Growing up in New Mexico, I am acquainted with forest fires and their devastation. The summer camp I went to and worked for has almost burned multiple times. My sister worked on staff there when they had to put campers into 15-passenger vans and evacuate them to a nearby hotel as flames moved toward the camp and the air became hazardous to breathe.
The worst kind of forest fire is a preventable forest fire. I remember learning about “controlled burns” when I was young. I was shocked to find out that firefighters would regularly start forest fires on purpose! Wasn’t their job to stop them?
It turns out that it’s better to prevent the fire than try to stop it once it’s started.
The same is true in the church world.
I have two weekly meetings scheduled with the pastors at Awaken. We call them our “Work ON” and “Work IN” meetings. Not only are these meetings important for us to stay connected, but they serve specific purposes.
Work IN: Putting out Fires
At Awaken, each week starts with this meeting as I gather with the pastors to pray over the church and discuss current issues that need attention. It’s a “putting out fires” meeting, where we are working in the thick of the ministry.
Try as you may, you will never be able to prevent every fire. Ministry is messy and there will always be a fire to put out somewhere: a marriage on the rocks, a family that is suffering, financial instability, a natural disaster, the need for more space, and the list goes on. Some of it is sin-related, and other times it’s just how things go in the reality of life. If you don’t schedule time to focus on the fires, they’ll find their way into your study time or some other time where your focus needs to be elsewhere. Part of leadership is decisiveness. You’ll have to deal with issues, so schedule time to do so.
Work ON: Fire Prevention
This meeting also happens weekly, but the focus is different. This meeting is about building the ministry, building people, and trying to stay ahead of issues. It’s the “controlled burn” part of our leadership. Similar to how firefighters start fires to clear out brush that’s prone to fire, we are constantly assessing areas of the church and ministry that need to be “cleared out,” reevaluated, tweaked, or shifted in some way.
As your church grows, people come and go, life seasons change, and your goal should be to stay proactive, not reactive. If you don’t stay proactive, small issues become big issues that suck up much more of your time. Again, we are back to the importance of decisiveness in leadership.
This is the flip side to the fires. The “controlled burn” is still a forest fire, but it’s a helpful forest fire. It’s a small, controlled fire that prevents a bigger, uncontrollable fire from happening later. Marriage counseling may cost time and money now, but it could prevent marriage disaster in the future. Changing or ending that ministry now may cost you, but it could help reroute the church and/or ministry in a new, more helpful way.
If you’ve ever walked through an area a few months after a fire, you may have noticed the signs of new life all over. Fires have a way of “pruning” a forest, clearing out overgrowth and fertilizing the soil for new growth.
Since the church is an ever-growing and evolving organism, leading it requires constant reliance on the Holy Spirit and a team of other leaders you are developing. Don’t be afraid of the fires. It’s part of leading. Grab a gas mask and an axe and charge in. There’s work to be done and souls to be saved!
K E V I N • M I L L E R
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