Friday, June 7, 2013

Knowing Our Limitations

   Unlike many of my acquaintances, I am not a movie buff. One of the many reasons that I don’t bother with crossword puzzles is to avoid the frustration of the frequently provided actor/actress clue. I confess, as a rule, I am clueless. But, even though I am not a buff, I do enjoy a good flick. It may have come about as the result of that stage of life when my brain was much more impressionable than it is now or it may have been the result of a sense of affinity with the primary character, but in the end, the ‘why’ really doesn’t matter; I was smitten with Inspector Callahan in 1971. Me and a few million others. As it turned out, he would become one of the most quotable characters in film, more affectionately known as ‘Dirty Harry’. Case in point: how many of you have ever said, “Go ahead, make my day?” You can all put your mental hands down and thanks for making my point. As easy as it might be do to a philosophical quote-by-quote blog, I’ll save the rest for later. For my confessional purposes regarding church planting, growth and spiritual leadership, I’ll restrict my observations to this one: “A man has got to know his limitations.”
   Having been raised in a pastor’s home marked me for life. Having been raised in ‘one horse’ churches, marked me in a different way. My reading has convinced me that the average size church in America of 75 is so, not because of spiritual reasons but sociological ones. Social scientist tell us that our relational network hits a wall at 60 people. We can’t really know, with any degree of closeness, more than that. Economically, it takes roughly 75 good, God-fearing, church-giving-folk to provide the financial support for one pastor. Additionally, the average pastor encounters the ‘Peter Principle’ somewhere along the way. It is here that Inspector Callahan would say, “A man has got to know his limitations.” This is where leadership faces a test.
   Every aspiring young preacher begins with big dreams. They will typically have more than one role model that they admire and see themselves in those shoes. I’ve never met a preacher yet who will admit, “I’m really terrible at preaching!” I’m reminded of the pastor, who having delivered what he believed to be a history changing message, asked his wife, “Honey, how many really great preachers do you think there are?” She responded with, “One less than you think!” I’ve dispensed with those illusions a long time ago. Even the truly gifted communicator cannot grow a great church on Sunday morning alone. Accepting our limitations means either finding contentment in those ministries of obscurity or recognizing that we will need the help of other people to distinguish our ministry from the rest. What we do at this point will probably determine how long we last in the trenches.
   He was generally a good man. He had been married for 50 years, operated a good sized farm in north central Texas and was a Deacon at the local Baptist church. I was his pastor. When my wife and I failed to be appointed as Foreign Missionaries in 1988, I made the mistake of thinking that we could remain in leadership at that church. Once again, I was wrong. Paul was among the Deacons seeking my removal. I met him at his farm with a question: “What is the Biblical basis for your actions?” He answered my question with a question: “What does the Bible have to do with it?” It was at this point that I knew that we had nothing else to talk about. He then went on to say, “Pastor, what you need is to be somewhere with good people around you.” It was in that moment that I recognized my limitations. My ministry will never rise any higher than those who serve with me will allow it to.
   (To be continued....)

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