The disturbing rise of the 'ministry industry'

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment in time when this first happened, but recently I have become disturbed by the “industry” that has grown up around ministry training and leadership development within the Christian Church. This is not just an issue in Australia –  I have spent enough time in the UK and the USA to know that this is an issue in those countries as well. But what disturbs me most about the “ministry industry” in Australia is just how overwhelming it is, when compared with other areas like resource creation or activity in activities, especially evangelism.

I need to be upfront and admit that I have been part of the problem. I have spoken at, organised and developed ministry training for years. I helped launch Arrow Leadership in Australia and I have been a cog in the ministry industry machine for years.

It is also important to state that ministry training is crucial. We need Bible and theological training institutions, we need leadership development. The church has benefited from innovative thinking from those who have challenged ministry practice and those who have created new modes of growing Christian ministry.

But let’s not be coy about this: the ministry industry is huge. Just look at the number of books, courses, seminars, podcasts and conferences all aimed at ministry development, just in Australia. It is enormous.

While ministry training is important, we need to ask: have we gone too far? Have we turned necessary training (to launch people into ministry) into an industry that feeds on itself, exists for its own self-aggrandisement and has lost touch with the purpose of its own existence? Is it just an echo chamber (or realistically, multiple echo chambers), talking to ourselves and congratulating ourselves on how clever we are?

As this goes on, a huge percentage of Australians go untouched by the Gospel.

“The ministry industry spends the bulk of its time talking to itself.”

So much discussion and debate is engaged in by ministry leaders who believe that they speak to the wider church, while in fact they are only influencing a small number of people. These debates fail to engage the average church attender. The Christian church is full of people seeking to live out their faith in day to day life, bring up their kids, look after their families and contribute to their community, and who have absolutely no interest in the debates and discussions that dominate the time and attention of ministry industry leaders. These people want help and encouragement for everyday living, and the ministry industry takes up all its time on nuanced leadership discussion and debate that only interests those in ministry. The ministry industry spends the bulk of its time talking to itself.

Here’s some questions I would like to encourage you to ask yourself as you assess which ministry industry events you attend or the ministry you pursue.

Why do you attend seminars, listen to podcasts or access resource material?

Is it because you are training yourself for ministry and putting what you have learned into practice, or is your consumption of the ministry industry in fact a distraction from your ministry? It may be time for some self-appraisal. Of all the hours you as a leader have spent in ministry development, how much of it has actually shifted your ministry practice and strategically informed your ministry direction? Is it really just a way of avoiding what you know you need to do? Most of us don’t need a new word or a new plan, we just to need to get on with what we already know.

How do you decide what ministry you will engage in?

Over the years I have been asked to produce or be involved in a number of different ministries. I often ask myself, does the world or the church need another version of that? A helpful example is TV/YouTube preaching shows. As we at Olive Tree Media produce a lot of media resources, people have asked if I’d like to produce a new preaching show. Each time I ask myself, does the world really need another preaching show? It’s hard to answer that question with a resounding yes. I think that question could be asked of any number of areas in the ministry industry. The problem is that the ministry industry is always looking for something or someone new. It has an insatiable appetite for the new idea, personality or approach. When we feed that desire, we are rewarded by followers. But does this actually result in a growth in effective ministry or just the growth of the ministry industry?

If you are a leader in the ministry industry, ask yourself how you judge the success of what you do?

We have often chosen the low success markers of our efforts such as followers, attenders, clicks, views, product sales and economic viability. We could actually be very successful at accumulating ministry industry accolades and not influencing anyone outside our Christian bubble. We need to critically assess the impact of our training efforts and ask if we are producing kingdom fruit or just filling auditoriums, conference rooms and online seminars with more people, producing less discernible ministry outcomes.

Finally, what is your aim and goal in ministry?

It seems to me that many people are desperate to be accepted into and find success in the ministry industry. They leave roles of building churches, running effective ministries and hands-on ministry to go into feeding the ministry industry machine. In fact, many people speak, write, podcast and travel with the ministry industry as their firm and clear goal. Clearly there are those called to ministry training and development of ministry leaders, but it’s time to ask if that ministry space has become saturated.

I am not suggesting that we stop training, teaching and encouraging people in ministry. But I am challenging the Church to ask if what we do in ministry development and training is absolutely necessary. Or are we just falling into the trap of the ministry industry and stroking our egos and bank balances, rather than looking for strong and discernible Kingdom outcomes?

Karl Faase is CEO of Olive Tree Media.