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Unrealistic Expectations

In our Dynamic Church Planting International training we have a lesson on avoiding landmines. One of those landmines is “Unrealistic Expectations.” We tell them, “Church planters often have unrealistic expectations of themselves and the churches they plant. They may try to set goals by the standard of someone else’s church plant. Faith can sometimes be confused with presumption or wishful thinking…..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.”

Leadership is always faced with the reality and pressure from their flock in this area. Many people have unrealistic expectations about how their church and staff should care for them and expect their pastor to have the strength of Hercules. It is not a one-sided problem though because expectations not only need to be realistic but they also need to be clearly articulated. Someone may be upset when they are not visited and prayed with before surgery. The reality is that there could have been four surgeries on that day making it impossible for the pastor to be there.

Truth: No one has the right to have an expectation that you did not agree to.

Whenever they do, it is a golden opportunity to disciple them and mentor in that area. One pastor’s wife was asked, “Why were you not at our event because we expected you to be there!” She responded, “Where did you get that expectation from because I never agreed to be there!” This certainly is not always easy but if unrealistic expectations are not confronted they can potentially continue to create stress, anger, and misunderstanding.

Truth: Unrealistic expectations can create an over-functioning environment.

This is defined as when you do for someone else what he or she can and should do for him or herself. One example of this would be the criticism that someone is leaving the church because they “just are not being fed.” The reality is that yes there can be shallow preaching and that needs to be corrected but every child of God should develop into a self-feeder. Those who under-function will continue to allow those who over-function to care for them as long as they will do it.

Truth: If unrealistic expectations flourish the leader will become frustrated, stressed-out, and eventually experience burnout.

Here is a great quote, “Those who make love their goal in life are going to hurt deeply when they are rejected, unappreciated, exploited, or let down by the very people they attempt to love.” People will hurt us and when they do we need to see it as a golden opportunity to seek God afresh. Refuse to stop loving deeply and even if you have been burned before it is worth the risk to love again.

Truth: We should expect challenges and we should embrace them.

We should resist the temptation to ask, why me? The real question is, why not me? Jesus is the only one who ever truly had the right to say “why me” because He was without sin. We deserve far worse and instead of focusing on how we have been mistreated we need to focus instead on how good the Lord has been to us. Quoting again, “The thrill of being ministered to by God more than compensates for the pain that people inflict on us.” David encouraged himself in the Lord.

Truth: Our identity, security, and significance are in Jesus Christ.

The Bible tells us that Jesus knowing who He was, got up, laid aside His robe, took the towel, and tied it around His waist. Jesus knew who he was (identity), where He came from (security), and where He was going (significance). Before Jesus’ servanthood is illustrated we are first shown His exalted status. When you know who you are in Christ that truth frees and liberates us to serve Christ. We do it for Him and not for public approval and the applause of man.

Truth: You need to stop over-producing and require that others do what they can and should do for themselves.

If you refuse to develop them as servants of the Lord you are promoting spiritual immaturity by not properly discipling and mentoring them. You would think the motivation of over-producing is being helpful but actually it is fear. Afraid of losing control, of what others might think of us, and that God will not do what He said He would. The goal is not being a workaholic but in equipping others for the work of the ministry.

Truth: You can face the crosses on life’s path with His help.

No, the path we are on will not always be easy. There will be times it will be a very difficult path but it is not impassable or insurmountable. We can pick up the mantle of our Savior and when faced with bearing His cross we can choose the same path He chose knowing He will be there with us. We must desire what He desired when in John 12 He considers the costly sacrifice He was facing, “Father, glorify your name.” The Father answered Him, “I have glorified it and I will glorify it again.”

Following Christ is not an unrealistic expectation. He tells us, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” When we are faced with the challenges and crosses of life we will find out if the driving desire of our heart is the same as Christ’s – obedience and glorifying the Father. It is not unreasonable nor is it unrealistic but rather it is our reasonable service after all He has done for us. Psalm 27:10 makes it clear, “Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord cares for me.”

Healthy church leadership addresses unrealistic expectations by clarifying that you only have a right to an expectation if I have agreed to it!

