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Is your ministry proactive or reactive?

May 3, 2016 | by Allen Hamlin

In our modern world of fast-paced communication and decisions—which places a huge emphasis on innovation, being first, and taking the lead—the word “reactive” has nearly become a death knell for the fate of a ministry. A ministry which merely reacts is deemed certain not to last.

Popular wisdom says that we should not wait until circumstances call for a response, but rather we should remain several steps ahead of the times, implementing tomorrow’s strategies and programs today.

I recall when the member care department of a major parachurch organization rebranded itself as “member development”; their primary motivation for doing so was to put a focus on proactive investment in people rather than only providing reactive crisis care. Such a perspective is absolutely valuable and paints an important picture of the need to facilitate growth and health as part of the normal rhythms of life and ministry.

Planning ahead, anticipating needs, developing vision—these traits are certainly valued and valuable and describe a proactive ministry stance.

But before we dismiss the notion of “reactive” entirely, let us consider what things we may need to react to.

We cannot be proactive all the time. We cannot be constantly rushing ahead of the here and now. In fact, the Scriptures clearly temper our fore-planning with a reminder that “today has enough trouble of its own.” In our desire to be moving onto the next thing, we need to ensure that we don’t move away from being present and engaged in the current things too quickly. A habit of continually moving onward, forecasting into the future, is sure to lead us into the very troubles and anxiety that Matthew 6:25-34 warns us of.

Rather than busy ourselves to the extent that we never have time to be reactive, it behooves all of us and our ministries to ensure that we do indeed have sufficient margin so that we can respond to what comes to us in a particular moment.

Surely it’s not improper for us to react when we feel like the Lord is speaking or leading us in a particular way. It’s essential to the ministry of serving others to respond when someone comes presenting a need; more than just slotting them into a pre-established program, care should be extended in the moment.

Even on a much larger scale, most of our ministries—and perhaps even our lives—have mission statements. It is certainly not wrong for us to evaluate and react to present opportunities in light of these clarified statements of purpose and intent.

Are our ministries proactive or reactive? Ideally, they should be both.

Understanding the times, and trying to position ourselves to meet future needs and to take advantage of future ministry opportunities, we should indeed proactively evaluate plans and implement structures which will enable us to serve to our greatest ability when the time comes.

While doing so, we should preserve time and energy so that we can remain fully present in our current season, able to react to the leading of the Holy Spirit, to meet the challenge of unanticipated crises, and to regularly evaluate our service in light of organizational mission, vision, and values—reacting in faith and courage when that evaluation indicates that a change is called for.

If your ministry has been swept up in the contemporary fascination with proactivity, take a moment to sit with your fellow leaders and to ask the question: what should we be reacting to as well?

Allen Hamlin
Allen Hamlin has served overseas since 2006, and provides team building consultation around the world. He currently lives in Wales, and oversees ministries in the southern UK. He is the author of Embracing Followership (Kirkdale Press; Feb 2016).

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