Church Leaders: Realistic Idealists

If the ideal for the disciple of Jesus is to be like Christ, the reality is that we will never be perfectly like Jesus in this life.

Ministry is hard, slow and long-term. Change takes time. To go in guns blazing, mowing down every single person who stands in your way, expecting everyone to instantly jump on board, does not help build the body of Christ’s maturity.4 I know a brother who charged in like this, in light of his biblical ideals. Problem was, he hadn’t convinced his leaders of those ideals yet. Sure, he tried to show them from the Scriptures why he was implementing the changes, but he was unrealistic about how quickly they would adopt the changes. 

 

Here’s a thought I’ve been musing over: leaders in ministry need to be realistic idealists. Primarily, we need to be idealists because we are gospel people. We are people of God’s word who seek to do all we do through the lens of Scripture. However, secondarily, we also need to be realistic. We need to remember that we operate in a fallen world, full of sinful people, where the first heaven and the first earth have not yet passed away, and when God has not yet made everything new (Revelation 21). Let’s explore what this looks like in our ministries.

Being an idealist in ministry

In ministry we must be idealists. I can’t stress this enough! If we are people of God’s word, and if all Scripture is profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that God’s people are equipped to do good work (2 Tim 3:16-17), then surely the leader is driven by biblical ideals and high expectations.

For example, the apostle Paul’s aim in his ministry to his flock was not to produce half-baked disciples of Jesus. His aim was for all to reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of Christ, becoming full-grown when measured by Christ’s fullness (Eph 4:13). Again, the apostle’s aim for people was not to present everyone lukewarm in Christ but mature in Christ (Col 1:28). If we are biblical idealists, then what we want for our people is for them to be like Christ, to the glory of God. Indeed, if we believe in the doctrine of sanctification and the kingdom living Jesus proclaims in the Sermon on the Mount, then our aim is to move our people ever closer to being like Jesus (2 Cor 3:18Rom 8:29Matt 5-7).1That’s hard work (and occurs only as God’s Spirit works in them)! But that is the ideal for our people—to be like Christ. Thus, when I meet with my Bible study leaders or my youth group leaders, this is the aim we articulate for our ministries—to see people transformed to be like Jesus. And we know this is the ideal, and we know this is not possible in this life, but because it is the biblical ideal, that is what we strive to do in all our ministries.

The same is true for all our ministry practice. All that we do should be formed theologically by the ideals of Scripture. From the music we sing to our use of sound and lighting, from the purpose of our small groups to the style of our liturgy, we do it all theologically. Sure, it takes a lot of work to think through everything we do biblically. Yes, sometimes it truly doesn’t matter and it may come down to a matter of wisdom. However, if we are people of the word then we hold firm to the ideals of Scripture, and all that we do is driven by and tested by our biblical convictions.

What’s more, we don’t budge from those ideals. If our ideals and convictions are shaped by the Scriptures, then we don’t forfeit them when things don’t work out. This is the warning an idealist in ministry needs: the warning of pragmatism. Too often we can be too quick to change our good, biblically driven practice simply because it doesn’t seem to be working. Granted, sometimes ministries need to be tweaked when they fail to progress. But we must hold to our biblically principled practices.

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