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SiftedPursuing growth through trials, challenges, and disappointments
By Wayne Cordeiro Francis Chan Larry Osborne
ZondervanCopyright © 2012 Wayne Cordeiro
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhere Sifting Begins
Can you remember where you were when you first sensed God's call to lead a church, serve in pastoral ministry, plant a church, or be a strategic member of a church planting team?
The call was likely very real, vivid, and powerful. God invited you to dream big dreams for him, and you sensed God raising you up to do a mighty work for the honor of his name. I'm betting that you could not wait to get started on this large, kingdom-oriented adventure.
Maybe your dream looked something like this:
* The church you imagined leading would be highly effective. You envisioned that God would use it in big ways to help win large numbers of people to Christ. Lives would be changed. Marriages healed. Families restored. This church would accomplish much for Jesus' kingdom.
* You had high hopes for the limitless scope of your church's influence. Following the example of Scripture, your church would be a witness to Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8), meaning your church would start locally in your community and then spread its influence to your city and then who knows how big it would get?
* Perhaps you imagined that your church would evolve to be unlike other churches. You intended to "do church" differently to reach a new generation. You would meet people exactly where they were. There would be no stuffy dress code at your church. No baggage from the past. Coffee would be hot. Music would be cool. People would come to your church because they sensed a fresh moving of God's Spirit, and that pull would be irresistible. You sensed that God would move at the core of this work. The new church would gather steam, and there would be no stopping its momentum.
* Perhaps you dreamed of doing multiple ser vices, or of starting different church campuses in locations throughout the city linked through video feeds. These churches would all flourish to the point where they, in turn, would start churches of their own. Maybe your dream was eventually to grow to the size where you needed to start your own church planting network. Tens of thousands of lives would be changed!
* The idea of helping to create a church that reaches out to the world was alluring. You desired to enter a community and be salt and light for the sake of Christ. You looked forward to sharing the gospel and being a force for justice and social action in creative and effective ways. Your vision was truly missional—to introduce Jesus to people and invite them to step closer to him.
Regardless of the specifics of your ministerial dream, it was undoubtedly noble, fueled by good intentions, and confirmed by God and other Christ-followers at several strategic places along the way. You were excited to work with the people on your team. They were your friends and colleagues, an energetic group of like-minded visionaries. Every person was committed to the call, and you were certain these people would remain your friends forever.
Your denomination was excited. Your spouse was in agreement with the call. Even your kids (if you have them) saw the vision. You all shared the same goal: to plant a church, a highly effective church. This was going to be a powerful work for the glory of God! Dream in hand, you began your ministry.
You had heart!
Now it has been a few years. How is the dream today? If you were to give an honest assessment, would you say that the work of church leadership is anything like you envisioned it?
THE LONELIEST JOB YOU'LL EVER DO
All we had when we planted our first church was heart.
We didn't have chairs, let alone a sound system. We borrowed coffee pots and sat on cafeteria tables. We used the music stands from the band room, and everyone had plenty of time to stare at the name of the school painted on the lectern. We didn't have much, but we had heart!
We were thrilled that anyone would even come to our ser vices. Our welcoming committee formed a human gauntlet at the front door to hug attendees. By the time a newcomer was seated, he or she would have been hugged at least twelve times. Later when people described us, they said, "You'll know those New Hope people. They hug everything within ten feet."
Not only did we pour our hearts into everything we did, but we poured everything we received back into the ministry. I remember the first offering we took. We gathered $550. We were thrilled! I went to an office furniture outlet and bought chairs so we didn't have to sit on cafeteria tables anymore. The following week, the first thing my administrator did was approach the microphone and say, "We took an awesome offering of $550 last week. And you know where it is? You're sitting on it!"
I often reminded our volunteers that a mind can reach a mind, but only a heart can reach a heart. I prompted them to remember this by saying, "Don't wipe tables with a dish towel. Wipe tables with your heart." Or to the greeters, I said, "Don't pass out bulletins with your hands. Pass them out with your hearts." Several months passed, and soon we had enough money to buy our own coffee pots and even our own sound system. We bought our own music stands, and even had enough money left over to have the name of our church stamped on them. It was like a taste of heaven!
One day, after we'd been meeting for a while, a wise woman in the church pulled me aside and said, "Pastor, I see that we now have our own chairs and our own tables. We have activities and classes. But where's the heart we used to have? I just don't sense it like I used to." And as she spoke, I sensed that she was right. We continued our activities, but over time, the amount of heart that we poured into everything diminished. We grew busy, and somewhere along the line, though we were still committed to our mission, the passion and excitement began to fade.
