The Reality Gap (part II: the danger of Idealism)

Ever been to a perfect church?  Ever heard a perfect sermon?  Ever been in a perfect time of worship?  Ever received a perfect offering?  Ever had a perfect leader’s meeting?

I doubt it.  

Nothing done on earth is perfect.  You might as well admit it as the evidence is totally in your face screaming at you.  However, many Christians are looking for a perfect church or a perfect service or perfect sermon.  The problem is that the search is futile.  It is absolutely futile.  And because you are always looking at the ideal you will never engage with the real.

I know so many Christians who don’t go to church because it’s not the perfect church, they don’t go to a mid-week group because it isn’t perfect, they won’t teach a certain study because it is not perfect, they won’t serve in a particular department because it is not perfect.

Pastors can be the same.  They never delegate their leadership because the other person won’t do it as well as them (what a guy preaching the first week ever isn’t a good as someone with 10 years experience and 5 years training?! Duh!) even though they know they need to start delegating and raising leaders.  They get upset about a time of worship because it wasn’t swinging off the chandeliers.

There are three main problems with idealism:

1. You ignore the real.  You are waiting for the perfect guitarist to join your worship group, you will miss the guy who is practising really hard, full of life and full of energy and wants to serve and honour you and the church.  Now, I’m not saying appoint the guy who doesn’t turn up at practice, turns up late, runs down the church but loves their ministry, and generally isn’t a team player and lacks the character of Christ.  That’s just bad leadership!  But don’t let the perfect blind you to the good and improving right in front of your nose.  

Remember when doing this that gifting and ability is always easier to develop than character.  Put character first when choosing leaders.  There are 16 qualifications for leaders in 1 Tim. 3, and only one of them is about gifting and ability.  Loyalty to the church and to you, a passion for Christ, a heart for evangelism and discipleship – you cannot beat those in any volunteer!

2.  Idealism paralyses you.  If you are waiting for the best time to do something, YOU WILL NEVER DO IT.  I know so many people called to plant churches waiting for the right circumstances.  It will never come, just start.  Don’t strike when the iron is hot, keep striking until the iron IS hot.  Then strike some more.  Do it, do it, do it.  That’s how you start a church.  Right now, Tree of Life Network is starting a food bank.  We don’t have a building, things are going on right now, it’s not the perfect time, but if I wait for a perfect time I will be waiting forever.  Don’t wait for the ideal time, wait for a good time and do it.  Even do it in a bad time – God is bigger than the times!

3. Idealism causes you to become negative.  You hear a sermon with 99 good points but all you think about is the 1 point you don’t agree with.  You go to a church with 99 things you agree with but all you can focus on is the 1 thing you don’t like.  Idealism means you can never sweat the small stuff.  

Now I know everything should be Biblical but the truth is that no two of us agree 100% on anything.  Some things are no negotiable but other things are really not a big deal, even with the non-negotiables, we can endure a lot of give and take if we know someone is real and we know their hearts and we know they are for us.  People come to me after church sometimes and tell me what I said wrong, and what I said they didn’t agree with.  Other people get healed, get their marriages restored, get filled with the Spirit and get lifted and encouraged.  They chose to focus on the bits that lifted them.

Beware the dangers of idealism.  Sometimes it can take you away from interacting with and engaging with reality.

 

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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