In 1980 I was a senior at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and took my winter break to travel around the country and visit some of the mega churches that then existed. You would recognize most of the names… John MacArthur, Tim Lahaye, Ray Stedman and others. I brought along a film crew to record the experience and Erwin Lutzer who had just been called as the senior pastor of the Moody Memorial Church in Chicago. It was a tremendous learning experience for all of us.
One of the churches we visited and surveyed was First Baptist Church in Modesto, California – (now under a new name.) Each year the pastor, Bill Yeager, would head up a seminar to showcase the ministry and share how you might have similar results. Several thousand people were attending at the time but when Yeager got there a few years before the number was something like 400. One of the growth principles he shared was what he called, “The Carnal Corral.”
It took me some time to get my head around this but basically it goes like this… He knew he had a finite amount of time to work. So he determined to work only with those people who could become working partners in the ministry. He spent little or no time with the folks in the Carnal Corral. He determined that if they were not producing now they would probably not do so in the future. So he just left them alone and spent all of his time with those who would actually help shoulder the load. I was conflicted at first. After all, doesn’t every member deserve pastoral attention?
During the Viet Nam war I was a Navy medic. All of us went through field med training and learned the concept of triage.
According to Wikipedia… “Triage is the process of determining the priority of patients’ treatments based on the severity of their condition. This rations patient treatment efficiently when resources are insufficient for all to be treated immediately.”
Early in my training an instructor posed a scenario… “You have two wounded Marines. One has been shot in the hand and the other in the abdomen. The man shot in the abdomen was disemboweled and bleeding copiously. Which should you treat first?”
Everyone in the class voted to save the more seriously injured Marine. The instructor said that was the wrong answer. Our first priority was to will the battle – not save a single soldier. You see, if you lose the battle ALL the soldiers would be lost. The priority was to treat any soldier who – with some minor treatment – could get back into the battle and fight.
In my 38 years of church planting I have on occasion had to make some very difficult choices. I was always short on time, money and available help. EVERYTHING was triaged. What HAS to be done? What has to be done NOW? What can be delayed? What can be ignored completely? If you do this as long as I have you will make mistakes. Some of them will be serious. You will live with the regret.
“(Triage) rations patient treatment efficiently when resources are insufficient for all to be treated immediately.” The simple truth is that you will never have enough time and resources to cover all your bases. Spiritual triage is done by every church planter (and pastor). Unfortunately the most common thing to be put to the back of the line in a crunch is your sermon prep. That is a prescription for losing the battle and the war. If you are preparing at the beginning of the week you will lessen the possibility that a late week emergency will truncate your prep time. Triage is a fact not everyone in your church will understand or accept. But if you tenderly explain this to them and they see you working hard you’ll get a lot of leeway in how you manage your schedule.
There is no perfect formula. Jesus told the parable of the shepherd who left the ninety nine to search out the single wanderer. (Luke 15:1-7) When you figure out how to balance these seemingly mutually exclusive principles – write the book. We’ll all want to read it.