8 Reasons Why Jesus Doesn’t Like Numbered Lists for Doing Ministry Better*

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  1. Jesus knew you can’t communicate meaningful content in a soundbite. If it took him three years of living and travelling with the disciples to teach them what they needed to know, then we need more people in MDiv programs and fewer numbered how-to Facebook posts. If Jesus ever dropped the mic, it was after an extended personal engagement.
  1. Jesus’ ministry was relational not downloadable. Have you ever travelled in a group? Two weeks and you’re ready to kill somebody. Two months and you know pretty much everything there is to know about them, right? Here’s a guy who lived with his disciples, ate with them, laughed with them, cried with them. They asked him questions and he gazed into their souls. When they asked him to teach them to pray, he didn’t give them a numbered list. He prayed with them. There’s no substitute for spending time with Jesus.
  1. Jesus knew that learning for leadership requires integration. This happens best through intentional reflection on scripture, theology, and practice. The reflective spiral requires critical engagement with personal experiences of ministry, and reflection on them in light of scripture and theology. A quick top-8 list might be easy to read, and draw nods of agreement from us, but it never replaces the responsibility of the ministry leader to think systematically and critically about their life in ministry, in light of the word of God.
  1. Numbered lists for leadership can offer simple affirmation rather than radical challenge. Jesus was in the business of blowing apart people’s presuppositions, not affirming them. On the internet, we tend to read those things we agree with already. (Or, we engage something we disagree with just for the fight.) A numbered list for ministry that we read in two minutes will only reinforce the things we already agree with and won’t encourage us towards the radical leadership reformation the Holy Spirit needs to accomplish in all of us.
  1. Jesus is our only guru. We can learn much from others. But sometimes we follow certain personalities and devour their numbered suggestions just because they are well-known leaders. We take for granted that what they tell us is good, without exposing it to a deeper reflection of Scripture. We can trust the Holy Spirit to lead our learning because of the Christ we follow. He’s simply irreplaceable!
  1. Jesus knew that learning takes time. Numbered lists are often produced without much thought or content. They sound good on the surface but when you really look at them, you realise you could have come up with a better list while getting your hair cut or hunting for Pokemon. For depth of content, nothing beats reading a book. If you haven’t got time to read a book, then you don’t have time to read twenty numbered ministry lists in the blogosphere either.
  1. Jesus knew that ministry is contextual. Sure, there’s a lot we can learn from each other’s stories, and we need to engage across contexts so that we don’t become stuck in our own inward-focused boxes. But it’s rare than we can lift one person’s top ten ways to fill the church and apply it directly to our own ministry. If it were that simple, the churches would all be full, and leaders would be enjoying long vacations. We all experience the reality of context every time we try to use published educational materials and think, “You cannot be serious! You don’t know my kids!” right before we dump that particular suggested game from the youth program.
  1. Jesus knew that ministry leadership requires depth. A numbered list might raise some important issues or points. But they are only worthwhile if you spend the time to dig deeper, and ponder longer. Why is it an important point? What does it mean for your leadership? Out of the depths of study, prayer, and fellowship with the Holy Spirit come the discernment and wisdom that will lead you to move out of the shallows and swim in the depths of Christ’s love. That’s what will keep you going when things get tough. That’s where you will meet Jesus – beyond the 8-point ministry improvement list.

*Or, more accurately, why I don’t like them. And the ten commandments notwithstanding, of course. 😉


6 thoughts on “8 Reasons Why Jesus Doesn’t Like Numbered Lists for Doing Ministry Better*

  1. Touché. On point (no pun intended) though I do think it quite funny that you’ve made a list warning about lists! Truly though this is so timely. Everyone wants an easy method to do what really takes a lifetime, and what will actually require all of who we are. Thanks for this – great article.

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