The Reality Gap (part I: what is the Reality Gap)

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HI there,

I’m Benjamin Conway, and I am the pastor of Tree of Life Church – we meet currently in three locations across England every Sunday and we are looking to increase that rapidly!

This is our blog for leaders and church leaders.  Our blog on church life is called www.treeoflifeblog.com and you are more than welcome to swing over there and check it out.  Our network website is www.treeoflifechurch.org.uk and you can find out what is going on there!

Today I want to look at one of the things that will knock you out as a leader every time if you are not aware it is coming: I call it the Reality Gap.

Basically, the reality gap is this: nothing is quite as you imagined it; nothing is perfect; no-one is perfect; there is no perfect church; no perfect service; no perfect leader; no perfect guest speaker; nothing is perfect.

There is always a big gap between the reality and the dream.  And nowhere is that gap first realized than when you start something new.  I have had a dream to build a 3000 strong mega-church in England since I was first saved in 1996.  And when that dream was just inside my head, it was easy to believe in a mega-church.  Now I have a church of 150 in London, that reality can obscure and frustrate the dream.  I have to remind myself that I am now closer to seeing my dream fulfilled than I have ever been.

You might have a vision to start a Bible College with 150 students and 10 sign up.  Guess what?  You are closer to that vision than you have ever been.  You might have a vision to start a business that makes a million pounds and you make £4.50.  Guess what – that’s the closest you have been so far! 

Don’t let the gap between your dream and reality stop you dreaming.  NEVER let the reality gap knock you for six.  As Andrew Wommack (wisely) says: “Better to aim for the stars and hit the moon, than aim for nothing and hit nothing.”

It’s better to have a dream of winning 100 people to Christ and winning 20 than dream of winning none and completing it!  It’s better to have a dream of being out of debt by the end of 2013 and end up paying 1/2 your debt off, than doing and dreaming nothing and being more in debt than when you started.  It’s better to aim at losing 30lbs and losing 10lbs than aiming at nothing and being even podgier than when you started!

And because of the nature of ministry, we are especially vulnerable to the reality gap knocking us out and discouraging us to the point of quitting.

We launch out into the deep, expecting revival and thousands of salvations.  Instead its 5 people sitting in a living room.  You hire a hall and no one comes, and then you still have to pay the bills.  You appoint an elder then find out they never stop arguing with their wife.  You have chosen some beautiful songs for worship to have the band murder them, bury them, and exhume them and murder them a second time.  You invite a glorious guest speaker, they treat you like a second class citizen, no one comes but the chosen frozen, the people who do come tell you how much they hate your church, and then they leave with your people…

It’s hard when these things happen.  But the truth is that there will always be a reality gap.  The nature of pastoral ministry is that pastors often see the world in black and white, when it isn’t like that at all.

You expect a perfect worship service, but it just wasn’t that good.  Well – please keep in mind it wasn’t that bad either.  You leave the pulpit upset that it didn’t set the world on fire, but if it warmed a handful of people – celebrate what has happened.

You spend hundreds of pounds advertising in the local paper and only three new people came – and two of them were weirdos!  Rejoice in that – it was worth it!  

I know you have a big dream – I have one too – but I tell you the truth, the most surefire way to kill any dream is to fail to celebrate every step towards it, to fail to enjoy an imperfect execution of a God idea.  At the end of the day, we are all very much human and any church and any business will inevitably reflect that.

If you don’t grasp the reality gap, you will get angry at people who you feel are not progressing quickly enough.  That will come across in all your relationships with people, and cause all sorts of problems.

So please, please take the time to understand what a reality gap is, and take the time to adjust accordingly.

Next week, we’ll look into this more and examine the danger of idealism.

Grace and peace,

Benjamin

Overcoming the Mundane (or: Ministry can be boring, get over it!)

 

One of the things that happens when you become a pastor or leader, especially when you go full time, is that the things of God can become mundane.  When you see the sick healed every weekend, the novelty wears off.   When you do church every week, and a couple of new people come every week, and the church is growing every week – it can get a bit mundane.  It becomes normative, and what is normative is rarely exciting any more.

Even sharing the Word of grace and seeing lives changed and transformed becomes “the day job”.  

I used to see that feeling as something to avoid at all times – and I think that is the attitude most charismatics have.  So they try and make things novel all the time, always looking for the new thing, the new fix, the new source of revelation.  That is why you have churches going loony tunes over angel feathers, tiny diamonds appearing out of “nowhere” – even though people have been caught time and time again planting these things.  This is why there are fads like barking like a dog and having gold teeth (give me gold in the bank, Lord – not in my mouth).  That is why the drunken like crazy dimension of the grace movement is so attractive to people.  People get bored so easily.

