Beware of Short-cuts

Everrt Huffardby Evertt Huffard

shortcutI recently wrote a book review that takes a few minutes to read, 15 minutes to reproduce, but 15 hours to write. I often remind students that there are no short-cuts in ministry. The sin of plagiarism is the dishonesty of presenting the hard work someone else has done as if it were your own—an unacceptable short-cut.

Short-cuts, like mediocrity, suggest a value system that may not glorify God in the end. We will search in vain to find compelling examples of short-cuts in the Bible. In fact, the stories we read can agitate those who know there must be a shorter route from Goshen to Jericho, from Abraham to Jesus, or from the resurrection to the second coming.

If the road to glory calls for suffering and patient endurance (Romans 5:1-5, Colossians 1:11), short-cuts become a spiritual issue when they circumvent the development of character and hope.
From January through May, I spoke in thirteen churches (in Arkansas, California, Kansas, Montana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas) and four lectureships. After many discussions with church leaders about problems in churches, I am moved to reflect on the dangers of short-cuts in ministry. Young adults need examples of mature, wise leadership in the church. As Charles Sell observed in Transitions Through Adult Life, young adults are characterized by radical idealism, activism and altruism (p. 28), all lethal ingredients for short-cuts. (I never noticed this until I became a senior citizen!) No one enjoys prolonged suffering, so we are constantly tempted to find a short-cut. If the road to glory calls for suffering and patient endurance (Romans 5:1-5, Colossians 1:11), short-cuts become a spiritual issue when they circumvent the development of character and hope. Here is my list of five short-cuts to avoid.

1. Beware of simple, immediate solutions to church conflict. For all the elders to resign to get rid of the one elder who should resign is a short-cut that leaves a church without any leadership at the time it desperately needs leadership. To suddenly dismiss the preacher because he seems to be in the middle of the conflict is an unwise short-cut. Ethical ways to dismiss a preacher or other staff take time and patience.

2. Beware of putting more into events than into ministries. Small churches are much better at special events than long-term ministries. A week-end evangelistic event will not make a church evangelistic, nor will a leadership seminar turn everything around. Seasoned evangelists will tell you that the most effective Gospel Meetings were in churches that were already evangelistic, not in those that used the weekend as a short-cut to reaching the lost. A “Friend Day” or a VBS has little impact without putting equal energy into follow-up.

3. Beware of single issue solutions to the complexity of church health. Paul cautioned Timothy to avoid the short-cut in leadership development of appointing elders who were new converts (1 Timothy 3:6). I could add to Paul’s list. Avoid moving to another neighborhood because you think you can grow more quickly there. Avoid starting a new ministry (like small groups or planting a new church), because it was successful at another church without the process they went through to develop that ministry (plagiarism).

4. Beware of the tendency to spend money for immediate results rather than investing in long-term ministries. The spirit leads us to commit to something bigger than ourselves; the flesh wants quick results. For example, we tend to under-fund young adult ministries. We get more excited about short-term mission trips than a ten-year commitment to a missionary to plant churches. We can build more buildings for “outreach” than develop leaders and ministries for outreach. We can hire a preacher away from another congregation to meet our immediate needs, rather than investing in the training of a new generation of preachers, missionaries, and teachers that will impact the growth of the kingdom.

5. Beware of temporary solutions to inadequate worship. There is compelling evidence that the spontaneous expansion of the early church had very little to do with the style of worship. It would be impossible to argue that a cappella worship obstructed centuries of growth. There are no short-cuts today to full congregational participation in meaningful worship, because humility before our God is much more difficult to develop than professional musical experiences. There may be short-cuts for bringing a crowd together, but not for building a committed body of Christ.

Jesus interpreted the parable of the rocky soil for his disciples: quick growth with no roots lasts only a short time. “When trouble and persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away” (Mt. 13:20-21). Graduate education in ministry is more about deep roots than quick growth.

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