Seven years ago, my wife and I pioneered the church we now pastor. Other ministers tell me that we have made and continue to make good progress, but I thought we’d be further along after seven years of pastoring than we actually are. My wife tells me I just need to be more patient, but I think people should be more proactive doers of the Word than what I’m seeing. If the people who considered us their home church would all attend regularly, serve faithfully, give generously, and invite others consistently, we could be so much further along and be so much more effective than we currently are. I’m thankful for where we are, but I’m also frustrated because I see all kinds of unrealized potential. Am I unrealistic in my expectations? Am I being impatient? If so, how do I handle all of this. I don’t want to “drive” the people, but I want to see them be all that God wants them to be. Help!
Pastor Brad Allen – San Mateo, CA
I pastor a church with an average Sunday attendance of 75 people, but I’m not in a small town. I don’t have an easy excuse for our church size. The church is 16 years old, and I’m still praying and working for growth. However, I’m happy with the people we have and the job we’re doing here.
Last week, the devil told me that it’s no use just having Sunday services. You have to get out there every day and evangelize, and it’s your lack of work that’s hindering your success. There is a nugget of truth to that statement. I work midweek due to the high cost of living in this area, and I cannot put all of the time that I want to into the church.
Then, that Sunday, a Muslim man came to our church because he found us on the Internet and gave his heart to the Lord. He’ll be baptized with four others at the church baptism in two weeks.
Again, on that same Sunday, a precious older couple came to the church who are working here on temporary assignment with his engineering firm. They love the church and we just had lunch with them today.
Also on that Sunday, a lady had a lump in her breast and our head usher prayed for her. On Monday the doctor told her she’s fine and she needs no further tests or treatment.
That was just last Sunday.
God IS using this church and I pray that He does more with our group. We get a lot of people saved, and we give a lot to missions. My advice is to focus on what God IS doing in your church, celebrate it, and do it with joy.
Pastor Kevin Berry – Lansing, MI
“… I thought we’d be further along after seven years of pastoring than we actually are… I’m frustrated because I see all kinds of unrealized potential. Am I being unrealistic in my expectations? Am I being impatient? If so, how do I handle all of this?”
First, let me encourage you that every great visionary leader is going to live with a consistent sense of frustration. This is just part of being a visionary. You will forever be able to see what’s out there in the future, but you also see where you are today. It’s this “being in the middle of where you are heading” and “where you are today” that brings a healthy sense of tension. How do you handle that? What a great question!
“I will certainly bless you and I will multiply your descendants beyond number.” Then Abraham waited patiently, and he received what God had promised.
- Keep focused on what the Lord has told you. The Lord told Abraham He was going to multiply his descendants beyond number! This was his future destiny to be walked in… it was the vision he was looking toward. One of the things that has helped me when I look at where we are today and see that it doesn’t line up with where I know we will be, is to keep focused on what the Lord has told me about the future, the picture the Lord has given me. So go over your journals; remind yourself of what the Lord has spoken to your heart. Almost daily I take time to see the future in five key areas of my life. It keeps my faith charged and forces me to constantly put my trust in the Lord, not myself.
- Don’t hate the wait. Moses was given a promise from God, a vision to look forward to… and what did he do? He waited patiently for about 26 years! We have to learn to mingle our faith for tomorrow with our patience for today. If we don’t get this one down we tend to take things into our own hands and try to make the vision happen before its time; hence Ishmael, and every work of the flesh will always fight against the work of the spirit.
- Have a plan of action from the Lord. I can deal much better with waiting for the vision to become a reality if I know that I’m doing my part today. Prayerfully create five, ten, and twenty-year plans and goals. Prayerfully creating these plans is the key. I’ve found that everyone has an opinion and would be more than glad to tell me what I should do. But what always trumps the latest book or blog is what the Lord is telling me to do. I would encourage you to create a prayerful plan with goals in three key areas of your church:
- Worship – This is the plan you have for your weekly worship experience. Ensure there is a spirit of excellence and anointing in every area of ministry. What are three things you can do to create a better worship experience?
- Evangelism – What is your plan to saturate your area with the gospel? What tools are you using? How are you equipping your church family to live with a sense of mission every day? What are three things you can do to better evangelize your community?
