Earlier today I took our minivan through an automatic car wash, and got frustrated by how long it took. I caught myself saying "Unbelievable, why is it taking 10 minutes!" Like that's a really big deal.
I think too often in ministry we find ourselves taking the short view of things, rather than the long view. The short view is where we expect changes to happen overnight, for lasting culture to be changed in a week, for vision to be captured and implemented off one meeting. Or we look at the attendance one week to the next and determine "We're growing!" or "We're doomed!"
But pastoral ministry isn't a microwave, it's a CrockPot. It's something that develops and matures after years of faithful labor, prayers, sweat, and effort. It's something that happens long range, that's hard to measure on a micro scale. So how can we as pastors and ministry leaders take the long view?
1. Commit to a Long Tenure - The average tenure for a pastor is 3-5 years, for a youth minister 18 months, for other positions 2-3 years. The common denominator: no one sticks around long enough for the long view to take shape. We can't control what God may do in calling us to another ministry, but we can commit to ourselves that we'll endure through difficult times to see lasting fruit on the other side.
2. Don't Make Unfair Comparisons - It's easy for us to look week to week in attendance or giving numbers and make the jump to say things are growing or things are doomed. But rather than look week to week, look at month to month compared across years. Where we live in Florida, we have a unique demographic with the snowbirds. So I look at comparative attendance during our summer months (May-September), our first Snowbird Migration (October-December) and the second Migration (January-April).
3. Bad Sundays Will Happen, Roll With Them - Sometimes you'll have a day where your attendance is down, giving is down, key families weren't there, your message felt like a flub, and more. They happen. Roll with it. Don't beat yourself up. Don't write a resignation letter on Monday morning. You're going to have a bad Sunday. But they're not cause to give up. Instead, brush off and make the next Sunday better!
4. Avoid Apples & Oranges - Your church isn't your friend's church. Your church isn't like the church across town. Your church isn't the megachurch with the slide in the children's area. Your church is unique, and it's not fair to compare what you're able to do (or not able to do) with the other churches in your area. God's called you to be faithful, to shepherd and serve well, and to lead your church towards the vision God has for you. He's not called you to be <Insert Church Name Here>.
5. Don't Get Frustrated - You can lose weight by going on a crash starvation diet, or you can lose weight by gradually dropping pounds through calorie control and exercise. Guess which one is healthier for you. It's the same way in the church. You can get frustrated when things don't happen as quickly as you'd like, or the changes you feel are important to the vision aren't received immediately. But that's where the long view comes in. That's where the long view of leading with kindness, teaching and preaching faithfully, and strategically praying all come in to help gradually, over a lengthy tenure, see changes happen that make a church more fruitful and faithful.
Pastor, how have you taken the long view in your ministry?
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.