We lost our heart.
This happens more often than most realize, this loss of heart. Have you ever watched the reality TV show Dirty Jobs? The host, Mike Rowe, explores the messiest, hardest, and often strangest jobs around. Each episode shows Mike working a typical day at a different dirty job. In shows past, Rowe has worked as:
* coal miner
* mule logger
* lightning rod installer
* worm dung farmer
* road kill cleaner
* sewer inspector
* hot tar roofer
I've always wondered when Mike Rowe is going to work as a minister. Church leadership is one of the toughest jobs anyone could ever do. It's emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and physically demanding. Leading a church, particularly when planting a new church or beginning a new ministry, can be a bit like starting a new business. The rumors are true: many of those who lead churches don't succeed, and the church leadership graveyard is ominously overcrowded. If you've spent time recently thinking about quitting your ministry position, rest assured you're not the first church leader to wrestle with that thought. But don't let that temptation overwhelm you, because there is hope. Others have traveled this difficult road too, and they have succeeded. Just because your ministry doesn't look like you once hoped it would, or because you feel like you don't have the heart you once did, doesn't mean that you should throw in the towel.
The reality is that most church leaders encounter great difficulty in the complicated task of planting, establishing, and guiding healthy churches. Many church leaders lose heart. Each year, four thousand new churches start across North America. Within any given five-year period, nearly twenty thousand people are working in the trenches of church planting. For a few of these planters, those first years are a dynamic, exciting time filled with one perceived success after another. But research confirms that for the majority of planters, this is typically a time of great struggle. Not only are there the logistics and dynamics of birthing a new church, but there are the struggles with loneliness and discouragement that inevitably come from working hard in an entrepreneurial, pioneering role. I was surprised to find in a recent poll that fifteen hundred ministers leave pastoral ministry every month for various reasons. That's a staggering number. For one reason or another, these leaders feel the need to end their ministry. And not only do church leaders struggle through the sifting process, many churches struggle as well. A recent poll showed that each year some thirty-five hundred congregations die in North America. That's a staggering thirty-five thousand congregations that will become extinct in the next ten years.
Regardless of the church model, ministry approach, or tradition, the bulk of church leaders face difficulties that at some point lead them to question whether they should even be in ministry in the first place. They daydream, wondering if maybe there's another line of work they could be doing, an easier one, surely. Perhaps serving as a coal miner.
Or even as a worm dung farmer.
DIAGNOSING A LOSS OF HEART
So what is it that makes church leadership, and church planting in particular, so difficult? Why do so many leaders lose heart and want to quit? The heart, metaphorically speaking, can be a tricky organ. Proverbs 4:23 gives us this warning: "Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life." There are several ways in which the pressures of ministry can lead to a loss of heart:
* You've planted a church, but your church has peaked at fifty people and doesn't seem to be growing any further. You're confused, disillusioned, perhaps even embarrassed. Maintaining a small, nongrowing church wasn't what you signed up for. Your dreams have died and you have become frustrated.
* Perhaps your church has had the opposite problem; you've grown by great leaps and bounds. You're already at three ser vices in your first two years. But you're constantly being pulled in a dozen different directions, and frankly, you're exhausted. The never-ending stream of late nights, early mornings, and crisis interventions has left you lonely, worn out, tired, and perhaps even estranged from your friends, colleagues, spouse, and children. * The church is slowly gaining speed, but the systems and policies that provide for smooth sailing aren't falling in place. It feels like you're the captain of a ship in the midst of a violent storm, but that storm never ends. Day after day, waves crash over the bow, threatening to sink your vessel with all on board.
* The finances simply haven't been there. You planned. You projected. You raised as much support as is appropriate. You made the sacrifices, but you're still broke. The bills always seem to outpace the giving. * You planted with a team of great friends. When you first started, everyone was excited to begin the work. But you're tired now—all of you—and relationships are strained. Tasks that need to be done are falling through the cracks. There's still much work to be done, but it feels like your team (or much of your team, anyway) has run out of gas.
* Your church's vision was never firmly solidified to begin with. Part of your team wanted to become the next mega-church. The other part wanted to keep things simple and organic. Everyone figured the culture of your church could be worked out along the way. But now the team is divided, and it shows.
* Everything's going as well as can be expected, but the day-in, day-out job of being a church leader is simply overwhelming and is wearing you thin. The treadmill is always running, and you are caught in the cycle. Now the work God is doing through you is outpacing the amount of work he is doing in you.
Excerpted from Sifted by Wayne Cordeiro Francis Chan Larry Osborne Copyright © 2012 by Wayne Cordeiro . Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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