Dead Horses, Opportunity Costs and the Un-harvest

“I chose you . . . . . that you should go and bear fruit and    

              that your fruit should last.”


Probably like most people, now and again I get random thoughts come into my head. One of which recently floated into my mind when I was thinking about missional strategy, is that of the concept of the ’Dead Horse’.

This is not a new concept for me to think about, but one that becomes increasingly relevant as we receive the constant flow of negative data in regard to the lack of missional fruitfulness of the churches, of all types and sizes, in our society. Jesus said that the harvest is plentiful (Matthew 9:37) but our problem is that churches are failing to harvest much at all, and less and less as time goes by.

So what has this got to do with ‘Dead Horses’? Well this brings me to the concept used in business known as a ‘Opportunity Cost’. This is a way of analysing a particular project, scheme or use of resources in the context of all the other possible uses of the resources required for that project or scheme.

To illustrate, if you spend time and money going to a movie, you cannot spend that time at home reading a book, and you cannot spend the money on something else. To put it another way ‘Opportunity Cost’ refers to the situation where there is a range of options as to how limited resources may be spent but the decision to expend resources on one particular option means the loss of the ability to resource others.

This type of analysis should be used for decision making in regard to how the resources available to churches are used, but it rarely is! In fact, churches are notorious for failing to ‘Shoot the Dead Horse‘, that is to discontinue the ministry or mission activity which has been consuming resources, often for a long time, but with very little to zero ‘fruit’. Such could be described as a ‘Dead Horse’ ministry. These are ministries, as well as outreach activities, that are preserved despite continually producing very little to zero in desired outcomes no matter how much it is ‘flogged’.

Yet God expects ‘Fruit’ or ‘Profit’ (both translations can usually be used for the ‘fruit’ word in the New Testament) from His priceless investment in those whom He has saved. When Jesus cursed the Fig Tree (Mark 11:13,14), it was a symbol of God’s attitude towards those who claimed to be His people (in that case the nation of Israel) yet failed to produce the fruit He expected from them.

Jesus pointedly reminds us ‘You didn’t choose me, I chose you, to go and bear fruit (make a profit), fruit that Lasts’. He didn’t expect us to use the resources He has given us for unprofitable ministries, i.e. ‘Dead Horses’. Such projects not only produce little fruit but raise the question of ‘Opportunity Cost’. That is, what more fruitful endeavours, especially missional, could the resources, both human and financial, currently used for sustaining a ‘Dead Horse’ ministry, be used for.

The Mission report of a particular major denomination published about 10 years ago called for the switching of resources away from Sunday gatherings to outreach ministries. Such a call has fundamentally been ignored. Un-shot ‘Dead Horses’ continue to litter the church landscape! and the resources put into them represent the ‘Opportunity Cost’, the loss of the opportunity to invest those same resources in more Kingdom-profitable missional activities. This is one of the major reasons for the Missional Malaise so afflicting 21st century churches.

It’s also very important to remember that Jesus said he chose Christians to bear fruit ‘that lasts’. The fruit that lasts are Disciples, for they last for eternity, unlike the fruit of other church ministries which, while very important, is limited to this earthly existence.

The harvest that Jesus said is plentiful, and it is in the millions around us without Christ, largely goes unharvested because churches spend only about 10% of resources on mission, and even that is spent on unfruitful ‘Dead Horse’ mission strategies. (Square Wheels)

It is easy to say we are a Disciple of Christ, but remember Jesus words-

      “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit,

     showing yourselves to be my  disciples”.                    John 15:8

When you look around your church or mission context, how many ‘Dead Horses’ do you see?

Effective disciples and churches will assess the ‘opportunity costs’ regarding how resources are used, i.e. what better use of resources can we make? Often this will mean ‘Shooting Dead Horses’. Warning, while it will produce more Kingdom fruit for God’s glory, do not expect to be popular!

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