Executive Pastors get excited about the opportunity to flex their catalyst muscles to launch ministries in the church. But most tend to lose enthusiasm when it comes time to do some pruning. Ministries are living entities and experience lifecycles just like everything else. As Ecclesiastes reminds us, there is an appointed time for everything (Eccl. 3:9). One of my jobs as a leadership coach has been to help ministry leaders identify the ministry branches that need to be pruned and then help them develop their skills needed to end ministries well.

Prune for Best Results

As a plant lover at the hobby level, I still am learning the importance of cutting branches and stems that are still alive for the sake of maximizing the plant’s ability to bloom and produce fruit. I must admit, it feels a bit awkward when I show up on the back porch with my cutting tools knowing the task at hand. I always second guess myself before making the cuts. But I have learned to trust what the green thumb at the nursery has been trying to teach me: pruning always produces the best results.

One of the key responsibilities for XPs is to continually study ministries and identify where they are in their lifecycle. I realize that the biggest issue related to ministry pruning is the anticipated pushback that will come from the plant lovers. When we are honest about our struggles with the ministry task, our hesitation is usually related to people and their involvement in the ministry that needs to go. This is not necessarily bad since we are in the people business and are always recruiting volunteers. Yet, the fact remains that ministry pruning always produces the best results for the vision and mission of the church.

Sometimes I wonder how much healthier churches would be if XPs had the freedom to prune ministries without the possibility of backlash. Can you imagine what it would be like if Senior Pastors, staff, and church members simply gave you the freedom to prune and channel resources where they are most needed? I have heard of some churches on Mars that function that way—but we still live on Earth.

One of the best reads I have come across on this subject is entitled Necessary Endings by Henry Cloud. It is my go-to resource for every ministry leader I come across who needs work on their ministry pruning skills. I agree with Henry Cloud’s tidy list of reasons why pruning needs to take place. Here are his ideas about pruning for growth, with altered wording for ministry application:

Prune for Growth

Executive Pastors should prune the following:

  1. Healthy ministries that are not the best ones.
  2. Sick ministries that are not going to get well.
  3. Dead ministries that are taking up space and resources needed for the healthy ministries to thrive.

The following are a few of the growth assignments I usually give to ministry leaders when we are working on their ministry pruning skills. You might take a look and see if you or your team could benefit from them:

First, make a list of ministries that you have taken an active role in pruning since joining the staff. This is usually a short list but that is the point. It is unrealistic to think that every ministry created should continue until Jesus returns.

Second, develop a clear description of your criteria of what a blooming, flourishing church ministry should look like. Then, you should make a plan to prune towards that end.

Third, establish a timeline for pruning. Put dates on the calendar to ensure progress.

Fourth, before you start cutting, read Cloud’s book. He offers great thinking but also gives practical ways for evaluating a branch’s potential.

Although often overlooked, pruning is part of the catalyst function of XPs. It is vital for the growth of the church.

Be blessed … but wear gloves!