The Ministry Machine

The Ministry Machine
January 14, 2016 tschultz

The Ministry Machine

by Thom Schultz

In the midst of another hyper-busy day, the rueful Christian leader paused, looked across his desk, and said, “I no longer feel I’m running this organization. It’s running me.”

For many, ministry has become a machine. A big, complex machine that requires constant feeding and maintenance. What began as a tool and a structure to accomplish greater good has become, itself, the focus. Rather than a means to an end, the means has become the end.

This is part of what’s causing the drift of the American church, which has become big, complicated, bureaucratic, expensive and professionalized. Our new documentary film on the state of the church, “When God Left Building,” illustrates this phenomenon. Take a look at this brief clip with Rick Warren and a former megachurch staff member:

Tony Steward, the second man in the clip, said the American church is currently in its own “Industrial Age.” And that’s contributing to the church’s tendency to focus on professionalism and self-preservation, rather than the real results it was established to create.

Most of the ministry leaders I know lament this industrialization. But they’re caught up in a structure that consumes their time and attention. One pastor told me, “This isn’t the job I signed up for. I wish I could spend more time talking with people about faith. But most of the time I’m expected to get the air conditioner fixed, fill the pews on Sunday, and keep the toilet paper stocked.”

What might reveal that a church has become more focused on the machine than on God? Here are a couple of indicators:

Aftertaste. What do you most often talk about after leaving a church activity? Is it about how God showed up–or something else?

Agenda. What occupies the bulk of your leadership meetings? Matters of God? Or matters of machine?

So, how can a church temper the tendency for ministry to devolve into a machine? Some suggestions:

1. Start with the staff. Devote time developing and nurturing staff members’ spiritual lives. Pray together–for one another. Care for one another. Model real ministry and Christian community at the staff level.

2. Focus on what God is doing. Among the staff and with the congregation, tell the stories weekly of how God is changing lives among your people.

3. De-emphasize the church’s typical industrial ABC score cards–attendance, buildings and cash. Recalibrate attention onto Jesus’ Great Commandments–love God, love people.

Author and church consultant Reggie McNeal, who also appears in our film, summed it up bluntly: “The church is not the point.” The church is like an airport. It facilitates our journey. But it’s not the destination.


  1. John White 8 years ago

    Thom, I have a couple of comments to add and then an addition suggestion to the ones you have listed.

    Comments – elements of the Industrial Age church that are often unacknowledged and undiscussed. Isn’t it time to at least start talking about these issues?

    1. Building. As long a church is building-based (whether rented or owned), it will have a difficult time making a lot of progress moving away from the Industrial Age mindset. The simple truth is that the building itself is often a big part of the “machine”. The building is necessary for the machine. And, the machine is necessary for the building.
    2. Bigness. One unintended consequence of successful church growth (ie, more people in the meeting) is that a growing professionalism is required. Tom Peters, the business development expert, said, “Bigness is the enemy. We much fight it all the time.” Eugene Peterson wrote: “Crowds are more dangerous than drugs or sex.”

    Here’s what you wrote: So, how can a church temper the tendency for ministry to devolve into a machine? Some suggestions:

    Thom, your suggestions are helpful for church leaders who are called to largely maintain the current structure of their church with a few tweaks. I hope you will include a fourth suggestion…

    4. Explore the option of decentralizing your church. If, as your documentary says, “God has left the building”, perhaps it is time for at least some churches to encourage the people to “leave the building”. This would mean returning the church to the NT pattern of churches that meet in homes. Literally millions of Christians around the world are moving in this direction.

  2. Mike Witherden 8 years ago

    God left the Building 2000 years ago. He since then does not live in buildings made by human hands…
    Just a cursory read of the bible will show that it is US who have left God and who have substituted Him with a man made monster we call ‘church’, while we simple ignore His Body which He has been building for 2000 years now. Get back into Him, back into His Body, and let HIM be the Head and let the Holy Spirit Lead, Guide, Teach etc. not the so called “mighty men of god”.

  3. Steve Simms 8 years ago

    One reason we don’t talk about “how God showed up” is that we don’t give Him any opportunity to show up. We have programmed church meetings so tightly that there’s no room for God to actually do anything. We have turned church into a talk about God, instead of an ongoing encounter with the living God. Perhaps we need to move beyond church and into the New Testament concept of ekklesia. More in “Beyond Church: An Invitation To Experience The Lost Word Of The Bible–Ekklesia” available at Amazon at

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