That is why some grace teachers are now bringing the most outlandish “revelations” to people.  When they first taught the complete work it was so radical and so fresh as people suddenly realized their entire lives were built on the foundation of the sand of their effort, their blood, their tears, their sweat.  Then they found out they could build on the rock of His effort, His blood, His tears and His sweat.  They found the rest of the Lord and their lives were dramatically changed.

Once people are on that foundation – there isn’t much more dramatic change.  You are just building, one brick at a time.  An understanding of grace here, a key of how to apply it to marriage there, a piece of wisdom on how to worship: it’s all brick by brick, line upon line, precept upon precept.  It’s the lifelong task of seeing total life transformation by the renewing of the mind. 

And that process is repetitive, and it can often seem very mundane.  That is why our flesh seeks to replace that process with livelier, more sensational processes like getting zapped by the latest speaker on the circuit, getting drunk on the glory, getting high on the Most High, barking like a dog and clucking like a chicken, and having a burn night where you shout at God all through the night.  All of those processes have two things in common: they are sensational and they bypass the seed of the Word of God.

If you bypass the seed, you then totally bypass the harvest.  It’s that simple.  There is no life transformation except by a regular diet of the Word.  When we come to a Celebration service, it should be to get equipped.

As a leader, as a pastor, your job in life is to equip people to do the works of ministry.  You cannot do this without teaching the Word.  You cannot do this without sowing the seed of the Word into their hearts.  The people might be after something sensational (which, by the way is a direct synonym for carnal.  Both mean to be driven by what you see and feel), but you have to be the leader and give them something real, not something that is phoney.  You need to give hope, not hype; life not just stimulation (Onan died for doing that in the Old Testament, that’s a preaching illustration of the dangers of stimulating the church without providing seed if ever there was one – I dare you to preach it!); and something that works on Monday not something that simply takes their mind off Monday.

You have to lead.  Don’t make your service this weekend “never a dull moment” – get the Word into people, make declarations, lift your voice and teach the Word.

In Jeremiah 18, Jeremiah is told by God to go to the potter’s house (it’s in verse 1-3), and watch the potter make a pot with the potter’s wheel.  For those of you who are city dwellers (and who haven’t seen Ghost), the potter’s wheel is simply a small table that rotates in a circle.  You put a lump of clay on the wheel and spin it around again and again and again and again.  Every time you spin the clay around you make small changes to it, until it eventually takes shape as a vessel that has use.

That is our task this weekend, to take the people coming to our services and spin them around that wheel and see their lives take shape.  It might not be exciting or dynamic – it might be, don’t get me wrong, sometimes it is absolutely life changing – but it is the way to build a church, it is the way to live your life.

Don’t get upset if you feel that you are going around in circles – every time you spin around you are learning a little, growing a little, changing a little, developing a little.  Don’t run from the mundane, overcome it by embracing it and using it to shape your life and shape the lives of the people around you.

You Need People Who Believe in Your Dreams!

Every single human needs someone in their life who dreams big for them and isn’t intimidated or nervous if they succeed in abundance.  You need someone who loves you and knows you can make – and tells you face to face.

We all need someone with flesh and blood to tell us on the outside what God is saying on the outside: you are awesome and you can walk in your dreams!

In fact, I believe you need three people like this as a minimum. One who is further along the road than you – someone who recognizes a little bit of their younger self in you and your fanaticism and dream. Someone who has clearly acquired wisdom that you have no access to apart from them.  Someone who can give you advice with integrity because you know they know what they are talking about.

You need another who is about the same place in the journey of seeing the dream fulfilled as you – someone to challenge you, a friendly rival, a safe refuge, a comrade in dreams.   People like this are gold dust – so many people are consumed with ambition, that holding the hand of a peer or giving them a boost is anathema.  Don’t be like that – be confident enough in your dream and value that it doesn’t bother you to help someone else shine bright.

Finally, you need to find someone that is not where you are – but you know they will be and you need to make the path easier for them. That helps you realize you are moving forward and have learned some stuff.  This makes way for you in so many ways, and it makes you realize the investment that others have put in you and makes you appreciate it so much.

I am so privileged that I have an abundance of all three of these – mentors, peers and people I mentor. And the quality of people I have in all three positions is just wonderful. 

Maybe you wish you had people like this in your life? If you need some help in recognizing a mentor or leader, then listen here to message 4 and 5 here, they will help you so much in how to find the people that God has prepared for you to learn from and teach to.

If you know you have good leaders, peers and people you mentor – let us know here, or if you have any advice on these or questions, please post them!