For the last few weeks, the Tampa Bay area has been awash in "Fitzmagic" as a career backup quarterback shone with an unprecedented start to the season. And honestly, who can blame them? Harvard graduate, 7 different teams, a lumberjack beard, and impeccable style at a press conference.
A lot of times in ministry we can fall victim to the same power of the moment. We can get so caught up in the latest trends, the short-term results, or the flashes and lose sight of the long range. Whenever I talk to our staff about our church, I always preach about the "long view." If we look week-to-week, we might find ourselves discouraged or wondering if anything is really working. For me it's on Monday, and I'll catch myself looking back and focusing too much on the week before.
Taking the long view is where you chart your perspective not in weeks or months but in years. It goes against what many of us have experienced, where the average tenure of a pastor is < 5 years, and our microwave society has an expectation of immediate results (ie., the book Have a New Kid by Friday). But the kitchen of spiritual growth and church health is a Crock Pot, which is fitting for a Baptist. It's slow. It's patient. It's deliberate. It may be generational.
And we can't get bogged down in the moment. I'd love to give 4 ways to help pastors see the long view.
1. View data as trends, not snapshots - Sure you had an awesome offering last week, or maybe your attendance tanked. Instead of looking at each week, look at trends. Look at the data monthly, quarterly, annually. That way your tank days aren't your focus, they're an outlier, along with your bumper days. When you look at trends, you're seeing the bigger picture, and not just the tree in front of you.
2. Talk to long-timers - You've got people in your church who've been there longer than you. They've been there during the "good days" or they've weathered difficult ones. Talk to them, get their feelings on how things are going. Listen to them as they share what changes, direction, attitudes, and chatter they're hearing.
3. Plan to stay - You can't truly say you're faithfully serving Jesus when you're spending your day surfing classifieds or hitting up friends for references. If God wants to move you, He will. But far too often we don't see the long term results because we never committed to the long term. When we plan to stay, we're opening ourselves up to the kind of generational change we read about.
4. Preach systematically through the Bible - Perhaps the best way to take the long view in ministry is to make a habit of expository preaching. We're not sustained by Cheesecake Factory and filet mignon, we're sustained daily by scrambled eggs and pot roast and the normal grocery store. Expository preaching is the steady diet of a healthy church, and is the food that grows a healthy Christian. It's not "Seven Steps to Greener Grass," but it is producing in people a biblical worldview, a knowledge of God, and a growing love for the Word.
What have you done as a pastor to encourage taking the long view in ministry?
And should I dress up as Fitzmagic for our church's Trunk or Treat?
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.