Ministry is a Marathon Not a Sprint

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This weekend marks the launch of my 45th year in Christian ministry. (I sometimes think I am still in my 30’s. So how can I possibly have been doing this for so long!?) If I’ve learned anything over these years it is, “Ministry is a marathon not a sprint!” It is more about getting consistent base hits than it is hitting a home run now and then while striking out the rest of the time.

Several more sports metaphors come to mind, but hopefully you get the message. i.e. almost anybody can produce short bursts of enthusiastic energy. Fruit comes to the steady, consistent farmer who cultivates soil, plants seeds, fertilizes, waters and waits patiently for the harvest to come. (Opps, I changed metaphors didn’t I? Sorry about that.)

Whatever metaphor you use, these concepts are particularly true when it comes ministry. We aren’t just setting goals in terms of numbers of cell groups or celebration attendees. We’re talking about changed hearts and transformed lives! That’s takes time and patience. The good news is that ministry done line-upon-line, precept-upon-precept, coupled with the transformative power of God, produces awesome fruit in our lives and in the lives of those we lead.

The first seven years of Western Branch Community Church were exciting years. They were marked by high energy, big events and waves of enthusiasm. The congregation grew to 1,000 in that short time. Most of that growth came from conversion growth. The stuff of dreams, right? The problem is that high energy, superficial approach to ministry was neither healthy nor sustainable. Our church eventually hit its growth ceiling—numerically and spiritually—and I nearly burned-out.

So, I have to ask, “Which approach to ministry you are taking? Is it healthy? Is it sustainable? If you are tired just thinking about setting God-sized goals for 2015, listen to the words of Jesus, Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. (Matthew 11:28-30 MSG)

I’m not suggesting you stop setting goals. My ministry goals for this year are the most audacious I’ve ever set! I am suggesting that you trust God with the timing. That you work hard, play much, pray boldly, and love your family deeply; take time to live while you accomplish great things for God!

The Biggest Mistakes Leaders Make

This past weekend marked the 25th anniversary of Community Church. I can hardly believe it has been that long since I stood in the parking lot of the Churchland Country Day School nervously wondering if anyone would come. I had no idea what God in mind.

The question I am often asked is, Why do some churches grow while others don’t? Obviously, there can be many reasons, but there are two common mistakes that keep many churches from being all they can be.  I call them the biggest mistakes leaders make.

1. We think too small.

When Community Church started in 1989, I had no idea it would reach thousands of people. The biggest church I’d ever been associated with had less than 200 members. I had no frame of reference for thousands.

So how did we avoid thinking small?

We never defined the potential size of the church by our past experience or by the size of other churches. We defined it by the size of the need God had called us to meet. There were thousands of people around us who needed Jesus, so our goal was in the thousands. Our current senior pastor, Michael Brueseke, is now talking about 25,000 in next decade!

2. We expect results too soon.

It’s exciting to talk about how many people are a part of Community Church these days. The truth is what you see when you attend there is a church that has stayed healthy and stayed on vision for 25 years, reaching 100-150 people per year. There has never been an avalanche of newcomers in a given year. The church has been built on a simple commitment to reach our neighbors with the Gospel–one life at a time–year after year.

If you are really interested in making a difference in your world for Jesus. Don’t ever forget, changing the world  is a marathon not a sprint. Refuse to expect small, quick results. Pray and plan for big results over the long haul. Watch God do more than you dare to dream or think or ask!