The Horse and the Cart

So here we are, The Season of Christmas Cantatas, Children’s Programs, and Choir Performances. The idea that the Christmas season is “time off” for pastors is almost as ludicrous as the view that Sundays are Sabbath! Most pastors I know have far more work to do during the holidays, and right around now are crashing into thank-goodness-Christmas-falls-on-a-Sunday-this-year-so-we-have-a-good-reason-to-cancel-service mode (come on, you know you thought it). It’s a crazy season, and it is just always going to be. But then…I wonder…

horse-with-cartI have been taught* that discipleship and the programs that support it are like a horse pulling a cart. The horse is the life of the Church, the living organism that is born and bred to pull substantial but reasonable loads. The cart is where we put all the programs that enable us to actually disciple, which we all know are necessary.

At our best, we would be feeding the horse—with resources and rewards and time and effort—so that it will be the strongest part of the equation. After all, the thing that is alive has to pull everything else. And we would be lightening the cart—by pruning programs as often as we can and only adding lightweight, low maintenance forms to support the life of the Church.

The problem with a lot of our churches is that we keep adding heavy loads to the cart, and at the same time we are starving the horse.

Spend time with my leaders, and make sure they are resting and filled with the Holy Spirit? No way—we have that huge New Years outreach around the corner!

Release authority to those I’ve discipled and support them as they dream into their own callings? Are you crazy—I need to have those folks to pull off all the great ideas running through my brain!

We need small group leaders…and Sunday school teachers…and outreach directors…and children’s helpers…and…and…and…

So because we only have so much time and resources to go around, the organic elements of the Church end up weak and impoverished, and the cart gets heavier, or prettier, or whatever. The problem is, it doesn’t actually go anywhere without the powerhouse—discipleship—pulling it along. What exactly does this mean for your context? I don’t know. But I do know that absolutely nothing is sustainable, much less reproducible, without that horse being healthy and strong, and that cart being lightweight and low maintenance.

Especially this time of year, there are two questions worth asking:

How healthy is the horse?

How heavy is the cart?

When it comes down to it, there are not that many things that will last. Let’s make sure we are investing our capital primarily in those things that are eternal, not just the ones that scream the loudest or get us the most attention.

Let’s feed the horse and lighten the cart. And then we can really go places.


*I am indebted to Mike Breen and the 3DM organization for their teaching on this concept. You can check out their resources at

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