On a recent trip, I spent a lot of time on the freeway and a lot of time using my cruise control. It’s a wonderful invention for long trips, but leading a ministry with a “cruise control” style is risky. How do you know if you’re in danger of being a cruise-control leader?

You’re content with current results.
On cruise control, we’re okay with a “solid, steady” crowd through our doors. We’re happy that teens still love God, even if they aren’t inviting their friends and they can’t remember the last time they shared God’s love with a stranger. We love our volunteers to death, but we’re just too busy (or too tired) to recruit, train, and release anyone new.
Cruise control limits us from accelerating to see increased results in our ministry.
If we’re driving for new adventures, we will always want more people to show up, more lives to be changed, and more volunteers to get involved. Basically, we’re unwilling to settle for the status quo.

You’ve lost your big-picture vision.

On cruise control, we don’t look beyond our four walls. We know God has a big plan and a big purpose, but we’re content with teaching and leading this week. We aren’t on the lookout for ways to strengthen other members of our team, and if we pay attention to other churches, it’s only to compare and see who’s doing a better job. Cruise control limits us from cooperating with other leaders headed in the same direction.

If we’re driving for new adventures, we stay focused on the big picture for our ministry, our congregation, and our lives. Our ministry’s purpose is consistent with the direction for our whole church, and we look for ways to support all the other ministries-and even other churches in our community.

You don’t get enthusiastic about new opportunities.
On cruise control, we see “new” as code for “more work.” We don’t want to be stretched, we don’t want to risk our “successful” ministry for any new ideas, and we’ve lost our sense of passion. We still love people and we may still love ministry, but our comfort zone has become our ministry zone. And when we’re brutally honest, we admit that we’d rather be comfortable than challenged. Cruise control limits us from driving new highways, ministering to new people, and experiencing God on the risky roads.

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If we’re driving for new adventures, we’re dreaming up new ways to create passion, impact, and excellence in our ministry. We’re hungry to do things differently. We experiment with new ways of discipling or reaching teens who don’t know Jesus. We look for new strategies to connect students and help them grow spiritually.

You’ve stopped planning for the future.

On cruise control, we’re using the same map we’ve used for years. We don’t look far beyond this coming Sunday or Wednesday, and we certainly don’t have many dreams about what our ministry will look like in six months, one year, or five years. We aren’t failing-yet-but we are failing to plan for the future. And when the future arrives, we may look back and regret our lack of preparing, dreaming, and planning. Cruise control limits us from accomplishing all that God has in store for us down the road.
If we’re driving for new adventures, we can’t wait until tomorrow arrives-not because we’re tired of today, but because we know God has even better things in store. We’re placing ourselves and our ministry in the path of success and growth, and we believe that tomorrow will bring opportunities to see lives changed.

The good news, of course, is that at any time on our trip, we can turn off the cruise control and put our foot back on the accelerator. And that’s when the journey takes on new life once again.

Rob Cunningham is a former youth pastor who now serves as executive pastor of Antelope Christian Center in Antelope, California. But deep down inside, he knows that once you’re a youth pastor, you’re always a youth pastor.

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