In praise of patience

I blogged last week about the need to create cultures not strategy in the church. One of the problems with creating cultures is the time it takes. We live in a world that gives the impression it’s instant, where a million search results are just a click away, where we can instantly download something, or instantly see someone half a world away. And all of that creates the illusion that we live in an instant world. It also fuels an expectation that everything will be, or should be, instant. We want silver bullets. We want the immediate. We don’t want slow and steady we want it right now. Change should be quick and easy just like a search engine result.

But God didn’t make an instant world. Behind the instant facade we create there is the world God made which is not instant. Where things take time, where there are steady seasons and repeated rhythms and patient patterns. Where crops grow slowly and trees take seasons of care and growth before they produce fruit. Where children still – despite our best efforts – take years to reach maturity. Where actually trying to speed things up creates problems. When Jesus uses illustrations he does so from the natural world with all it’s rhythms. When Paul talks of growth it is of fruit which takes seasons to grow, or maturity which takes years to attain.

And yet so often our strategies in the church and in ministry are about the short term, our instant wants, needs, and action plans. What do I need to do now? What are the short term goals? What are the measurable results I want to see and how quickly do I want to see them? How can I assess and evaluate that performance and make tweaks so it is better, faster, more productive? But if we want to create healthy cultures in the church we need to take time to sow healthy habits which, over time, will form healthy growing cultures. Leaders need to invest in long term fruit and we can’t do that if pastors and elders only serve for 3-7 years. We can’t do that unless we develop healthy habits that over time become ingrained and create a culture. We can’t do that unless we allow the deep heart work of repentance and change to take place instead of opting for the shortcut of behaviour change or guilt induced activity.

Pastoring and leading is all about patience. Not patience as an excuse to do little, or change little, or dial down the call to repent. But patience that recognises real heart change is hard and takes time, it is not instant, it is not linear, it can’t be projected and plotted and so on. It is about sowing, tending, waiting, praying and reaping a harvest. Patience is needed to create the habits and culture in which people can flourish in their love for Jesus and his word applied to one another’s lives.

We will never create Godly cultures of love that lead to heart change and healthy growth which flow from the gospel until we liberate ourselves from the tyranny of the instant and the immediate.

That is not a call to be visionless, or to give up on strategy. But our question needs to be ‘What is God’s strategy and his timetable for his church?’ and are we prepared to patiently work and rest to inculcate those habits and patterns while we wait for that?

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