Thinking “STEPS” in Ministry

Around 10 years ago (that seems impossible as I write it… but it is true) I read a book that revolutionized the way I look at ministry.  It was “The 7 Practices of Effective Ministry” by Andy Stanley, Reggie Joiner, and Lane Jones.  It is an awesome book.  If you haven’t read it yet, do yourself a favor and pick it up here.  One of the practices that they highlight is “Think STEPS not Programs.”

It’s easy to think of ministry in terms of programs.  Just pull off a youth group night once a week and make it awesome and get a bunch of kids to show up… that’s good student ministry, right?  WRONG.  That’s a good program.  But one of the things that every youth pastor knows for sure is that your program is not going to disciple your students.  That’s why they wrote the chapter “Think STEPS not Programs”… because your students need to take next steps in their faith.   Without a well thought out strategy of how to move students from one step to the next… they will get stuck in PROGRAM mode and, as they grow older, will be forever unsatisfied with their faith thinking that the 1 hour a week on a Sunday is supposed to be the magic sauce that will make them grow.  So they will hop from church to church looking for that SECRET INGREDIENT… and eventually give up on the local church for “not meeting their needs.” It’s sad.. but it’s true.   Our programs need to be a PART of our strategy… but not the whole strategy.

I played a lot of baseball growing up.  Now I coach my kid’s baseball teams.  One of my favorite things about baseball is the fact that it is easy to determine how successful you are… YOU WIN or LOSE… that’s it.  And the way you win is to SCORE MORE RUNS than your opponent.  And the way you score runs is simple… you move your players from base to base until they cross home plate. (it doesn’t matter how fast either… they can walk, hit, steal… as long as they don’t get out) And they can’t skip a base (even if they hit a home run… they still have to touch all the bases).  You can’t win without going through all the steps.  This is the way people work too… they function in steps.  And in order to be successful… they need to move from step 1 to 2 to 3 and then to 4, etc…  But in most churches (probably an unfair statement, but I’ll say it anyway) it seems like the goal is to get people to the plate (sunday mornings).  The more people we can get to step up to the plate… the more successful we are.  WRONG.  Success isn’t measured by how many at bats your team has… but by how many of those at bats turn into RUNS (And I’m going to go for it here… RUNS aren’t SALVATIONS.  That is a step.  That’s like first base).  But a lot of us are so focused on the numbers game (how many at bats our team has) that we neglect how to get them on base and get them around the bases to cross the plate and score runs (true discipleship).  And, if we were brutally honest, we probably would have to admit that we haven’t even identified what those bases are and what it looks like to score runs.  But hey… a big team LOOKS impressive, right?  The illusion of success is what our culture loves to praise.

But what if we ditched that way of thinking… and actually sat down and asked “What does it look like to score runs?”  What does it look like to really DISCIPLE someone?  I bet you’d have to change the the main thing you focus on.  I know I did.  I no longer became impressed with how many students attended my gatherings.  Why?  Because I started looking at home plate from the other side.  I started asking myself “How many of those students are out in the world, after high school, making more disciples?”  OUCH!!!  The truth is brutal sometimes.  When you think of steps and not programs… it begins to change your approach.  It begins to change what you focus on.  It begins to change what you prioritize.  It also begins to change what impresses you.

So what does it look like to think steps and not programs?  How do you integrate your program into a STEPS model?

I’ll cover that in a post tomorrow. (I hate it when people do this… set you up but not deliver… but I’m tired of writing for today and this next part needs its own post)


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