About a year ago I transitioned to a new ministry role at a new church. It’s been a whirlwind of a year – full of blessings and challenges. And over the course of the last year, I’ve thought and prayed a lot about what kind of worship ministry God has called me to help cultivate here.
Which reminds me of a story.
In 2006 I was finishing my bachelor’s degree in Psychology from George Mason University in Fairfax, VA, when something unexpected happened. The men’s basketball team from this relatively unknown school just outside of Washington D.C. advanced all the way to the NCAA final four. They nearly entered the final stage – the college basketball championship – but stopped just short.
Even though they didn’t win the championship, there was still – all of the sudden – huge visibility for this “little” university. The number of prospective students skyrocketed. Tuition went up. Enrollment reached record numbers. New dorms were built. New academic halls began popping up. And now, nearly ten years later, on the rare occasion when I go on campus, it’s hardly recognizable. That unexpected basketball “Cinderella Story” brought about a lot of change.
But the men’s basketball team didn’t maintain their presence in the upper echelon of NCAA teams. In the years following their foray into the final four, their coach was poached by the University of Miami, and the school’s visions of a basketball dynasty fell back to earth.
In one sense, you could say mission accomplished. The basketball team raised GMU’s profile and reinvigorated the students and alumni. But in another sense, you’d be justified to say the basketball team (and the athletics department) didn’t really build anything lasting (even though they may have tried). They were just a flash in the pan of American college basketball folklore.
Some schools devote decades (and a ton of money) to building and maintaining an athletic powerhouse.
Other schools experience Cinderella Stories, and enjoy the ride for as long as it lasts, before all the camera crews disappear and good coaches get poached.
It’s a bit of a stretch to compare college athletic departments to church worship ministries, but I think there’s a lesson here:
Churches (and their worship leaders) should be seeking to build and maintain worship ministries with long-term effectiveness and fruitfulness. It might take decades to get there. It probably will. But these worship ministries that are built and cultivated over time become such sweet engines of life and vibrancy in a congregation that they aren’t just flashes in a pan, but are deeply rooted ministries that permeate the soil of a congregation with God-honoring praise.
Churches (and worship leaders) that expect the precious balance of power and cohesion in a worship ministry to fall together in a matter of months, or to ride on the shoulders of one star player, or to be held in the hands of one coach, may very well have a spurt of life and vibrancy in worship, but could see it all crumble in a matter of weeks.
I’m glad that GMU had so much fun in 2006 with its surprise appearance on the national college basketball stage. It certainly did some good things for them. But I wish they could have built on that success, and I wish they could have gone back the next year, or the year after that, and brought a trophy home to Fairfax.
Likewise, I hope that churches and the pastors who lead them (and the worship leaders who feed them) choose the more difficult but more established paths of long-term fruitfulness that will result in lasting effectiveness – not just from year to year – but over the course of decades.
This is what I’m hoping and praying for as I wrap up year number one at my “new” church and look forward (with continued prayer and faith) for what God has in store.