- Building the Saints – Our responsibility is to build the people, to equip them to do the work of the ministry. How are you currently building and equipping the believers in your church? Is it working? What are three things you can do to better build the believers that the Lord has entrusted to you?
Hope this helps… blessings to you as you mingle faith and patience together!
Pastor Jesse Zepeda – Pflugerville, TX
Impatience starts with “I-M” = I am impatient!
Jesus, bless this person. Seven years. Try 20 years with 10 families! We have never had more than 40 people, yet we own a multi-million dollar facility and we support missions around the world.
If people will not come to us, then we will go to them.
I have been holding on to a revelation God gave me of Himself like it was just for me, but I believe this will help this pastor: “I am God. I can do what I want, whenever I want, however I want to do it and it’s all good. And I will do it for you.” I asked the Lord to please give me a scripture for these, and He did: Hebrews 11:6 “Believe that He is…and He is a rewarder!”
Listen to your wife. She is your helpmate.
Stop looking at people and start looking at Jesus. It’s His church and on His shoulders—not yours.
How do I handle all of this? Day after day after day, you trust Jesus for everything you do until He returns or you go to Him.
Be encouraged. Last week we needed a little money. Next month we will be millionaires. I will have to learn to spell that word.
Don’t forget the gospel is 2000 years old. In spite of us, His Kingdom is advancing!
Be blessed. You do your part and Jesus will always do His.
Pastor Al Jennings II – Fort Wayne, IN
As pastors, we are under-shepherds under Jesus. We are not the chief shepherd, Jesus is. When you realize that, it takes the pressure off of you because ultimately the people belong to Jesus. It’s not our job to make people grow. We are seed planters, but God is the one who brings the increase and not us. So I encourage you to throw all of your care and concern about the people’s growth and progress on the Lord (1 Peter 5:7) and let Him handle them. Pray this prayer: “Lord these are Your people and I trust You to care for them. Furnish what they need by the anointing. Use me as a vessel. Flow through me and make me a blessing to the people you have entrusted me to oversee, and I will leave the results to you. In Jesus’ name, amen.” Now, give Him thanks, leave the results to Him, and rest in His love for you.
One more thing: it’s easy to look at what’s not happening and what could be better; but take a moment to look around at all the good God is doing in your ministry and be grateful for those things.
Pastor Phillip Curtis – Franklin, IN
Welcome to being a “pastor.” No advice is going to be what you want to hear. I will say though pastor, keep putting the Word out and stay excited about what God is and wants to do. As Bob Yandian says, “God will bring in the people that are hungry.” Teach the Word and be an example of one who practices the Word. Keep yourself edified by praying much in the Holy Spirit and find pastor friends to fellowship with to encourage and to be encouraged by. HANG IN THERE and remind yourself often that, “It’s God Who builds the church; not me.”
Pastor Rob Wynne – Linden, AL
“Am I unrealistic in my expectations?” YES
“Am I being impatient?” YES
“If so, how do I handle all of this? I don’t want to “drive” the people, but I want to see them be all that God wants them to be. Help!”
You do as we were taught! You do your part. You preach to the people what you want to see and you pray for them to respond. It is the Lord’s part to give the increase!
I don’t know one pastor or minister of any kind that does not feel just exactly how you feel! But we right our ship by the rudder of our mouth, the tongue! Dad Hagin and Pastor Hagin have taught us that you can have what you say! I also have to control myself so that I do not sabotage my own work.
If you really think about it, there would probably be people that would have died without the message that you and the rest of us carry! If you praise, you will be raised, and if you complain, you will suffer disdain (lack of respect accompanied by a feeling of intense dislike). In other words you will eventually look down on what you cherish and what God prizes! Use the Word on your own soul!
Pastor Jim Blanchard – Virginia Beach, VA
Obviously your name is withheld to protect the innocent. I greatly appreciate your honesty and sincerity in your question.
