At a Church Planting Leadership Fellowship (CPLF) in Nashville, TN, I heard it again; “Unrealistic Expectations!”  Several spoke about the difficulty of discouragement when big dreams and visions do not become a reality.  I remember years ago Jeff Swart, now pastor of First Baptist Church Galena, KS, describing two optimists stranded on a deserted island and setting their goal for Sunday School goal at three.  Now that is eternal optimism.

     All of us can struggle with unrealistic expectations.  In our Dynamic Church Planting International (DCPI) Essentials training landmine #10 is Unrealistic Expectations!  It says, “We try to set goals by the standard of someone else’s church.  Faith can sometimes be confused with presumption or wishful thinking.  A church planter may have such a burning desire for a large, dynamic church that he will imagine that God has granted him certain numerical goals for the start of the new church.”

     Honestly, I can be way too idealistic in my thinking.  I will picture in my mind how something should be and when it happens it is never as I imagined.  That can create some disappointing situations in dealing with the gap between the ideal and reality.  The dictionary describes an idealist as: “a person who is guided more by ideals than by practical considerations.”  Idealism is: “the tendency to represent things in their ideal forms, rather than as they are.”  Someone has said, “There can be a fine line between faith and presumption.” 

     DCPI says, “If attendance doesn’t measure up, both the pastor and his people may feel they have failed.  Instead of rejoicing in what God did, Birth Sunday may become a depressing experience.  Planting churches is a lot like raising children.  Every child is unique. Each one has its own growth rate, and every child grows to a different size and shape.  But parents love each one for who they are. Comparison with other children is unwise and unhealthy.  Whether 40 people came, or 400, or 4000, God was worshiped, the Bible was taught, and the love of Christ became real in a new church.  Let God set the expectations: it is His church.”

     There are at least two possible dangers that can come out of unrealistic expectations.  The first is The Copy-Cat Syndrome.  We idealistically think that because it worked for the larger church or the mega church, it has to work for us also.  So often we develop a strategy before we ever get to know the people we are trying to reach.  You must have a great understanding of the heartbeat of the community God has placed you in.  Don’t try to be someone else, be who God called you to be!  Tom Nebel says, “Culture trumps strategy every time!”

     The second possible danger of unrealistic expectations is The Comparison Obsession.  Why are they running 400 and we are only running 40?  Is it good to evaluate to be a stronger and healthier church?  Yes, but it can be unhealthy to always be comparing ourselves to someone else.  In the same way that we are all uniquely created different, every church is unique.  Every church’s leaders are unique and uniquely gifted.  Every assignment God gives us is a unique assignment in a unique location. 

     Unrealistic expectations can undermine what God is doing and cause us to be so goal driven and number conscious that we will never have the joy God intends.  Larry Osborne said this during our CPLF meeting, “Shepherd the sheep you have and don’t just use them to reach the sheep you want.”  Should we have a passion for the lost and pursuing them?  Most definitely, but we also must care for those who God has already connected to our ministries.  It is ok to lean toward being idealistic but you also must have an injection of realism. 

     Here are some realities that are good for every child of God and every one of His churches. 

  • Be real and authentic!  Don’t try to be somebody you are not or think you must be Wal-Mart and provide everything everyone wants.  Love goes a long way!  When you genuinely care about people they can tell and are drawn to that compassion.
  • Be aware of your giftedness!  All of us are uniquely gifted and God has placed gifted people in your churches.  Focus on your strengths and what you do have instead of coveting what others have.
  •  Be flexible!  Things will almost always be different than what you thought.  Know what the essentials are and never change them but be flexible on the non-essentials.  All too often churches are driven more by preferences than they are God’s directives.

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