Feed the River

Does your church system have retention ponds…those ministries that operate completely on their own—the proverbial church within a church? These ministries typically create their own mission and thus hold water that could be used downstream—but instead gathers mosquitoes and grows stagnant with time. Those who hold claim to it love to swim in it, but because it doesn’t feed the river. Thus, it becomes unhealthy and self-absorbed. It exists for its own vision…to stay the way it is—or provide a mini-kingdom for some tribe of the congregation.

You’ll recognize these ministries because they produce much of the conflict in your church. They are the ministries you work around or put up with. Trying to engage or change these ministries is like approaching a teenager’s room with a closed door. When you try to engage…you do so at your own risk. When elders or staff engage, the vibe put out is, “What are you doing on our room?” When engagement does occur, there’s a lot of “our ministry,” “my ministry,” and emotional barbed wire strung around the exterior.

I’m sure your church has none of those. Hah!

Of course you do. Most of us do.

In my experience, ministry retention ponds are formed in areas without dedicated staff, in areas where staff has no particular interest, and those used as “involvement” ministries formed and led for the purpose of contributing significantly to the church’s river of mission. It might be:

Missions.

Women’s.

Children’s.

Education.

It might even be your eldership or staff.

How do they form? In many ways, but the most common is when someone has a desire to begin a ministry the church has little passion for and has no desire to maintain. The church digs the hole for the pond when they say, “You go ahead and lead it,” with no intention of digging the trench from that pond into the river organizationally. They just leave it alone. It’s awesome when church members take initiative and start ministries—but we need install the trench to the river as you start them.

If mission is a river, we don’t want or need retention ponds. What we need are ministries to function like tributaries to the river of mission—adding energy rather than drawing mosquitoes. The river is where the healthy water is—the kind that gives life to those who drink, swim, and ship cargo up and down.

If you have these, there’s no time like the present to dig the trench from the pond into the river. Be aware the locals of that pond won’t like it. But, like the creation of the Los Angeles aqueduct, that ministry might provide water to millions downstream. It must be done.

It may be the existing leader is unwilling to oblige and must be replaced.

It may be the philosophy and processes of that ministry must be completely redone.

It may be a lot of work. That’s OK. Suck it up. That’s leadership’s job—to tend the river of mission and open as many tributaries as possible. Don’t feed the ponds from the river. Feed the river.

Author: Tim Spivey

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

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