A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Darren HalesAll Enews, Strengthening Team

As you look out on your congregation, what do you see? Do you see an abundance of potential resources, co-laborers, and disciple makers? Or, do you view your church family through the lens of scarcity? There really isn’t much there to work with, is there? What you believe about them is what you will see in them. Think about that for a moment.

I’m embarrassed to admit that early in my ministry, I felt that the people connecting to our church had limited abilities, marginal discipleship skills, and they were restricted in what they had to give. This mindset placed a lid on our capacity to grow healthy disciples and it narrowed our ministry possibilities. This mentality was not based on a radical dependence upon God, but rather a skewed view of my role as pastor. I felt that for the church to grow, I had to get better and better at doing more and more. If I didn’t do it and do it with incredible excellence, the church would fail, I thought. Besides, these people just could not do it as good as I could, right? No, this demonstrated a lack of trust in the Body of Christ to play their God given roles.

My perfectionism stunted our growth because every aspect of ministry was centered on me. The problem with that way of thinking is that it is untenable. It will also crush your spirit and sap your joy. I know from experience.

It could be that I had placed too much emphasis on the first half of Luke 10:2. “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” See there? It’s right in the text! However, in focusing on the limited number of laborers, I mentally ignored the solution given in the second half. “Therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”  Don’t get me wrong. I prayed the prayer… many times. I even set my watch to 10:02 am to pray! I meant the prayer, but I didn’t see the people God was sending as the actual answer to my prayer. My attitude and behavior undermined my prayer. Instead of seeing, by faith, the plentiful resources in the harvest, I only saw scarcity. I acted as if it’s just me. I better work harder. I missed God’s provision in the harvest. I didn’t see it.

I was receiving what I asked for. New families were coming to our church. Some were strong believers and some responded to the Gospel and placed their faith in Christ. This means that they were indwelt with the Holy Spirit. Christ was living in them, as well as the power that rose Jesus from the grave! But in my mind, what I saw were people who were not ready to serve. They were too raw and immature. They didn’t know enough to share their faith and they didn’t have much to offer in discipleship. They lacked skills and talents. Would they really want to give? Do you see the problem?

I was stifling the growth of new believers and I was suppressing the development of leaders. I asked too little of them, while personally doing too much. I needed a paradigm shift that fostered the maturity of disciples. I had to learn not just to minister to people, but how to minister through people. Jesus modeled this well. He spent His time developing deep relationships that empowered His disciple to serve, utilizing their gifting and their talents.  Jesus also demonstrated that He was completely dependent on the Father. Are you trusting the Lord? How about the people He has sent you to complete His mission? If you feel it’s all on your shoulders, that’s a recipe for disaster.

I can hear the pushback already.  “I’ve begged my people to help and no one will do anything.” I understand. I felt the same way. Then, I stopped making general pleas from the pulpit and started personally including people in ministry. At first, it was in simple ways, such as asking someone to make a meal for someone in need or to help me clean up after church. I asked a brother to make a call to check in on someone. I invited a deacon to go with me to counsel a couple. I asked a sister to think through 2 or 3 questions to ask our small group about the sermon I had just preached. I invested in discipleship leaders and treated them like a team. I encouraged and loved them and I challenged them to take steps of faith.  I gave them opportunities to shine and coached them. They learned with me that they can trust God for all they need to serve Him. In essence, I started treating our church family as disciples that God could use. Their potential was really unlimited.

I also had to alter my view of excellence. Excellence is doing the best we can with the people and resources God has given us. We will get better as we go and when we do it together, relational bonds are formed. Church is a team sport. We are striving for authentic relationships and we worship in spirit and in truth. Jim Misloski says, “If there is anything worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly, at first.” That goes against everything we have been taught about church growth in the last 40 years, but it’s true. It’s time to get rid of the show mentality. Don’t get me wrong, I want to train people well. I love good singing, great preaching, and quality church-wide events, but discipleship is real life. You don’t have to be a star to make a meaningful impact in the Kingdom of God.

So, what do you see? Scarcity or Abundance? God is at work all around you. He is blessing us with every spiritual blessing in Christ. He has given us everything we need for life and godliness. He will supply all our needs according to His riches in glory. He who started a good work in us will be faithful to complete it. Do you believe it?

There is certainly nuance to my story. Not everyone will become leaders. There are still people who are way too busy to even try simple things. People have quirks, baggage, and flaws. Ministry is messy, but as I invited people to serve with me and equipped them to play a role, the Body of Christ began to function. I also began to teach leaders to operate with the same mindset. As we began to multiply disciples in this way, our potential became exponential. Don’t fall into the trap of scarcity. It will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

About the Author

Darren Hales

Darren Hales is the Church Strengthening Team Leader of the Montana Southern Baptist Convention.