Often, we make the same ministry mistakes again and again. But does it have to be that way? God's Word reminds us that greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world (See 1 John 4:4). That means mistakes needn't be thought of as failures or as final. Instead, they're an opportunity to learn and to grow.
Here are three mistakes I believe the church is making and some thoughts on how we can avoid repeating them.
1. Putting new wine in old wineskins. The Holy Spirit not only is ministering in powerful ways to churches today, but also providing structures that are closer to New Testament principles. I'm convinced He has given us the cell- and small-group movements to prepare us for service and persecution.
The apostolic movement, despite its excesses and abuses, appears to be God's strategy for restoring strong leadership to our cities. The fivefold ministry movement is mending the nets for a great catch of fish. The holiness movement, which calls Christians to purity, and the intercessory movement are divine fuel to help us fulfill the Great Commission.
Moses made the mistake of relying on old methods to get the same results. In Exodus 17, God instructed Moses to strike the rock. He obeyed and water gushed forth and thirsty Israelites were refreshed. In Numbers 20, God told Moses to speak to the rock.
Frustrated, Moses reverted to the past and struck the rock instead of speaking to it. Water gushed from the rock, but so did God's sentence. Moses' decision meant he missed the future God promised him (See Num. 20:11-12). Like Moses, the times, and God's instructions for us, are changing. We can't keep striking the rock. It's time for a new way of doing things. We need to be willing to use new wineskins to contain the new wine God is about to pour out.
2. Cleaning the house and leaving it empty. In Luke 11:23-26, we read about what can happen when you sweep the house, put it in order but, ultimately, leave it empty.
A few years ago, some pastors from my community and me began working together to create an event that would highlight the unity of the church. Several thousand people attended the meetings, but one European pastor had a strong warning for us.
"With these powerful meetings you've held, you have cleaned the place and created a vacuum. If you stop working together, Satan will take the opportunity and fill it himself." That was all we needed to hear.
We immediately decided to scrap our idea of hosting just a successful event. Instead we decided to begin developing an ongoing ministry outreach. The pastors continued to work together, holding monthly meetings for the next two years. We, rather than the enemy, filled the vacuum.
3. Forgetting the most important part of ministry. A young man, eager to serve, helped me produce some creative radio programs. He used some animated sermon excerpts and high-powered music. After playing the demos to a friend of mine, he said, "This style will turn off a lot of non-charismatic Christians." I decided that the goal was to share a message, not to enjoy my own program.
I called the young man to explain. "We have to change the style to make it palatable to all Christians," I said. A few days later, he called back to say he couldn't continue to work on the project.
"If you change the style," he explained, "the programs will lose the anointing. The anointing is the most important thing for me." I felt divine authority when I responded: "That's where we differ. For me the most important thing is not the anointing but love. The law of love is greater than the law of the anointing" (See 1 Cor. 13:1, 13).
For each of these observations, there's an underlying theme: Be sure to make God's priorities your own. Relying on His will, rather than our own strengths and abilities, ultimately creates fruitfulness and blessing in ministry.
Sergio Scataglini was formerly a senior pastor in La Plata, Argentina. He currently bases his ministry in South Bend, Indiana. His book The Twelve Transgressions (Charisma House) is available at charismahouse.com.