There are all sorts of ministry traffic signs that we need to pay attention to, point out for others, and obey. Here are a few:
No U Turn. I’ve found that one of the most liberating things I can say to a pastor or congregation is, “There is no going back.” And by “back,” I mean back to the “good ole days,” or back to that attractional programming that worked so well in 1994. In my experience, to name this and own it affords clarity. The tsunami of cultural change is exponential and pervasive. It’s dangerous to ignore the “No U Turn” sign because the pervasiveness and pace of cultural change – what we might call “oncoming traffic” – is paying no attention to you. And so when ministries take U-Turns, there is the risk of irreversible damage (multi car pileups and totaled vehicles, if we can keep the metaphor going). Plus, simply put, you’d be making a U-Turn toward a place that no longer exists.
Keep Moving. When I lived in Beverly, MA, there was a shopping center I used to frequent where you would turn into the entrance and quickly find yourself at a 4-way stop. While 3 of the 4 lanes had a “stop sign” the entrance lane had a “keep moving” sign in order to keep traffic from piling up on the main road. And yet EVERY SINGLE TIME I got to this intersection, someone would stop at the “keep moving” sign. People had been conditioned to stop in these sort of situations, even when there was a massive sign telling them to keep moving. Sound familiar? Where are the “keep moving” signs in our ministries where our timidity or hesitancy is actually making things worse? Keep moving.
Stop, Yield, Dead End, Merge. I list these together because, in ministry, they are easily confused. First let’s concede that there are many situations where all of these signs are ignored and something in ministry just keeps going ad infinitum even though it should’ve been ended, paused, or recalibrated a long time ago. But even if you and your ministry leadership team agree that something isn’t quite going as hoped, we need to think carefully about whether a Stop, Yield, Dead End, or Merge is in view. The Stop sign is not the same as the Dead End sign. Stop signs are like hitting the pause button, not the off button. To Stop is to briefly (can’t emphasize this enough) pause, take in a broader view of the circumstances, and then keep going. Yield signs are similar to stop signs, but keep us open to the possibility of continuous movement. Yield signs say, “hey, pay close attention!” as we turn onto a new street. Yield signs remind us to be attentive, to learn as we go, especially when we’re driving onto a new road. Oftentimes congregations are at a Yield sign when they assume they’re at a Stop or a Dead End, and therefore assume that stopping is required when it’s not. Dead End signs are probably the easiest to see but the hardest to obey. Why? Because a lot of our well-intended ministry efforts and programming may one day reach “Dead End” status, and yet shutting them down inevitably creates anxiety and disappointment. Sometimes these “Dead Ends” are actually “Lane Ends, Merge” signs, giving us space to be creative and savvy with how we implement necessary changes. Has your ministry mistaken one of these signs for another? Do you and your leadership team need to revisit what sign you’re actually looking at?
Caution, Blasting Zone Ahead. Comedian Brian Regan has a bit about this sign, asking, “Shouldn’t that read, ‘Road Closed’?” In ministry, the answer is “no.” Every ministry road is a blasting zone. Let’s admit this fact and know that we do not travel alone. Together, let’s build the capacity, relationships, intuition, and a well of resources to navigate the risks and unexpected obstacles along the way.
Which of these traffic signs do you encounter? What are some others?
In the coming weeks, our staff and others from the MM network will share their reflections with you. We’d love to hear what you think too, so feel free to send a short message to Adam at firstname.lastname@example.org.