Reassessing the Ministry Shift: Moving forward despite recent challenges

By Charles W. Short | Feb 8, 2022

“If you choose the past, you will die sooner or later,” Mike Gammill, senior lead navigator with Auxano, said at Reassessing the Ministry Shift. This half-day workshop was attended by pastors from all over the state who came to consider how to move churches forward despite the challenges of recent history.

The workshop, presented by Auxano and the Arizona Southern Baptist Mission Network, was held at Foothills Baptist Church in Ahwatukee Jan. 27 and at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Tucson Feb. 3.

Gammill used the discussion of the vine and branches in John 15 as a way of talking about distinct shifts in the attitudes of church leaders, church members and the community that are impacting churches. The historic events of the last couple of years have changed these dynamics in quantum ways. Gammill’s goal was to help church leaders recognize the direction of change, be prepared for it and continue to minister through it.

The average church is at 80% of their pre-COVID attendance, with rural and outlying churches averaging better and larger urban churches averaging worse, Gammill said. The people within the churches are politically divided, breaking their former unity. Emotional energy that previously might have been spent on spiritual issues is already consumed by the turmoil of the age.

The course of the workshop was a guided conversation through three key ideas drawn from the biblical passage: abide, prune and bear.

The key question of the abide conversation was to discover how churches can value and preserve their connection with the Lord. The basics of the gospel never change. Anchoring solidly to it, or if necessary, returning to it, is first priority, Gammill said.

The central problem of the prune conversation is that we cannot do what we did previously with fewer people and resources. Where do you cut back, though? How do you cut back without alienating people accustomed to those patterns of ministry?

God knew in advance these struggles were coming and must have His own good purposes for bringing us through it, Gammill said. Trust Him in the process and focus the attention on what really matters.

The final conversation was how to use innovation to continue bearing fruit, even though the times have changed.

Innovation comes through either opportunity or pain, Gammill said, and we have seen plenty of both. Often, it is hard to catch the opportunity for change that crisis presents. With intentional focus as change occurs, we can find occasion for innovation.

While Gammill gave information both from Scripture and from interaction with churches across the country, a lot of time was reserved for groups of pastors and church leaders to discuss and determine a path forward for their own situations. In this manner, leaders were able to either bring their team to chart a path forward together, or to meet with other like-minded pastors to accomplish the same goal.

In all cases, it is important for the leader to remember his role, his identity, in the ministry.

Gammill reminded those present that it is well known that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Culture of the church comes out of the identity of the church leaders. Leaders need to start at the beginning, which is most often in their own hearts.

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