I find myself getting upset these days whenever I read or hear something that puts “maintenance” ministry in a negative light. It has become almost the accepted standard that maintenance ministry is bad and vision driven ministry is good. The more I read and hear this, the more I realize just how wrong it really is.
Maintenance ministry needs to be seen for what it really is–the basic, day to day work of the church and pastor that actually builds and strengthens and protects the church. To downplay or ignore this vital part of ministry is to risk everything–without good maintenance, things fall apart.
When we owned a house, I was always doing something around the house–painting, repairing cracks, replacing windows, mowing lawns, replacing roofing, repairing plumbing leaks, clearing the driveway. All this activity took time and energy and most of it I enjoyed, except for mowing the lawn. But even if I hadn’t enjoyed the work, it still had to be done. Letting a leaky roof go would result in serious harm to the basic structure. Ignoring a dripping tap increased water and electricity bills. Putting off painting risks rotting wood or worse.
While the basic maintenance of a house kept it in good condition, it also had another benefit–I always knew the overall state of the house. There were very few surprises around the house because I was looking at things enough to know generally what to expect and often when to expect it. The surprises that did come tended to be in areas that I couldn’t look after, like the furnace or appliances.
In the church, the maintenance ministry does the same thing. The regular pastoral activity of connecting with people through visitation, casual conversations, talking about the weather, children, work, sports, gardens and so on provides the pastor with an overall picture of the state of the congregation. It is rarely a waste of effort to spend time with members of the congregation–not only does the time benefit the congregant but also it allows the pastor to develop and maintain a sense of the health and status of the congregation as well as prevent surprises from upsetting the ministry or the minister.
Pastors who don’t do the basic maintenance ministry don’t know their congregations–and they will face many surprises in their ministry. One of the big surprises is often the sudden realization that the congregation doesn’t agree with the pastor–and may not even like the pastor. Not doing effective maintenance ministry is a good way to ensure a short, painful ministry filled with surprises.
What does this have to do with vision? Well, the connection between maintenance ministry and vision is strong. In the small church, the awareness of the need for a vision grows out of the maintenance ministry of the church. It will often be the pastor who first becomes aware of the need for a vision because the pastor will (or should) have the clearest overall picture of the church because of the effective maintenance ministry.
This awareness doesn’t necessarily lead directly to the development of a vision. In fact, the pastoral awareness developed from the regular practise of ministry will sometimes assure the pastor that things are going well, ministry is being done and there is no need for anything more just yet.
However, the awareness of the congregation developed from the regular ministry may help the pastor see that there are issues and needs and possibilities that need to be addressed but which are beyond the regular scope of ministry. Developing a vision may be one of the possible solutions at times like this.
This pastoral awareness developed from good maintenance ministry isn’t an open invitation for the pastor to develop a vision for the church. While he/she may have a clearer picture of the church than anyone else in the church, the pastor’s awareness of the church is not infallible nor it is complete. Before the need for a vision can be established, there is a lot of work for both pastor and congregation to do. Because the small church works on the basis of relationships, the vision process has to be worked through in a way that involves as much of the congregation as possible–and that will be the focus of tomorrow’s blog.
May the peace of God be with you.