Read the Bible Honestly

While recently attending the Exponential Conference, Matt Chandler challenged us to learn to read the Bible honestly. All of us read the scriptures through our own lens. We must discipline ourselves to read it for what it actually says and not what we want it to say. It would be great if it said that we will never have struggles, trials, and tribulation but it actually stresses the opposite. In Exodus 15 Abram is told of a day that his descendants would be afflicted for 400 years in Egypt.

In this world we will have trouble and there will be difficult days! The apostle Peter reminds us to not “think it strange” when we go through trials in our lives. Reading the Bible honestly demands that we admit that our faith will be challenged and sometimes we will wonder why God is allowing what He is allowing us to go through. All you have to do is listen to Paul or James… and do I even need to mention Jeremiah or Job?

One thing to remember is that in the midst of the mess our Lord is at work. Chandler went on to say that suffering is the Lord’s way of cutting away from our lives what will ultimately harm us so that He can instill into us what we really need. Joseph said to his brothers, “you meant it for evil but God meant it for good.” Peter said that we would be refined by fire. That refining process gives us the opportunity to shine for Christ.

In Uncommon Life Daily Challenge, Tony Dungy shares that when he was hired as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers he desired to coach in a way that honored God. He said that he believed that if he did that, and he did, that he would be rewarded. His reward was getting fired. Yes, God had a plan but it was different than the one he expected. In Matthew 5:10 Jesus said, “Those who are persecuted for righteousness are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.”

In the song Trust in You, Lauren Daigle puts it this way, “When you don’t move the mountains I’m needing you to move. When you don’t part the waters I wish I could walk through. When you don’t give the answers as I cry out to you. I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in you.” She gives us the key to this. “Letting go of every single dream. I lay each one down at your feet.” His plans are not always our plans.

Learning to read the Bible honestly means that God is in control and we can trust Him. Think of what Jesus said to Peter in Luke 22:31-32, “Simon, Simon, look out! Satan has asked to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” There are multiple truths we need to listen to in this passage.

First, Satan desires to sift us, test us, and devour us. We have an enemy the moment we decide to follow Jesus. We should not be surprised by the devil’s attacks. We must get prepared for battle as Paul admonishes us to “Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the tactics of the devil.”     

Second, Jesus is praying for us. This truth should be a great encouragement. Just think, He is sitting at the right hand of the Father making intercession for us. In John 17:15 He prays, “I am not praying that You take them out of the world but that You protect them from the evil one.”      

Third, He does not pray that we will avoid sifting. We will experience sifting and the biggest challenge is how we will face that process. Will we go through sifting trusting Him in the process? Will we willingly endure testing so that Jesus Christ might be glorified? Sifting builds the muscle of faith in our lives.       

 Fourth, we will have to decide if we will continue to be faithful. In a recent message Jack Graham said, “The faith that does not finish was faulty from the first.” In Sifted, Wayne Cordeiro says, “The process of sifting, coming to that moment when our strength is spent, is how God builds our faith.” Check out James 1:1-4.

Fifth, we talk about our strengths, the Bible talks about our weaknesses. II Corinthians 12:9-10, “Therefore, I (Paul) will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. So I take pleasure in my weaknesses, insults, catastrophes, persecutions, and in pressures, because of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Wayne Cordeiro shares about a time in his life that he knew that the Lord was saying to Him, “The reason I cannot be strong for you is that you refuse to be weak.” He continues, “…you’re beginning to understand one of the most important keys to successful long-term ministry—that you’re only as powerful as your dependence on God’s strength.”

Why is this so important? Attacks and challenges will come. Unfortunately, it sometimes comes from those who are closest to us. It is not easy to balance the need to be thick skinned while remaining sensitive to people’s needs. Cordeiro talks about the paradox of personalities where we must be “sensitive but not easily offended, empathetic but not weak, flexible and yet filled with convictions.”

How can we do that? Admitting our weaknesses, crying out to Him for help, and allowing the Holy Spirit to fill us, control us, and totally dominate us! Learn to read the Bible honestly by knowing that sifting will change you but you will have to decide how it will change you!