When I realized that we were definitely not where I envisioned the church to be after the seven-year mark, and since I felt that I certainly could not control the decisions that other people made within the church (“bless their darlin’ hearts…”), I made the quality decision to work on myself as much as possible. I enrolled at Regent University and began classes to complete my degree in organizational leadership. I knew that we needed organization and I knew that we needed leadership, so I set out to get all of the knowledge that I possibly could on those topics. The education has greatly enhanced my appreciation of God’s level of trust in me to feed and care for His people. It has also provided practical knowledge on how to structure the church in a manner that shares the workload of the ministry while simultaneously developing the leadership ability inherent in our people. It truly provided me with tangible goals in personal development that I could set and attain, thus helping me to avoid negative emotions and frustration with the lack of forward momentum at the church.
In fact, at our seven-year mark, we experienced a gradual exodus and then lost approximately a third of our congregation. Fortunately, things gradually began to turn around and improve, but as you well understand, it certainly does require faith and patience.
These are some things that greatly helped me and I pray will help you and your family as well:
- Please pray about your next personal leadership goal and what training and education is required to get you there.
- Please allow time in your schedule for a hobby or interest that you enjoy.
- Please be careful to monitor your personal and family stress level and schedule retreats as possible. Unfortunately frustration does come through in public ministry and is best reserved for your top level leadership meetings.
- It is a good thing to have other pastor friends that you can call or get together with who have gone through the exact same challenges.
- It is the Lord’s church and “unless the Lord builds the house, we labor in vain”. We have to turn the care and anxiety of church growth over to Him or it can literally consume us with care.
- Please recognize achievers in your church—the most faithful, committed, loyal, and great servants—perhaps with a recognition from the Pastor at announcement time in the service.
- If you would like to contact me, you are certainly welcome to do so. I pray God’s best for you and your family and ministry in Jesus’ name. I appreciate your faithfulness and diligence in your calling despite the challenges and setbacks. May God see you through to the breakthrough that you have desired and believed Him for.
Pastor Thom Fields – Kennewick, WA
It just so happens that I have an amazing opportunity coming this weekend to spend time with a group of wonderful Pastors from all over the Northwest. This group consists of a wide range of ministry leaders. Some, who have been effectively leading a single congregation for 35+ years, and others who are young-up-and-comers who have just barely begun to really sink their teeth into it! I would be willing to bet (oh I know, I know….) at least a month’s worth of offerings that EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM FEELS EXACTLY LIKE YOU DO!
I’m not trying to be mean or anything, but it’s not exactly like you’ve been gifted with some crazy-cool level of revelation on the subject. “If the people who considered us their home church would all attend regularly, serve faithfully, give generously, and invite others consistently — _________________! (We all know that IF the people would just do these simple things we could ALL just fill in the blank!)
To back up our claim, we have the data! There has been so much research done it’s almost ludicrous. If nothing else, it’s downright depressing. In America today, there are huge groups of people who only make it church 1.4 times per month. When asked to define themselves, this group of lazy, half-hearted attenders have the gall to call themselves COMMITTED.
DID YOU HEAR THAT? They actually think of themselves and are willing to describe and define themselves as COMMITTED. This is hard to wrap my brain around. I almost lose it every time I think about it. I preach 17 times a month and this “Jack-Wagon” comes in, sits down and listens to 1.4 of my 17 life-changing sermons and then has the guts to tell me and the world that HE IS COMMITTED?
Reality: We need to deal with the reality that this culture is spiritually clueless. It wouldn’t surprise me that many wouldn’t know Commitment if it crawled into bed with them and kissed them on the mouth. But that’s where WE come in! We’ve been called and anointed to teach and train them.
Obviously, if they came more often, they’d probably grow more quickly. But don’t focus on how often they’re not there. Be focused and prepared for when they are there. Teach them to serve faithfully by inviting them to serve right next to you and therefore hold them accountable. Just remember that nobody should be held accountable to anyone who isn’t as committed as they are! If you can get them to give “at all,” celebrate their lifestyle of giving. (What you reward is what they will repeat!) Just be certain that you’re not spending what they haven’t given. That is where the stress usually breaks forth.
And as far as “inviting others more consistently,” if you and I learn to make every service dynamic and life-changing, they’ll come back and bring more with them. People who find a restaurant they like find their way back bringing their friends with them (sounds like Scripture!).
