How to decide to end a part of your ministry

Church world is known for allowing programs to limp along for years instead of ending them. The same could be said at times for overseas work. One week ago, a campus ministry I volunteer at decided that at the end of this school year the weekly lunch we host will stop meeting. Several of us will continue with the students and visiting scholars in some fashion in the fall (details still to be worked out).

In the end, the decision might appear to be a simple one, but it was not easy. On the surface, much of life will stay the same. No one needs to move, no new visas need to be sought, no major finical crisis, instead we had to discern if the Lord was closing a door or asking us to press on. I have been mulling how to decide when to end a program or other ministry slice.

How we find ourselves in these situations

  1. It is part of life. Every living thing—even a program, committee, weekly lunch, annual outreach—is born, grows, and at some point, dies. (At times to be reborn, but not always.)
  2. These situations require difficult conversations and time, it can be more comfortable in the short run to keep going. Or they might involve a sacred cow, and as you weigh the political reality, you decide just to keep going. It could be that Mary has given so much to this program and you do not want to hurt her feelings, so you decide just to keep going. Perhaps you are not sure what to do instead, so you might as well keep doing this.
  3. External factors also influence an outreach. Maybe a new law opens (or closes) doors, inviting (or forcing) you to do things differently. Other external forces include natural disasters, finances, and personnel. In our case, we have funding for at least another year but combine few scholars being granted visas and an aging volunteer base – we have not been able to attract younger volunteers. People are tired (and genuinely unable to do some of the work physically.).
  4. God is paradoxical. So, we, as Christians, do not make decisions solely on numbers, finances, or open doors.

So, what can we do

  1. First, spend time in prayer. If you sense a program is coming to an end or needs to change notice where you feel resistance to this idea (almost clinging, if you are honest) and where you feel relief. Resistance and relief can be threatening so if you feel yourself wanting to ignore or push them down, ask God to be curious and to face them with Him.
  2. Organize your thoughts. Why do you think it may be ending or time for a change? What external factors are you facing? What are you willing to do to either keep it going or help it to end well?
  3. Prepare to have a difficult conversation. Even if you sense that most of your team or coworkers will agree, that it is time to end, that does not mean it will be easy to say out loud. Get input from all members, especially from those who tend to be quiet.
  4. Trust that God will lead you. The discerning process does not need to be rushed, but it does need to be intentional so that you are not living in self-afflicted limbo for months.
  5. Once a decision has been made, move on. If you decide to end a program or ministry, end well. Plan a celebration to honor the work that God has done through it. If you choose to keep going, recommit in such a way that creates a new chapter of the story God is writing.

I am writing this post in the in-between space where we have made the decision but have not yet had our final celebratory meal. The lunches and other activities started almost twenty years ago, long before my time participating. Hundreds have been touched, and dozens have labored in love. Six years ago, when I joined this merry bunch, I would not have guessed how decisions made on the other side of the world and in our own lives would lead to the ending of an era.

It is sad. It has been hard to decide to end this iteration of outreach. And we believe it is the right decision.

What has your experience been with ending a ministry? What has helped you (or would have helped you) to end a ministry? What ministries or slices of a ministry do you need to consider stopping or changing?

Photo by Matt Botsford on Unsplash