Have you ever known someone that admitted they were a pessimist? Most people who say they are realists are pessimists in disguise. So, is it possible that true realists are optimists in disguise? Don’t get me wrong. Many people who are so-called optimists may actually be idealists, that is, they would rather believe in a fantasy world instead of the real one.
In church planting and in ministry, there are people on all sides of the spectrum. You have the idealistic church planter who has read books, come up with a church model, planted a church in his mind before he steps out onto the mission field, and has planned out results before they happen. On the flipside, you have the pessimist who is so overwhelmed by the challenges and hardships they will face that they quit before they even begin.
In the book Viral Churches, Ed Stetzer makes the claim that church plants are 400% more likely to succeed if the planter has realistic expectations. This is an amazing stat. It’s not based on a planter’s giftedness or on the amount of funds he raises. It is wrapped up in the awareness a planter will face when he starts the church. Most planters don’t start churches thinking they have unrealistic expectations. They truly believe they are walking into their plant with solid, realistic expectations.
Why are expectations important for a church planter?
1. Understands the challenges
A planter who understands the challenges will be much more equipped to deal with the solutions to those challenges. Mike Tyson is known for the quote, “Everyone has a plan until you get punched in the face.” Getting punched in the face hurts, so a planter needs to be prepared for when the punch happens, not if it happens.
2. Realizes his own weakness
As human beings, we need to be reminded of our weakness on a daily basis. We are constantly confronted with a culture that says how great we are while the Bible tells us how terrible we are. Our weakness is not meant to paralyze us from action. It’s meant to reveal to us that God works through our weakness to display his strength.
3. Realizes his need for God
Prayer can be the last thing on a planter’s mind as he pours over his never-ending task list and numerous fires that he must put out that day. When one understands his weakness and God’s power, he knows that he cannot do anything without the favor of God upon it. Prayer should not be meaningless repetition. It is a recognition of God’s greatness and our inability.
4. Prepares for the future
Realistic expectations help a planter or pastor plan on what is coming or what potentially may come around the corner. He thinks like the ant from Proverbs 6:6-8 and is being wise in the resources he has been given. Many times in evangelical circles, we think that preparation is unspiritual, so we don’t do it. In reality, what we call “spiritual” may actually be “laziness” in disguise.
5. Depends upon other people
Relying on other people is a necessary enterprise. We were created to live in community and depend upon others’ strengths to help us through our weakness. What makes this so difficult is depending on other people is messy. People will let you down. People will discourage you. However, we are not superhuman and have our limits. Pretending we are superheroes only does harm to us.