I think it would be true to say that we all want better results. But we need to be honest – really honest. Better results aren’t in the hands of the people we serve. The people aren’t leading. We are. So we probably shouldn’t see the church as “a problem to solve” but as “people to serve.” We might want to consider serving our people with services they can’t wait to get to, opportunity they can’t afford to miss, vision they’re driven to invest in, and an environment they can’t keep their friends out of.
Pastor Guinn Shingleton – Terre Haute, IN
First, I’d like to address this key statement in your letter:
“If the people who considered us their home church would all attend regularly, serve faithfully, give generously, and invite others consistently, we could be so much further along and be so much more effective than we currently are.”
My response is: That applies to all of us (I say that with a smile on my face)!
Before we look at possible solutions I think there are some questions you need to answer for yourself, such as:
- How large is your city/town (sometimes our growth is tied to the number of people we can reach)?
- How many churches are in your area (in my city of about 50,000 we have well over 200 churches)?
- Are any of those churches doing the same thing you are attempting to do? Or, it might be better to ask, “What do you feel God has called you to do specifically?” (I am always trying to find out what other churches are doing; not in order to copy them, but to make sure I’m not duplicating a program or an outreach that is already being done successfully.) Besides the general call to preach the Gospel, your church will probably have one or more specific calls.
If you know what you’re called to do, then you will get a systematic plan from The Lord on how to bring it to pass. For instance, you might meet one-on-one with church members in whom you see potential as leaders and give them responsibilities with measurable goals. Praise them and encourage them, and you will see them live up to your expectations. As they grow, they will begin to mentor others and help them grow. In this way your church will be self-replicating.
Unless you are in a denomination that rotates pastors every 3 to 5 years, you have to consider that you are “in it for the long haul.” I began pastoring over 20 years ago right out of Rhema. I saw my church grow to a decent size, get cut in half, and begin to grow again. Everything is cyclical. YOU have to be the constant! I encourage you to get a one-year, three-year, and five-year plan from the Lord and write down what it will take to accomplish each step.
Habakkuk 2:2 (NLT)
“Then the Lord said to me, “Write my answer plainly on tablets, so that a runner can carry the correct message to others.”
In conclusion, I would encourage you to clearly communicate your vision to your leaders first and then to your congregation. As you make the vision plain and get your members personally involved, you will see the spiritual and numerical growth that you desire.
Pastor Virgil Stokes – Tuscon, AZ
If you think you are impatient, can you imagine how God must feel? He’s been waiting on us for eternity. Seriously, when I read the question I had to chuckle. Of course you are being impatient! Why wouldn’t you? There is a Kingdom to be expanded, a Heaven to be populated, and a God-given vision to be fulfilled. Let’s get on with it! Communicating that urgency to those before you who share your faith but not your calling, is an (the?) ongoing challenge for those of us who have been blessed with our own version of what Paul called “the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:18). Jeremiah likened it to fire in the bones. I suppose this is where we try to acquire the good sense to be content without being satisfied. In this, my fourth church, I have learned a few things that help me be a little more tolerant of others, and occasionally more forgiving of myself.
One thing that helps is knowing my part in the process. I am not called to build a church. Jesus was very clear. He said He would build His Church. What He needs is material; the living stones that He is using in the project. My job is to prepare people to be used by the Lord. One favorite verse at our place is Matthew 9:38. Faced with multitudes of weary and scattered people, impelled by supernatural compassion, Jesus told His disciples to pray for laborers to the harvest. As we say it here, “There’s no shortage of fannies in the pew. The shortage is in laborers to the harvest.” My job is to get the fannies out of the pew and into the harvest.
Knowing my job helps me because it allows me to measure my effectiveness more accurately. My success is not determined by the number of people in the seats, but by what the people who sit in the seats do with the content they receive. What percentage of people who call this their church (we call these people “members”) are becoming active in some role in our mission to touch the world? That percentage is the measure of my success. I try to stay focused on finding, preparing, and releasing people to do what God created them to do, then trust that He sends the ones I need to do the things that I cannot, in order to fulfill His plan for this house. It was, after all, His idea in the first place.
