Are We There Yet? The Need for Patience in Pastoral Ministry
“Are we there yet?” While every parent has heard these words from his children, every pastor has thought these words about the church. We are excited for people to grow, for new ministries to launch, for people to come to know Christ, and for God to be glorified. With holy zeal we want things to get going! Yet when change does not come quickly, it is easy to grow impatient. We often think in terms of days, weeks, and months, yet in reality it often takes months, years, and even decades for maturity to take place. And if we are not careful we can find ourselves questioning, and even complaining to God, “Are we there yet?”
Impatience Front and Center
Unfortunately, patience is not a strength of mine. I don’t like to wait! This is an area of my sanctification that is often front and center in my daily pursuit of holiness. We live in a society that expects everything now! We don’t like to wait for anything. You could say we live in a society of impatience. While this sin is concerning to the Lord in every believer’s life, its danger becomes exponentially greater when shepherding the church. Impatience illustrates an attempt to usurp the workings of God by taking matters into one’s own hands. Impatience can lead to rash decisions, manipulative leadership, and discontentment. It can frustrate the church by either dragging them along, or worse, running so far ahead that they are left in the dust. Impatience is often friends with irritability, anger, self-will, and other ministry crippling sins.
Now at this point, let me make a distinction. The desire for maturity in our church is a good and godly desire. Paul labored to the point of exhaustion to present every person mature in Christ (Col 1:28). In Ephesians 4:11-16, he says that pastors are given to the church to equip and help the body grow in maturity. The desire for spiritual maturity is not bad. Zeal for the sanctification of others is one of the responsibilities of pastoral ministry. The problem arises when our expectations and desires are not surrendered to the Lord’s. When people do not respond as quickly as we think they should. When ministries take longer to develop and mature than we had hoped. When leadership does not develop according to the perfect plan we had in our mind. Before we know it, impatience begins to grow in our hearts. Instead of love and joy in shepherding, frustration sets in because things are not happening as quickly as we desire. His timing and ways are often very different than our personal ambition, even if well intentioned. At the root of such impatience in pastoral ministry is that ugly five-letter word: pride. It’s as if we are saying, “God, you are not doing what I think you should do—will you hurry up and get with it?” At this point the heart is exposed and God’s glory has taken a backseat to personal agenda.
The Pursuit of Patience
Sadly, for most of us patience is not something that just shows up in our lives and ministry. It has to be purposely pursued. While patience is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22), part of living a Spirit-filled life is intentionally striving to submit to the commands of Scripture. The Lord in his kindness instructs us to pursue patience (Eph 4:2; Col 3:12). While patience is a significant character trait for all believers, patience is specifically highlighted in Paul’s letters to Timothy about pastoral ministry. In 2 Timothy 3:10 Paul says, “You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness.” In 2 Timothy 4:2 he exhorts Timothy saying, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” 2 Timothy 2:24 says, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil.…” Patience in pastoral ministry is crucial for a faithful ministry to the Lord.
Like many issues of godliness in the Christian life, patience is an attitude of the heart. Patience is humility to trust God’s perfect timing and orchestration of all things in life and ministry. It is evidenced in a life that surrenders itself to the timing of God. There are several contributing factors that undergird our pursuit of patience.
First, we need to remember God is patient (Rom 2:4; 1 Tim 1:16). Though the Creator has every right to do as He pleases and is under no obligation to be longsuffering, he exhibits patience towards his creation and towards his children. When we stop and think of God’s patience toward us in life, it quickly puts life in perspective and encourages our patience toward others and our church.
Second, the Lord commands us to be patient. Patience is not optional for the pastor. Sadly impatience is not only excused at times, but patience is downplayed and even belittled. The world’s view of leadership is to get things done. The Lord’s view of leadership is serving and shepherding people. Sometimes we can pride ourselves as a “get-it-done” guy, and while we should strive to be both efficient and effective in ministry, if we are not careful, we risk the danger of running over our people instead of patiently shepherding them.
Third, patience displays trust in the Lord. It is a willingness to wait and endure in accordance with His perfect timing. God is never late and He is never early when it comes to the spiritual growth of our churches. He knows exactly what He is doing in people’s lives. Whether we are not ready for a certain type of growth or he is protecting us from something we are do not see, God knows what He is doing and we can trust his timing.
Fourth, patience not only expresses trust in the Lord but also our absolute dependence on the Lord. Just as impatience reveals pride, patience reveals humble surrender and dependence upon the Lord. When the Corinthians were tempted to put their confidence in the abilities of men to bring about spiritual growth, Paul reminded them that God is the One who brings about all growth (1 Cor 3:7). It is so easy for us to forget who is actually doing the work. While the Lord chooses to work through faithful men, He is ultimately the One who causes all growth. We need to surrender to his timeline for sanctification and growth.
Fifth, patience models godliness for our people. Our people need to see patient, longsuffering, persevering pastors. They need to see men that work hard and yet wait on the Lord. They need to see men that speak the truth in love without compromise and also patiently love them as they grow.
Sixth, we need to remember how patient the people in the church are with us. We should stand grateful not only for the Lord’s patience, but also our churches’ patience with us as we grow. We are still a work in progress just like every other believer in our church. We have rough edges, weaknesses and immaturity. Our leadership is far from perfect. Yet people in the church graciously bear with us in patience as we too are conformed into the image of Christ.
“Are we there yet?” Nope! But God is at work and we can trust Him! It is good to have a holy desire for spiritual growth. We should labor and strive to present our people perfect in Christ, but we must also the learn the joy of contentment when God says, “Be patient.”
Justin McKitterick is one of our seven TES campus pastors, having served as the Pastor-Teacher of Grace Community Church in Jacksonville, Florida since 2011.