Another lesson that quickly comes to mind when reflecting on my experiences as a new congregational leader was the ability to know my own limits.
By nature, especially when it comes to the life of the local church, I’m eager to be involved. My tendency is to throw myself in and have my finger in every pie. Not because I want to be seen by everyone and so big myself up, but because my theological understanding of the church enthusiastically pushes me to wholeheartedly participate and diligently serve wherever possible; giving my all, 100%. As someone who subscribes to the biblical big vision of the local church, and understands her to be the hope of the world and triumphant glorious bride of Christ, it’s hard not to have my world revolve around the church, rather than the church revolve around my world.
However, a healthy aspect of my expanding leadership was to recognise my limitations. As much as I may have wanted to be involved in everything, it’s not good to be. This was hard in the infancy of a new congregation. Usually there’s limited people with restricted time and little resources. So you want to carry as much of the load as you can. You want to see it work. See it succeed. Truth be told, deep down we know much of it is rooted in pride, vanity, ambition and reputation. Yet, what might be most successful, isn’t necessarily what’s always best. Trying to do almost everything might very well produce ‘results’, but will it produce the Lord’s results? Will it bear the fruit of a healthy, godly and biblical congregation? Will it result in a healthy, godly and biblical you? My experience tells me it probably won’t. Rather it may lead to a one-person ministry mindset, one that could be controlling, domineering, restrictive of body ministry, a harsh attitude, and onto a path of burnout. At least, those were some of the signs I could foresee in my own experience.
Reflecting on this, I’ve seen three ways that knowing my limits has helped. Let’s look at them below.
Knowing my limits protects me
As much as I may have wanted to get on with it and just get things done, to have done so would have left me vulnerable. I would have been an open target for tiredness, tiredness leading to frustration, frustration producing anger, anger evolving into bitterness, bitterness taking root and bearing the fruit of resentment, and then resentment leading to disunity. That may seem extreme. However, for me, if I didn’t quite experience all those things fully, I definitely felt them slightly or foresaw my path towards them if I kept avoiding my limitations. We need to insert healthy barriers in our serving. We need to cultivate the courage to say no. We need to decide not to pursue something even though we know it would be fruitful, for the sake of our ultimate wellbeing.
In my context, I know that at my core the Spirit has gifted me with preaching, pastoring and leading. So those are the things I pour my time and energy into. They are the things I say yes to. I carve out evenings to write sermons, schedule intentional hang outs with key disciples of mine, and serve in leading a couple of teams. Therefore, I’m much more likely to say no to many others ventures within our congregation.
We do monthly church lunches and have a lack of volunteers on rotation to help. Yet, I say no to being part of a serving team there. We’re in need of more welcomers to help incorporate new people. Again, I refuse to join. We’re in desperate need of kids workers. Still, I won’t offer my assistance. Admittedly, I written that quite bluntly. But the spirit of what I mean is that I know my lane and I know that as a car veers off its lane it puts itself (and others for that matter) in danger. It’s similar here. Doing too much too often for too many will exhaust you mentally and spiritually, and distract you from what you know you’re called to get on with.
Knowing my limits releases others
In addition, knowing your limits will not only protect you, but will promote others. As someone with a natural tendency to take control, learning to restrict myself will enable others to step up and into other areas of service. If I foolishly believed I was unlimited in my capacity, and was getting involved in everything, then others around me will quickly feel inadequate. They will feel undervalued and unappreciated, at worst they may feel unwanted. Naturally, feeling unwanted will alienate people creating a distance. All of this likely hurtling towards a sense of disunity and friction.
Unity is one of the most important realities we need to cultivate and protect. One way of harnessing our unity is by releasing our diversity. As we strive to identify gifts in one other, facilitate opportunities for their use, and invite others to operate in them, we can see a colourful array of differences on the canvas that is our church. Of course, in reality we may not have the gifts presents or the people available that would help our churches function in certain ways. Nonetheless, my conviction is that if you don’t feel called to do something, even though you really want to see it, and there’s no one around in this season to lead it, then God may not be wanting you to do if for now. Better to flow in the gifts you have and see fruit from that then try to force yourself into a shape and get frustrated when it doesn’t work.
As the 11.15 gathering we were rightly encouraged to consider students and young adults. With a city centre building, and a service time more suited to the late risers, students and young adults were a demographic we were more likely to see. However, there was difficulty in forming a team. To date we’ve lost a couple of team members over our two years. The lady currently leading it has had to hold it loosely due to her studies and planning a wedding. Throughout this, I’ve definitely felt the temptation to step in. But I’ve resisted. As a result this lady has felt released and has grown in her leadership, gifts and abilities. They may have been different to mine, and she may have led it in a way I may not have, but we’ve seen the fruit of a person and a group established and influential when they were released.
Knowing my limits glorifies the Father
In conclusion, I think knowing my limits has seen an increase in my trust in God. Of course, trusting in Him with faith pleases the Lord, and pleasing the Lord is a form of glorifying Him. As we accept our limitations all we can do at times is rely on our Father. Christ said He would build His Church and the gates of Hell won’t prevail against us. Although we are co-labourers with Him, He is the foreman. He is the senior builder. He is the architect. And He will do as He pleases among us. My congregation is not my kingdom. It’s not my church. It’s not my empire. It’s His. So as I’ve learnt to submit and yield to my limitations I’ve grown in my willingness to trust Jesus and obey Him.