Along those lines is “the vision thing.” If you started a church, you had (I hope) a vision. It’s important for you to know what God asked you to do in this particular church. Each of our four churches has been unique; each having a slightly different flavor, a different purpose in the community and the Kingdom. The vision for this church keeps me focused on doing God stuff, not just good stuff. But the vision is not just for me. It is for those whom God has sent to help me. My part is to outline the vision so clearly that the simplest of the simple, the slowest of the slow can read it and run. Do those who believe this is their church understand not just the vision of the house, but what their part is in that mission? If not, I have more work to do. You cannot make it too clear or too simple.
Finally, it helps to get comfortable with the reality of seeds and seasons. Jesus said the whole kingdom functions like seed. It is easy to preach that, but more difficult to live it. There are very, very few “presto, change-o” moments in church growth. Mostly there is seed plant and harvest. But if you read the parable in Mark 4, you find that the real work we have to do is “sleep by night and rise by day” (Mk 4:27). Sounds simple enough, but when you are afflicted with a fire shut up in your bones, it can be really problematic. Like it or not, seeds take time, and they require a recognition that there are seasons for growth and seasons for lying dormant. Sometimes there are even seasons for pruning.
God makes seasons and God grows seed. I plant, I sleep, and I rise. God gives increase, but He usually waits until I get content before He does it. If you will remember, Paul said he had to learn to be content (Phil 4:12). Me, too. I don’t want to be a sheep-beater or an arm-twister, driven to succeed in the eyes of the world, and using others to soothe my own inadequacies. By contrast, I do hope I never get satisfied this side of Heaven. If I do, I need to get out of the way and give the helm to someone whose fires are still burning. People need your patience, but they also need your passion. It takes both, and both are OK.
Pastor Monte Knudsen – Mount Pleasant, IA
Patience is the godly ability of enduring, while doing what is right. Having said that, we should check up on ourselves to see if we are doing what is right or just enduring.
Pastoring is a lot like coaching. You want to take your team to the championship. A lot goes into being a coach. Do you believe in your team? Does your team believe in you? If you don’t believe in your team, they can easily discern it and their performance will show it in such things as low morale, low enthusiasm, low commitment, etc.
A great coach sees just what you see in your question—unrealized potential. His ‘job’ then is to help his ‘players’ see what he sees; to be able to paint a picture (vision) of what could be, what a championship team looks like, how a championship team thinks, what a championship team does, etc. As a pastor, that doesn’t just happen at team talks (church services). That happens individually with each player helping them to achieve their highest potential. It is having a high belief in them, teaching them, and correcting them to be their best. It is affirming their growth and achievement. By doing this with your key leaders, especially your staff, you develop an atmosphere of growth, excellence and success. Like a team, key leaders start to emulate this spirit of faith in the whole church. The vision to become a champion church motivates everyone to reach for the dream. Hard work is valued, commitment is honored, and growth is expected. Patience is valued because we know where we are going and the path is clear for us to get there. As a pastor, just like a coach, you evaluate what is keeping you from a championship and what needs to happen to get you to a championship. You also evaluate key positions that need filled, resources you need to accomplish it, and players that can help lead others.
Jesus did exactly this: he painted a clear compelling vision, he recruited the key players to partner with him to achieve it, and he taught them, corrected them and believed they could do what he did.
Ask yourself: for the things I want to see happen in our church, is there clear information that paints this compelling vision? Is there a clear process for the people I am recruiting, that helps me get there? Are there accountable measures that help us know it is happening?
Every game has measurable things to know if you are winning. In sports it is a score. In Monopoly, it is having the most property and cash. In many board games it is getting all your players safely home. Without knowing the goal and how to measure the goal, the game is frustrating and steals motivation.
We can easily measure growth in a church by numbers, salvations, baptisms, etc. That has value because it helps the church see and know what is being accomplished, but how do you measure spiritual development and growth?
We measure that by the stewardship of time, talent and treasure. Are my members growing in faithfulness to use their time for God, their gifts or talents for God and the use of their resources or money for God?
God has given us an incredible vision—so big, it takes a lifetime to do it.
Pastor John B. Lowe – Warsaw, IN
I was told by my pastor when we were about 5 years in of pioneering a church, that he was taught by the Baptist that it took 10 years to build respect in a community.
Society today is challenged more than ever in time and priorities. School functions are scheduled on Sundays as well as mid-week events and sports on every level (plus other activities).
