When to pull the plug on a ministry...

As a leader in growth, there may come a time when you have to "pull the plug" on a ministry.  Let's look at this objectively:

1) Is the ministry valid?  That is, does it serve the basic purposes of the church?  Ministries often lose their purpose over time.  For instance, some men's prayer ministries really turn into an opportunity to eat a free breakfast and talk about fishing (or worse, the pastor).  Some women's ministries devolve into gripe sessions about their husbands.  When any ministry does not fit a defined purpose of the church, you may need to pull the plug.

2) Is the ministry suffering for lack of leadership?  I am convinced that God gifts us uniquely and for a purpose - that we might serve others.  That said, not everyone is called to teach a class or head a ministry.  They may be excellent at other things, but it's a very painful thing to drive a square peg into a round hole.  The wrong leader can KILL a ministry.  Before pulling the plug, ask yourself if this ministry might thrive under different leadership?  THEN ask yourself, 'do we have such a person?'  I am of the conviction that is better to pull the plug on a ministry than to run it poorly.  Just because you have 3 boys who are aged 10-12 doesn't mean you should start a class for them OR keep a class for them.  You might have to figure out another way of ministering to them until the right leader avails him/herself.

3) Does the ministry lack vision?  If that is true, pastor, you aren't doing your job.  Every church ministry should set goals for itself and constantly review those goals and how to achieve them.  If a Pastor longs to see his Sunday School ministry grow by 25% next year, how can he break it down in achievable goals for his Sunday School Superintendent and individual Sunday School teachers?  What is your vision?  Define it. Articulate it.  Let that vision permeate every business meeting, every casual conversation, every sermon.  Set reasonable goals for the leaders under you.  "For us to grow our Sunday School by 25% next year, we need to add 4 people to our Adult Men's Class this year.  Four people.  We can do that.  And here are some names we can be praying for and reaching out to this month."  The primaries need to add X number. Juniors X number. The teens, young married, and the senior ladies X number.  You get the drift.  The vision for the organization MUST COME FROM THE PASTOR!

You might need to pull the plug on a ministry that is not serving a valid purpose, lacks spiritual leadership, and does not have a viable vision.  But what about YOUR ministry, Pastor?  When is it time to pull THAT plug?

  • Don't be reactionary or emotional about this.  Sometimes we pull the trigger and end up regretting it. Take time to pray about it.  Talk to your spouse.  Call a trusted peer/friend outside the church.  There is safety in godly counsel.
  • If this ministry (or the way you have built it) is destroying your marriage or family, pull the plug. Instead of preaching sermons to your wife or telling her to suck it up, love HER more than the ministry. Your FIRST obligation is to God.  Your second is your family. Your third is your work.
  • Consider a sabbatical.  More than a week or two of vacation, you might need a month off where you can spend time healing, praying, and clearing the cobwebs.  It would be better to take some time off than it would to completely jump ship (if you aren't sure).
  • Have I lost my vision for the work or fulfilled all my goals and now feel ready for another challenge? THIS is THE question so many are asking.  Nobody can answer that but you.  While I encourage longer pastorates, God has different men for different works/needs.  Some of us are church planters. Others are built for long-term discipleship.  Some are growers - others maintainers.  God needs all of us for His work.
  • Is this work damaging you personally?  Face it, some churches are man-eaters, abusive, hard-hearted, and mean.  Some will fight with you over every dollar you spend... "WHY DO YOU USE SO MUCH PAPER???"  Sometimes God wants us to work WITH and IN SPITE OF those people. God will refine YOU through THEIR fire.  But sometimes the attacks are just too personal.  If the board is too opinionated (judgmental) about what your family should be doing, this pastorate probably isn't going to last.  While no pastor should pursue "filthy lucre," a church is obligated to offer reasonable care for their pastor and family.  If staying in this ministry will cause you to be unfaithful financially, you either need to become bi-vocational or find another church.
I am sure there are many more 'what ifs' that have already popped into your mind.  Put yours in the comment section and we will discuss it.

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