Friday, March 15, 2013

Pastors can try too hard

Most people who know me personally know that I am a very goal-oriented person who is not the most patient person when it comes to seeing things accomplished.  I often think microwaves take way too long.  One of the lessons I learned as a bivocational pastor was that anything of significance that would happen in a church would probably take much longer than I wanted it to.  When I saw something that needed changed I wanted it to change right then, and, of course, that is not the way it normally works in a smaller church.  I also learned that the more I pushed change the more it was resisted.  I had to learn to work within the existing structures of the church and attempt to change those structures when possible, but until changes were made it was necessary to not try to work around that structure.  Once I learned that lesson I found that we were able to accomplish much more in our church with a lot less stress.

I visit with a number of pastors who are still trying to learn that lesson.  These pastors are usually tired, frustrated, discouraged, and often feel like they've been whipped.  Some express an interest in leaving their church for another one that might be more open to ministry, and some are ready to leave ministry all together.  These are usually good people with a great heart for God and a vision to see their church do more than it's currently doing, but they have grown weary with the resistance they've experienced to many of the suggestions they've made.  If I question the ones who mention they would like a new place of service, many of them admit they are just tired.  Perhaps another church would be more receptive to their ideas.  At least they could enjoy the honeymoon period.  What I try to explain to these pastors, and they already know it, is that they are going to run into the same opposition in almost any church they go to.  Going to a new church only results in having to start over again.  It's often better to remain at the current church and continue to build up credibility with the congregation so that it will become more receptive to your leadership.

However, in order for this to work, many pastors need to change the way they go about their work.  At least in my denominational tribe, trying to force ideas on people is like trying to push a rope.  It simply will not work.  Some pastors simply try too hard to push their congregations to do things they are not yet ready to do.  This can lead to tragic consequences, not the least of which is the pastor being terminated and/or the congregation being split causing the church to gain a bad reputation in the community.

One of the things pastors of smaller churches must learn is that just because God gives one a vision of what can be doesn't mean that now is God's time for that to happen.  God gave Moses the vision to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land, but that didn't occur for forty years, and think of all the opposition Moses encountered during that time.  You may have a vision for a new ministry in your church, but a lot may have to happen before that vision becomes a reality.  I believe our task as ministers is not to make that ministry happen but to lead our congregation to the place where it becomes a reality.  We can wear ourselves out trying to do new things in our churches or we can lead our people in the process of bringing those things to pass.  Which of the two options do you think will be most successful and create the least amount of stress in the lives of the minister and the church?

We give lip service to the claim that Christ is the head of the church, but many in pastoral ministry act like they are.  They scurry about trying to make things happen in the church instead of allowing God to bring these changes and ministries to pass in His time.  By this I do not mean that we have no role or that we are to just sit back and wait on God to do something.  We are to talk about what we believe God wants to do in and through our churches.  We are to challenge the people to consider making needed changes.  We are to lead our people in prayer about those changes and work with them to explore all the possibilities associated with it.  Yes, it will take longer than most of us prefer, but if it does come to pass it will be because in God's perfect timing He brought it to pass, and in that scenario it will probably be a much more successful change than if we have somehow forced it through on our own efforts.

My last act of leadership at our church before I resigned was to lead them into a building program to build a new fellowship building.  We had talked about it for a few years and started a building fund to begin raising money towards a new building.  A committee was formed to explore our options.  We needed to purchase a small tract of land, and after over a year of negotiating we finally was able to get an easement on the parcel we needed.  An architect was hired to draw us a model of what we said we wanted.  He gave us an estimate of what he felt it would cost which was more than some in our church felt we could afford.  Nevertheless, after a few years of discussing this and working on the details our congregation voted to build the building.  We wanted to see how committed people were about this project so I called for a special offering on a selected Sunday, and that morning our congregation of 50 people contributed over $50,000 to the new building project.  With that gift and what we already had in our building fund we had nearly one-third of the estimated cost.  At that point I challenged the church to build the building without borrowed funds, and we broke ground with that goal.  As the sub floor was finished I announced I was resigning to accept another ministry position.  Some worried about the building, and I assured them it would be built.  A year later it was completed debt-free.

I am convinced it I had tried to force the church to move forward on the building when we first began talking about it we would have never built it.  As it was, there was no opposition to the building, and there was obviously much support for it.  Despite people's misgivings about the cost and my encouragement to build it without borrowing any money, it happened.  I am convinced it happened because everything was done according to God's timetable, not mine or anyone else's.

Pastors, let's learn to provide the leadership we've been called to provide and trust God with the final results of our efforts.  When we try too hard to make things happen it only leads to problems.  When we trust God to bring things to pass in His time good things happen.

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