I love a good book. I especially love a book that changes my life.
Of all the books that I have read over the past few years none has changed my life at a deeper level than Integrity by Dr. Henry Cloud. The book deals with the subject of integrity at a level that I had never encountered before.
It was not a particularly pleasant read. In fact I found it one of the more difficult books that I have ever read because Dr. Cloud constantly challenged me to go deeper in my search for integrity. In ministry integrity in leadership is everything. Cloud’s book certainly made me examine my own integrity at a whole new level.
One of the statements from the book that touched my life deeply dealt with the issue of reality.
“One of my favorite sayings is, no matter how difficult it is to hear, reality is always your friend.”
“The reason is almost a truism: everything else is a fantasy. So, for us to get real results in the real world, we must be in touch with what is, not what we wish things were or think things should be or are led by others to believe they are. The only thing that is going to be real in the end is what is.” p.106
Everything that is not reality is fantasy. That gave me a whole new way of evaluating my life. It should also give our churches a new measuring stick.
The fantasy world of the local church
Some time ago I was speaking with a member of a small church that had gone through a steady stream of pastors none of whom lasted for more than a few years. After listening to her comments on the weaknesses of the previous six or seven pastors, I asked her a question that I don’t think had ever crossed her mind before.
I asked her what was wrong with the church. What was the church doing that caused so many pastors to serve for such a short time. She looked at me like there was something seriously wrong with my mind and indignantly informed me that there was nothing wrong with the church. The problems lay with the pastors. She and possibly the whole church were living in a fantasy world in which the church had nothing that needed changing. They had never taken a hard look at reality.
I was recently told by a pastor that the church in which he served had a Sunday morning attendance of about one hundred and eighty people. I attended that church on a Sunday morning and as I am apt to do, I counted up the number of people who were there. My count came to just over one hundred attendees including children.
I have encountered this particular fantasy in a number of different places. If no one takes an accurate count, it is easy to make attendance whatever we might like it to be. I don’t think that I have ever seen anyone who gave me a low estimate of attendance. Church leaders almost always estimate attendance higher than it actually is.
The problem is that planning for a church of one hundred and eighty is very different than planning for a church of one hundred. Good planning requires a clear understanding of reality rather than the fantasy land of an expanded attendance.
Every small church that I know shares one common belief. They all see themselves as a friendly church. It goes with the territory when a church is small. Small equals friendly in people’s thinking.
I have visited small churches in which most of the people did not know who I was. I have gone in, sat down and watched as no one has spoken to me. After the service I have had one or two people shake my hand without asking me anything about myself and I have left, got in my car and gone home.
Those churches would have described themselves as friendly churches and they probably were. They were very friendly towards each other but unfriendly towards strangers. They operated in the fantasy world of thinking they were a friendly church.
I heard of a pastor who arranged with one of his friends to visit his church on a Sunday morning. No one other than the pastor knew who this person was. His job was to evaluate the Sunday morning experience from the perspective of a visitor. He looked at the church’s friendliness, their facilities, their programs, and a number of other things. Then he gave a report back to the pastor.
To receive a report like that the pastor would need to remind himself of Cloud’s comment quoted above. “Reality is always your friend.”
Positive changes can only happen when we have a good grasp on reality and are willing to make changes based on that reality rather than a fantasy land of our own creation.
For the past few years I have been trying to change my attitude towards criticism. I have been trying to see it as a friend because it is only through criticism that I can properly grasp reality. I am trying to remember that reality is always my friend. I still have a long way to go but I think that I have made some progress.
I would challenge you in your churches to do the same. Welcome criticism. Search for reality. When you discover it, hold on to it because reality is always your friend. A firm grasp on reality is the first necessary step to seeing God work.