We increase the love! I have thought many times, “where is everyone?” I can identify with the pastor’s questions. It is part of our dying to the flesh. Minister to the ones that come. Pour your life, word and spirit into them. Jesus did. Leave the rest to the Holy Ghost. You will enjoy everything and everyone better. People sense the agitation and frustration in us. It seeps out in our preaching and attitude. No one wants it.
Perhaps cut a service if the attendance is way down. Make it easier on those who are faithful to be faithful and others will join. When do you have services? Do the services you do have right. Make use of every second and get rid of time-wasters in the service. Make it worth THEIR time to be there.
Don’t let anyone out love you today.
Dr. Roy Hicks taught me that they will forget what you preach, but they will never forget the spirit in which you preached it.
Pastor Tim Kutz – Bartlesville, OK
Please allow me to answer this question in an unorthodox manner. There are many great pastors that will say wonderful things here, but I want to stir your thinking along certain lines.
I want you to consider an aspect of what you are really asking. You want to see results! Frankly, what you want to see is success. By the wording of your question, you have certain expectations of your church as a pastor. These expectations came from somewhere. Most generally they came from your instruction in Seminary or Bible School, what you have observed in other churches, or what other pastors have testified to.
One of the greatest things that I heard as a young pastor, that has helped me immensely in my life was, “Go where God has called you and stay there for 30 years.” SUCCESS IS NOT OBSERVABLE. We as people have our view of success, but the Bible says that “on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value” (1 Corinthians 3:13 NLT). My definition of success is: having all of the right answers at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
Has God called you to pastor? Has God led you to be where you are? Just settle in for the long haul! God loves the people that you are pastoring; that’s why He sent YOU there! Just love them and shepherd them with the heart of God. Some will grow and you will be thrilled. Some will “coast” until they step off of this planet. Be patient with people and be patient with yourself!
Also, giving yourself time to develop as a person as well as a minister has much to do with the results we will have. Instead of questioning people’s readiness to commit themselves at the level you expect, consider the development of the necessary people skills to lead them where you are taking the church. This is just one of many examples of YOUR development.
In essence, what I am saying is, be patient with people and get your focus off of them and on to obeying God and developing personally.
Pastor Bill Anzevino – Industry, PA
If every church had people who were more proactive doers of the word, attended church regularly, served faithfully, gave generously and invited others consistently, they all would be further along and more effective!
If you know you’re doing the will of God and doing your part to get the lost saved, the saved established, the established trained and the trained sent out, then let God be responsible to give the increase you’re expecting to experience.
Jesus taught that only 25% of the people who hear the word bring forth fruit. Of that 25% only 8-1/3% produce a hundred fold (Mk. 4:14-20). These numbers could cause sowers of the word to be discouraged and frustrated, but I believe Jesus shared these numbers so we don’t become discouraged or embrace unrealistic expectations.
What are the expectations? What defines being further along? Every church is different and there are many factors to consider when determining the effectiveness of a ministry.
A church located in a small town moved 15 miles away to a fast growing community. That church tripled in size in one year and has outgrown its present facilities. The only thing that changed was location, nothing else. If further along means growing in numbers and resources, then this church achieved its goals by moving to a fast growing community. Not every church can be uprooted and moved to another location.
If by being further along you mean the people are growing and developing spiritually, then continue feeding the flock and follow Paul’s advice to Timothy in I Tim. 4:12 and, “be an example in word, lifestyle, love, spirit, faith and in purity.” An example is a model to copy or avoid. This will promote their spiritual growth and development and they’ll be further along in their spiritual walk with Christ.
Finally, Jesus said, “in your patience possess ye your souls,” (Luke 21:19). It’s through faith and patience we inherit promises. Ask God His plan for your church and don’t allow what you’re not seeing to affect your thinking. Rejoice in the progress made and continue in faith and patience. As you do your part, God will do His.
Pastor Phil Edwards – Ennice, NC
I pastor in a small community and feel that I am doing exactly what God called me to do where he told me to do it. I thought we would have 300 to 400 by now (25yrs) but consistently run 100-150 on Sunday mornings. I haven’t given up on our vision of a larger church, but I find myself content (not satisfied) knowing I’m where God put me. We’ve seen more growth in the past year than we’ve seen in the past five years. So I think it’s being content with where you are but striving with patience over the long haul.
