Agendas Are Not Enough
I was marking time by twirling the pen in my hand when it was not busy writing. I found myself in another meeting. Another paper agenda on the table before me. Another sore behind. The other church staff had open laptops, questions and comments to add to the meeting’s fuel. We had just been through a busy spring season as a church—lots of events, people, and activities to assess. There were a few hiccups with volunteers and a room the fire marshal wouldn’t have been happy with, but all in all, it had been “successful” in the numeric sense of the word. We evaluated the food, the flow, the ways to get visitor information. I stopped twirling my pen and started writing: Maybe next year we’d do some kind of raffle. We needed people to volunteer for parking.
And then, we moved on to the next agenda item.
Sitting there, I realized that the discussion, though edifying, though we had evaluated minuscule details, just didn’t feel like it was enough. Something was missing.
Ministry often feels to me like one of the races I enjoy running on an annual basis—not an out-and-back, but a giant loop that winds up taking me around landmarks, catching trails and sidewalks, and passing familiar shops and restaurants while ending me where I began. Every year I see the same course, and every year I hope to be faster and more efficient. Everybody working in the church world knows the annual loop of ministry. Church leaders know the annual loop of ministry. Click To Tweet
What comes after spring events? Summer. With vacation time, of course. And then the fall kickoff. And then before you know it, Christmas is coming up again, and we need a sermon series theme.
Who is going to reach out to the low income housing representative again to coordinate gifts? Who is going to plan the outreach idea involving a petting zoo? It’s the annual pattern, rhythm, loop of ministry that we hope and pray will grow our churches, grow us, and make us successful.
But too often, we miss something. So many of my ministry friends and volunteer leaders miss something that has little to do with vision, mission, or taking vacation. It has little to do with the notes my pen was scribbling down. What is missing is an integral piece which is every bit as spiritual as emotional and physical.
Celebration Is Necessary.
A weird thing can happen at the end of even the hardest races. During one half marathon that had more mud, rocks, and hills than I had known about, I kept telling myself this was the last of these I would do. But what changed my thoughts after I crossed the finish line was not the time of rest that came thereafter, but the quality of celebration that happened at the finish. That atmosphere of high fives, pizza, music, medals, and growlers was an inspiration to do it all again.
Maybe that’s why throughout the uphills and downhills of the Hebrew Bible, we find lots of parties. Annual ones. Seasonal ones. Ones God actually built into the busy Israelites’ schedule so as not to get so crazy with the demands of life that they’d forget to stop and recognize God’s handiwork. It wasn’t just the good times and the victories when people would be dancing in the streets and eating mutton. Even in the darkest of times, when the Romans took over control and the future looked bleak, they were forced to celebrate. They made it a point to celebrate the faithfulness of the One who called them.
What’s also interesting is that not only does Jesus show up at parties, but it’s in the midst of celebrations where he most fully reveals his identity: a wedding party, the Feast of Tabernacles, Passover, and Pentecost. Jesus shows up to interact with people and to connect himself not only to the story they were telling but to prepare the people for the part of the story that was coming next.
At holiday meals, for better or worse, you tell the famous embarrassing stories of your family. At graduation parties and weddings, you tell stories of the one graduating or the couple getting married. You might even connect the experience of your own graduation or wedding to the one taking place. Celebrations are about creating intentional space and intentional time for humanity to recognize our limited nature but rejoice in what’s found within its limits. Celebrations provide those moments among the people in the present for the past to collide with the future.
Yet while most of us in ministry do a good job of planning and evaluation, we do a lousy job of celebration. Maybe it’s because it’s hard to see tangible results of taking time to celebrate. It’s easier to move on to the next item on the agenda, the next upcoming event, the next worship service or ministry kickoff. Visible productivity comes with moving forward with those things. Maybe it’s because many of us in lead positions have begun to view our churches as structures to be built rather than organisms to be fed and grown. Maybe it feels like God’s work should be about super serious business. Maybe we just don’t know how to celebrate.
Being a very driven church planter-momma of a 5-month old infant church, I recognized I’ve done a crappy job of celebrating this baby. Sure, her birthday was incredible, but the long days and long nights and rolling hills of the first few months just seemed to be hard. When I talked to people, I talked about grit and endurance more than joy and expectancy. Sure, we had a great birthday celebration, but had we celebrated anything since the birth?
I chose to change that story by having a dinner where people could tell theirs. We did have an agenda, but mostly we put down our pens, laughed, ate, and celebrated. And you know what—something happened in that room as we flipped the page to the upcoming schedule. Maybe the Holy Spirit renewed our passion for the next segment of the race. Maybe like in the wedding and the Feast of Tabernacles and the Passover, Jesus showed up.
What is missing? What feels empty as you round another loop of ministry? Maybe you need to ask, “When was the last time we celebrated?”
Evaluating isn’t enough. Celebrating makes it enough.