Not long ago I found myself in a conversation about how to help local churches embrace the end of different ministries. You know. those ministries that have little vitality and are more of a burden than a blessing. Those things we keep doing to not hurt feelings, keep the tradition alive or other reasons of nostalgia. I have learned in my context that there are things that people want the church to stop doing, but we do not know how to set the ministry down with dignity so we do never set it down.
Setting ministries down can be a difficult thing, but it is sometimes easier to do when there is a ritual to do so. How does a church ritualize setting a ministry down? One way is through the ritual of sunsets.
At the church I serve sunsets are somewhat common to talk about and all they are is the way we give permission to set a ministry down. Here is how some sunsets look:
- Finance - when there is money for a project, set a sunset date on that money so that when that date comes and the project is not done it can be asked - is God really calling us to do this project?
- Small groups - when the group is getting a bit stale, call for a sunset break for a few weeks or months. Then call everyone in the group back together and ask if God desires for the group to continue, continue in a new way, or disband for a new thing.
- Annual events - Call for a sunset year where you do not do the festival or fundraiser. Instead, call for a discerning conversation about the reasons God may be inviting a break or a re-imagining of the event.
- Choirs - take a month off and ask people to pray if God is calling the church to have a choir for the coming year. At the end of the month, if it is clear God is calling for a choir, invite people to consider if God is calling them into the choir for the coming year or not. Those who are not called are free to step away.
I assume you see how the sunset ritual can be used in many different ministries of the church. I have discovered the ritual of sunsets highlight at least two things - liberation and discernment.
The church is liberated, it is free, to set ministries down in order to do other things. Rest and sabbath is needed for all things - ministries included. People are also free to set away without guilt or shame and the church is free to pick the ministry back up in the future if God desires. How do you know God's desires for ministry? Discernment.
The pastoral role then is less about drumming up resources for a ministry or being scapegoated when the ministry is set down for a time. The pastoral role is not about green or red lighting different ministries, but about creating the space for the church to listen to God's call in their individual and collective lives.