Pastor Duane Hanson – Saint Paul, MN
I had to read this month’s question a few times before I felt I understood exactly what the issue was that needed to be addressed. I know the topical heading says “Impatience?,” however, this is actually the subject of the second question being asked. The first question this man asks, just before the one about impatience, is what kept catching my attention. I believe the impatience being experienced is actually the result of a bigger issue.
I would like to offer my response in the context of that first question…“Am I unrealistic in my expectations?” My answer to that specific question would have to be an emphatic…“Yes!”
I’m sure every pastor could identify with his frustration concerning “all kinds of unrealized potential”…and to see every member of their church “be all that God wants them to be.” Seriously, I’m sure God the Father wants that even more than we do! Yet I believe He also understands the weakness and self-centeredness of mankind better than we ever will.
Is it realistic to expect “all” the people in the church to “all attend regularly, serve faithfully, give generously, and invite others consistently” while being “more proactive doers of the Word?” In this statement, the key word is “all” members of the church. Sadly, in today’s American culture, that’s an unrealistic expectation! I’m not sure if Jesus Himself could ever get “all” the people to be proactive doers of this list! In over 35 years of ministry, I’ve never met a pastor, or been in a church, where the congregation “all attend regularly, serve faithfully, give generously, and invite others consistently.”
As a pastor, we tend to live and breathe ministry! It’s not just what we do; it’s who we are! For many pastors, the church IS their life, and there’s very little in our daily schedule that doesn’t involve something to do with the ministry. But that’s not the case with most of the people attending our churches. Even though we recognize and teach them that “they are the Church,” most of them are struggling just to “have a life” outside the church walls! There are so many demands on families these days, that as ministers, we need to understand how much time and effort the average person can commit to their local church.
I remember hearing a teaching about the Parable of the Sower many years ago that helped me put all this in context. Based upon that Parable, the teacher made a very simple point, yet profound and liberating if we’ll hear it and apply it to the church. He taught that only one out of four people in our church will ever really be a fruit bearing believer. And even within that 25% of the congregation, some will only produce 30%, some 60%, and just a hand full will produce 100%.
Didn’t Jesus make a number of statements using the term “few” when talking about the church?
Luke 13:23-24 (KJV)
Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them, 24 Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.
Matthew 7:13-14 (KJV)
Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
Matthew 9:37-38 (KJV)
Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.
These are just three examples of the way Jesus looked at how humanity would respond to Him. Perhaps even the verse that says “Many are called, but few are chosen” could be applied to this question? Based upon these few scriptures, I believe Jesus understood the problem better than all of us, and He tried to help His disciples understand what He faced and give them some realistic expectations about their future ministry.
Can we learn to be thankful when we see so few people living up to their potential, and such limited fruit being produced? Can we be satisfied with seeing that kind of inadequate “progress” in our churches? The sense of “frustration” being expressed, and the struggle with being “impatient,” is no doubt the direct result of these unrealistic expectations about the majority of the people in our churches.
All these Biblical statistics bring me back to the use of the word “all” in this question. I do have certain expectations on those in my Discipleship Groups, but I will not apply them to “all” the people attending the church. I’ve learned that I can only hold these expectations to about 25% of the people, and specifically those who have stepped up into a significant level of leadership in the church. Those who demonstrate these qualities and have that desire in their heart will be easily recognized, and they usually have some God-given calling on their lives. These are the ones that we can truly disciple. These are the “Timothy’s” that we all need to help identify and equip for their own future in the ministry.
Knowing that God has given us a specific assignment, and has not changed it over the years, helps me avoid the frustration that comes from having unrealistic expectations. It keeps me grounded in certain aspects of the fruit of the Spirit…specifically longsuffering, patience, faithfulness, and love. As long as I know that we’re doing exactly what God asked us to do, and we’re being “willing and obedient” to His assignment, then my definition of success and progress will be different than what others might expect.
No one wants to “drive” their people, but we also need to make sure that we’re not the ones being “driven” to expect something from them based upon what we think is their “potential.” That only leads to unrealistic expectations for us.