Two passages first . . .
Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?
-- Luke 15:4
If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town.
-- Matthew 10:14
Two different approaches? Or two different philosophies?
Do they even reference the same objects?
I had a conversation with a fellow leader last week, discussing those who test drive the community and then decide it's not for them. I felt like a hypocrite, and here's why: There are some people I chase, and there are some people I don't.
Intellectually and spiritually, I tend to differentiate that some people are different than others (and I think that's true), which justifies chasing after some and not others. Depends on their attitude/spirit, depends on why they left, depends on how invested they were while they were in, etc.
Personally, though, I can cop to admitting that a major factor in who I chase after and who I don't is who I feel like chasing after and who I don't.
I'm not an old guy, and I won't claim to be the most mature person you could meet, but I do think I've experienced enough and been through enough not to take people leaving personally. Heck, I hear through-the-grapevine criticisms not just about our ministry/community but about me personally not often, but often enough that ten years ago I'd be an insecure mess about them all. Now they still sting, but I have pretty firm convictions about what I'm doing and how I'm doing it, and I don't take critics personally much any more. I'm disappointed, but I don't sweat it. I have bigger fish to fry.
The only time I try to confront such criticism is when I think it could threaten the unity or peace of the ministry/community itself. If it's a beef with me that someone is turning into a whisper campaign that threatens the peace of the community, I go after it. If it's one person's beef with me, I wait for them to be grown up enough to speak to me about it and don't worry about it in the meantime.
Anyways, in this conversation with a fellow leader, I was explaining about when and why I feel like chasing and when I don't. I was aware throughout that a few weeks earlier I had made it very clear that I am not comfortable treating people like projects or statistics, that my heart is not to write anybody off, that my passion for the gospel of grace compels me to never see anyone as beyond reconciliation. Not helping matters was that I had defended having chased a particular person and, according to my fellow leader's perspective, capitulated on an issue (of non-essential quality) in order to appease that person.
And here I was, the recent chaser, talking about letting some people go and not occupying ourselves with wooing them back while he, who previously told me chasing wasn't worth it, was quoting "the 99 and the 1" to me. Talk about role reversals.
What say you, experienced leaders?
Can we discern who's worth chasing and who's not?
Thought of this stuff again reading Bob Hyatt's "80-20 and Organic Community, Part 2". Hyatt writes:
The first [danger] is that we would become completely mercenary with how we view people -- and rather than seeing them as a shepherd does (occasionally leaving the ninety-nine for the one), we would view them as widgets who either produce or don't, and we would show them love and concern based solely on what they could do for us. May it never be. While I do need to reprioritize how I spend my time, and refer, delegate, etc. when people are in general need, even if I'm not personally moving to fill that need, I should make sure someone is.
Two issues here:
First, prioritizing people (ugh, I hate just writing that) becomes mercenary when it becomes about who we like and don't like and about who we feel is "useful" and not useful. I think prioritizing people is okay (ugh, I hate just writing that :-) when it is about needs. At some point, I think some of those who leave are not really the 1 lost sheep, but part of the 99 who are just bored with the program.
Secondly, I'm assuming delegation may get easier (or at least more unavoidable) in a larger ministry, but in smaller ministries, it can seem weird for one leader to say to another concerned leader, "If you feel that person should be chased, feel free to chase them." The reality is that often those expressing concern aren't merely saying they think someone who's gone should be chased but that the person in charge should do the chasing. And nothing can sabotage authentic community quite like a one-minister ministry.
The reality is that nobody has more than 24 hours in a day. The reality is that none of us has an unlimited amount of chasing time. The reality is that there are people we can minister to and people we can't.
The reality is that we have to decide who falls in the can category and who falls in the can't.
The reality is that many of us make that Can and Can't decision based on lousy criteria.
So how do you do it? How do you decide who's worth your time and who's not?
This is some of my hypothetical criteria. I am not perfect in living this out.
MAKE A PRIORITY
b) visitors or new attenders
c) regular participants and leaders
d) people on the fringe of the community with questions/concerns
a) people on the fringe who disagree with something essential to our ministry
b) people who attend but don't invest, demonstrate not sharing the values of the ministry, and then leave
c) angry people, including hyper-religious people
d) people whose departure actually benefits the community somehow (this would include people who, in an actual congregation, might be candidates for church discipline)
e) people who leave because they don't like the "style" of the music or the messages
It's a tough list to make, because every person is a person who needs grace, every person is a person who ought to have the gospel lived out to them. I also believe the Church quite willfully engages in reverse pharisaism, in which we reckon the licentious more worthy of our love than the legalistic.
But there is that whole pearls before swine thing too.
Is it okay to decide who's worth more of our personal engagement than others?
I mean, just generally speaking, we all spend more time with our friends than we do people who aren't our friends. And nobody would argue that's wrong, I don't think.
But ministry's different, right?
I guess, what I would love to aim for is a community that doesn't expect one or two people to do all its chasing for them, a community that disregards as few people as possible because more people than not are living the gospel to all they encounter.
I know this doesn't get me off the hook for writing off people I just don't feel like engaging.
I am by passion a chaser. I am by practice picky. :-)
Insights, comments, critiques appreciated . . .
The Leadership Conundrum series is the place for you seasoned leaders, pastors, and ministry directors to weigh in with your advice and tips and practical ideology!
Previously in this series:
Leadership Conundrum: People
Leadership Conundrum: Rescuing the Trampled On
Leadership Conundrum: Transitioning Generational Ministries
Leadership Conundrum: Challenging Apathy
Leadership Conundrum: Burning On without Burning Out