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HOW TO HANDLE UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS

UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS

    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.

Riding the Roller Coaster

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I remember it all too well.  It was the last time I rode a roller coaster.  The location was Six Flags Over Texas and the ride was the Titan.  As we ascended upward I remember thinking, “What are you doing on here?”  There were terrifying screams and cries of others around me but when the ride was over they said, “Let’s do that again!”  Not me.  I was done, finished, retired, and I tried to recover from a throbbing headache the rest of the day.  I wonder, is that how you are feeling about ministry or church?

Life is full of ups and downs, struggles and victories, mountain tops and valleys, celebrations and disappointments.  It is a part of life and should be expected.  Ministry is kind of like parenting. It is a joy to be a parent; most of the time!  This Christian journey of faith we are on is not about perfection but progress and continuing no matter what challenges may come our way.  I read recently that there are two kinds of wilderness experiences: The kind you do not choose and the kind that is self-imposed!

Dynamic Church Planting International (DCPI) church planter training teaches that there are “seasons” and “cycles” in our journey.  That truth is applicable to anyone seeking to serve the Lord.  Sometimes it is hot and sunny, sometimes rainy and cold.  Serving and following Christ begins with the same three stages that are linear but they can lead to seasons or cycles of a “high road” or a “low road.”  Trials and tribulations will come and then the roller coaster ride of reoccurring loops of celebration or discouragement begins.

First, ministry normally begins with a vision of what God wants you to accomplish.  Excitement burns within you to fulfill your calling and make a difference for Christ.  DCPI training says, “This is a time of great excitement and some trepidation, as God’s vision for your ministry begins to take shape in your heart and mind.  The magnitude of the eternal impact you could make, captures your heart and energizes your mind.  The joy of knowing God has planted this vision in your heart, and the closeness you feel with Him.”

Step two is planning and implementation.  You want to make sure your vision is not just a pipe dream.  You begin to put the vision God has placed on your heart down on paper.  DCPI says, “Prayerful planning enlightens your vision and gives detail to what the vision will become.  This is the time when you really begin to work, when you pray and plan and begin the important steps necessary to move toward God’s design for your ministry.  Without this stage, there will be no realization of God’s vision.”

These are the linear “stages” that begins both cycles.  There is vision, planning and implementation, and thirdly, trials!  Yes, there it is, trials!  This is where the roller coaster of life can really get rolling.  There are basically three kinds of people; those with problems, those coming out of problems, and those about to have problems.  The trials you will experience are inevitable.  Your faith will be tested.  The enemy will attack.  Our DCPI materials make it clear that potential trials often occur in some predictable areas.

  • Spiritual Warfare – The goal of every ministry is to retake ground occupied by the enemy. Establishing a dynamic church is nothing less than an assault on the gates of hell. Jesus Himself promised victory in such an ambitious offensive campaign, but it can be full of tribulation and danger.  If you still have your doubts take a look at Eph. 6:11-18.
  • Family Pressures – Ministry can place strain on a marriage. Normal family conflict and difficulty is only made more intense by deciding to follow Christ and be faithful in every area of your home life.  This is why we teach DCPI’s Balance Principle: “The church planter’s walk with God, family life, and ministry must be in biblical balance.”  Take a look at Eph. 5:22-6:4.
  • Unrealistic Expectations – It starts with vision but that vision, its shape and magnitude, needs to be determined by God, not by an unhealthy comparison with some other pastor or church leader. Setting the bar of “success” based on how God has blessed someone else is both dangerous and potentially discouraging.  (Jn. 21:20-23)
  • Leadership and People Challenges – Ministry demands leadership skills.  One pastor said the challenge of pastoring is taking all the different groups in a church and forming them into one unified body.  The other side of leadership is remaining humble and always striving to lead biblically as a servant-leader.  It is not about power or position but godly example.  (I Pet. 5:1-7)
  • Loneliness and Isolation – The worst thing you can do is to try to face the trials and tribulations of the ministry alone.  Ministry Grid says, “Transformation is a communal experience, not an individual exercise.”  Everyone needs a mentor or a coach in their life to help them through the roller coaster experiences that come along!  Take a look at partnership in Phil. 1:3-5.

Established churches and church planters realize that any one of the trials mentioned above can be devastating but knowing that it is a normal stage of ministry can help you get through it!  Check DCPI training out at www.dcpi.org