More than the programmatic work of leading a ministry, I pray that the interior work of leading in Jesus’ name has come alive when all expectations have shifted.
Fear of re-entry
Now, as we enter into a season of re-entry, we’re fraught with deciding what we should keep from what we’ve gained (e.g. weekly video content and online small groups) and what we should restore from what we lost (e.g. in-person weekend worship experiences and gatherings).
Inside this tension is a challenge to find a way to keep doing a lot, efficiently. I’m worried the next several months will be a rush to see how much we can get done, how much we can continue to offer, how we might become all things to all people.
Before you rush or say “Go!” in this next season, be reminded that efficiency is not effectiveness, and effective ministry is not lean, but deep.
Our people need depth. They’re hungry for it, hungry in a way that’s not competitive with other churches (We’ve all tasted and seen every kind of church, thanks to Facebook and YouTube Live).
I know that calling a ministry “deep” is sometimes used as an ambiguous critique, but there’s something different about this season. Deep isn’t a veiled critique against a sermon, but a disciple’s cry of feeling insufficient or a longing for what’s next in their lives.
Jesus’ deep offer for the tired, dry, and water-giving pastors
In John 4 we receive the story of Jesus who asks a Samaritan woman for a bucket of deep well water. The beauty of this story is that it starts with the woman offering to help Jesus, but ultimately, it’s Jesus who gives the woman what she needs.
Jesus does several things that help the woman see the pain of her own story. She’s feeling hot, tired, and alone and is still willing to help this stranger.
They talk about identity, origin, and the best ways to get water. She tries to shift the conversation about worship and theology. He realizes the here, now, and future hope.
She tries to mask her identity. He sees right through her, because He is who He is.
What Is Depth?
Our people are hungry for depth.
Depth isn’t always a lengthy sermon.
Depth isn’t always an intricate or complex Bible study plan.
Depth isn’t always a pithy quote worth tweeting.
Depth isn’t always a clever small group question.
Depth starts with knowing where the well is from which to draw water.
Depth is a willingness to slow down and sit down.
Depth is sharing a bucket when you don’t have one yourself.
Depth is the work that turns conversations into questions.
Depth challenges what the place of worship means.
Depth is ultimately the work that challenges who we are and invites us to be someone we thought was impossible because of past sin.
Richard Foster was right: “The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.” (Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth).
The work of loving and leading in the local church is meek work. It’s not exemplified by strong decisions of powerful leadership, but modeled in a Shepherd-Savior who seeks, serves, and saves. True visionary leadership is identifying our own need for the depth of the love of Jesus. It’s from His abundant overflow that we have any hope or courage.
People right now need a pastor who doesn’t have all the answers but is willing to sit in the heat of the day and remind them of the truth. The hope and courage of ministry these days is in being a minister and not the doing of ministry.
Like the woman at well, we need trust and sit with the One who declares, I am He.