How to Kill Your Darlings in Ministry
Many of us have heard the phrase “kill your darlings,” a saying that originated from William Faulkner. Or maybe Oscar Wilde. Or possibly even Stephen King, which makes sense because of the whole kill thing.
The gist of killing your darlings is that in any endeavor – whether writing or speaking or leading – we often find ourselves with too much content. We’ve created a lot of stuff that we love. Or we’ve inherited stuff that other people loved. And it’s too much.
And the only answer is to murder the little buggers.
Well, maybe not the only answer. But in church world, there are some ministries that could use a good mercy killing. Whether the initiative is outdated, overdone, ineffective, or not quite ready for prime time, how do we decide whether to kill it, and how do we – ahem – pull the trigger?
(Editor’s note: you seem violent this morning. You okay, bro?)
6 steps to kill your ministry darlings:
1. Compare original intent with current reality.
Very few things on our ministry plates have always been a bad idea. When they were conceived a few years or a few decades ago, they may have been rather cutting edge. They may have met a very important need. They may have been really helpful for the early 1970s crowd. But they’re not so helpful today. Only by heading back to the source can we figure out what the ministry was intended to do, and only by taking a hard look at the present can we figure out if it’s still doing it.
2. Get some outside perspective.
Whether we really really love the thing that may or may not need to be killed, or whether we really really hate it and are just looking for an excuse to bury it in the back yard, it never hurts to ask around. Gather a few trusted friends – friends from your church and friends from the outside – and have them do a bit of a premortem to figure out if this thing lives or dies.
3. Look for gaps and overlaps.
If #1 is true and this ministry truly met a need once, can it still meet a need if we fill in a few gaps? Or, have we added other ways to meet that need in the ensuing years, and now there are overlaps where two ministries are effectively doing the same thing?
[Related post: Gaps vs. Overlaps]
4. Look for ways to redeem or revive it.
Maybe there’s a seed of goodness that’s still there. Maybe the need this ministry could meet is so much bigger than what you’re currently seeing. Is there a way to breathe new life into the very thing you think you should kill?
(Now, let me give a caveat here: experience tells me that this is rarely a great solution. Sometimes you need to let it die and revive it a few years down the road. Sometimes the baggage of what was is too great to overcome in order to get to what could be.)
5. Care for the potential survivors.
If the ministry or initiative truly needs to be killed off, that doesn’t eliminate the fact that some will mourn it or miss it. Don’t just yank the rug out from under them. Share the why. Cast vision. Let them speak into the decision. Some of your original stakeholders may be the very ones to drive the stake through the heart of the ministry.
(Editor’s note: seriously dude. I’m worried about you.)
6. Provide a proper burial.
That ministry may have been a burr in your saddle for years. It could’ve been pulling resources it didn’t need to pull. But if there are potential survivors (#5 above), or if that ministry truly did serve a great purpose at one point (#1 above), let’s honor it in death. Commit it to the ground. Gift the keepsakes and belongings to another church. Revisit fond memories.
But then bury that sucker and let it go.