If you’ve been around the church world a while, you may have heard someone refer to your ministry as the proverbial “well oiled machine.” Sure, you know the loose screws and the rusty bolts and the squeaky widgets that make up the mechanics of your department, but occasionally an outsider will take notice of what is working and describe it with those three coveted words you want to hear.
Over the years, I’ve had a few different responses to this scenario:
Response 1: sinful pride. “You know what? They’re right. This is a well oiled machine. We’re awesome. Our teeth gleam when we talk. All the cool kids want to sit at our table. We probably need a plaque or something.”
Response 2: self-depricating reality. “Oh, if only they knew. Half my volunteers didn’t show up this morning because I forgot to send out the reminder email and they should’ve remembered on their own, anyway. I have no idea what I’m doing. I feel like our systems and structures are imploding and I can’t figure out how to fix them.”
But recently, my responses have reflected the danger I sense when everything appears to be running flawlessly. Do we want smooth systems and glitchless structures? Sure. Is it bad to work towards those things and to put our best foot forward on the weekends? Nope.
But a well oiled machine can actually dissuade new volunteers from stepping up. If they sense the parking team is perfect and the seaters have their junk together and the kids’ team is a group of rock stars, they’re less likely to see the need and feel the push to serve.
So work towards great systems. Build a deep bench of volunteer talent. But every once in a while, pull back the curtain and let observers see that the well oiled machine is a myth. Your teams will be better for it, and that machine may just get an extra squirt of oil after all.