Several years ago I met with a young pastor who was becoming increasingly frustrated with the church in which he served. He wanted them to make changes and they were moving much slower than he thought that they should move.
I advised him to exercise more patience because change always takes longer than we anticipate. I suggested that he take a step back and give his people more time to adjust to him and to his way of doing things since he was relatively new to the church.
He accepted my advice and left saying that what I had said made sense.
A few days later I heard that he had attempted to make some major changes and that the whole church was upset at what he had done.
I remember thinking at the time that we had very different ideas of what constituted patience. He was thinking in terms of days and I was thinking in terms of years.
The importance of patience
Few things are more important in small-church ministry than patience. As leaders, however, there are few character traits more difficult to develop and yet few that are more important to have.
For the next few blog entries I want to focus on this quality. For those of you who are type A personalities and would love to have everything done yesterday, bear with me. What you will read over the next few entries just might be the most important leadership material that you will ever read.
I believe that patience is that important in small-church life.
Patience and people
I am sure that you have heard it said that ministry would be great if it just wasn’t for people.
We may laugh at that comment because there is some truth in it but reality is that ministry is people. Everything else only has significance as it pertains to people.
We are not called to build big buildings or develop great programs. We are called to make disciples and disciples are people. Those other things are just means by which we accomplish the real objective.
Kristin Robertson explains why this makes patience so important.
“One characteristic of effective leaders that you don’t often hear about is patience. Leaders require patience because they deal with people, not machines. Unlike machines, people have many quirks. People are reluctant to change. People develop political alliances and affinities. People have their pet projects, favorite friends and preferred ways of doing things. It takes patience to effectively work with people and accomplish the organization’s goals and objectives. Although there are appropriate times to be impatient and push an agenda, the astute leader knows that patience is very often his or her secret weapon in getting things done.”
It is those quirky people who are reluctant to change and who have their own agendas whom we are called to serve.
In an excellent blog entry entitled “Church Is Not Efficient and Five Other Messy Truths” Karl Vaders points out some truths about people and the church. When you put all of them together, we realize that problems should be what we expect from the church.
Vaders points out that the church is not efficient.
Everyone who has led in a church context should be able to say “amen” to that point.
Second, Vaders points out that people are sinners.
One of the keys to developing patience is remembering that I am included in that group. That’s the reason why people have to be patient with me.
The third point is that life is messy.
We are messy people living in a messy world. To expect that we will avoid the messiness around us is like watching a child play in a mud puddle and expect that his clothing will be clean when he finishes.
Can we really work in an inefficient church filled with people who are sinners living messy lives in a messy world and not expect that we won’t need a huge dose of patience to survive?
What seminary doesn’t teach
I am so convinced of the importance of patience in the life of a small-church leader that a course on it should be a requirement at seminary for all future pastors.
I am thankful for all the courses that I took in Bible college and seminary on theology, biblical studies and counseling but I did not come close to being fired even once because of my lack in those areas but I was fired because of my lack of patience.
Leaders need to understand that change takes time and time is only given when the leaders have the patience to wait for God to bring about the change.
I don’t think that I am the only leader of whom that is true.
Patience is a virtue or so we are told.
I want to close by suggesting that for the small-church leader it is much more than a virtue. It is an absolute necessity without which you are more likely to be fired than you are to bring about significant change in your church.
In my next two entries I want to write about
- the relationship between patience and trust
- the relationship between patience and change