If you don’t know I have worked in a local public school district for the past 5 years. I haven’t been a full-fledged teacher so they call us teaching assistants, AKA TA’s. Typically, TA’s work in the special education department with all its glories and frustrations. I came upon this job by surprise soon after I had moved home from Philly. I was in desperate need of a job and with a degree in Biblical Studies your two options are either a church setting or Starbucks. If I remember correctly, there wasn’t a Starbucks here at the time and no churches were hiring, so I had to find another way to bring in some dough.
I ended up working the summer school for BOCES as a TA, which then translated into a job with the local public school district. Little did I know at the time, but this job would lead me to have the time and money to go to seminary in Rochester. But I digress.
One of the jobs I had was working at one of the middle schools. I worked one-on-one with a great kid for the two years he was there. I went with him to all his classes and we became friends rather quickly. He has a very, very debilitating genetic disorder leaving him completely dependent upon others. Keep this in mind.
Middle schoolers are a funny breed of kids stuck in the time of life most would rather forget. Awkwardness, acne, and hormones are rampant and their effects are torturous. There’s nothing quite like the middle school boy, especially the boy who is bigger than everyone else. There was one such boy at my middle school. He was big, athletic, and above all else, naively arrogant. The vying for popularity and notoriety definitely didn’t help with this kid. But again, I digress.
The reason I bring him up is the fact that he had convinced himself he would either be a rapper or a pro football player. Nothing any of us seasoned (and perhaps jaded from our aspirations being shot down by someone whose shoes we were filling) adults could say would thwart this kid’s dreams. Perhaps rightfully so. Yet the expectations of this kid were so beyond reality that no one was bringing him down, potentially setting him up for a strong dose of life’s gravity. The look-away-eye-roll was a common practice with this kid.
The boy I worked with was wheelchair-bound and desperately dependent upon everyone. He didn’t have unrealistic expectations because he knew he was utterly reliant upon others for his every need. Beyond operating his chair and his mind, he was as helpless as the day he was born. And yet he shined.
Ed Stetzer describes one of the major pitfalls of church planting as beginning with unrealistic expectations. Too many church planters go into things thinking that their church will be 500 strong within 2 years. I mean, we have conferences where people have churches of 7200 members, thus making them the blessed leader whom we must follow. Right? The reality is, according to Stetzer, that most church plants will average 100 people after 4 years of existence. That is normal. That is real. That is expected. Therefore, we need to be real and live in reality when it comes to planting. Things happen, plans fail, and people get mad. Middle school is a phase, for better, worse, and indifferent, best left in middle school. Going pro in any given sport is something radically against the odds of any person ever making. Having a church of 1000 is unheard of most of the time. Be real.
Be dependent as well. Like my now-high school buddy, we need to depend on others for the betterment of our church and the Church. We cannot expect 500 people at our first service (this is a story told by Stetzer; the church was expecting 500 and “only” had 178; he says they were the most downtrodden people you’ve ever seen). We should expect people and it should be a natural reaction to be joyful for those who do show up. We need to depend on the work of the Spirit going out before us along with the people whom He has gathered together. We don’t arrogantly and naively say the equivalent of going pro. We humbly depend on each other and God. Community and love working together with real expectancy.
(There were no church planters hurt in the writing of this post.)