Whether you’ve been leading a church for a few years or a few decades, it’s always helpful to view your ministry through a wide lens. Too often, we focus so narrowly on our current pressures and challenges that we can’t see beyond them. Even quick, short-term “successes” may blind us to the importance of “playing the long game” in ministry.
To play the long game is to look beyond our weekly ministry, laboring with the future in mind. It is knowing that the effectiveness of our efforts is not always visible in the day-to-day happenings of the church. With this encouragement in mind, here are three reasons to play the long game in your ministry:
- It puts short-term setbacks in perspective. With the passage of time, today’s perceived failures are relatively insignificant. That churchwide initiative you believe failed miserably or the sermon that bombed last Sunday really won’t matter much before long. Most members will forget and will happily move on with you so long as they know you love them. Your faithfulness to the church over the long haul will be more important to them than what happens on any one given day or week.
- It allows for greater and lasting change. While not all change is necessarily good, most pastors can readily see things that need to be altered or implemented in order to improve the health, growth, and development of a church. One argument for longer pastorates is they tend to provide greater opportunities for positive, lasting change. Remember that no change will be effective if it is not first “owned” by the members. Whether you are leading the church to expand its missional outreach, revisit the bylaws, or add a new building, effecting change requires much patience. With the passage of time, however, the church will be more likely to implement healthy change.
- It brings unexpected blessings. The longer we serve in ministry, the greater we are encouraged. A pastor and congregation grow in their love for one another over time. Yes, there are disappointments, and some of them can be quite painful, but we must trust that God is doing a good work in His people. Recently, I received a letter from a member of a church I pastored for seventeen years. It was full of encouragement and gratitude for my ministry as his pastor. His words of praise truly blessed me. Thankfully, either he had forgotten the many mistakes I made over the years, or he decided to view them through a wider lens. In any case, it reminded me again of the blessing of playing the long game.
Long-term pastors, what would you add to this list?