What 40 years as a pastor has taught me: Ideals vs. realities (Part I)

Some people who know me might wish to title this series “HAVE YOU LEARNED ANYTHING AT ALL IN 40 YEARS AS PASTOR OF NCF?” That also would be a fair question. We humans do not learn or change easily. But, I do think I have, by the grace of God and God’s people, learned a few things through my 40 years as a pastor at New Covenant Fellowship, and I appreciated Kristin T. challenging me to reflect on that in a series of posts as I move toward retirement from the Senior Pastor role—to think about what some of those most important learning experiences have been.

I will start this series by noting a lesson that I continue to learn and re-learn. This is a truth that spans most of the other topics that I will reflect on in future posts in this series. It is also a truth that can only be discovered by pushing against one of my greatest weaknesses. It is a truth that demands WAITING and PATIENCE if it is to be discovered.

This is that truth: The REALITY of the church community has never lived up to my IDEALS concerning what we could be and should be—not 35 years ago and not today. That can be very depressing (and is very depressing for some people). However, I have learned that although all reality does in some ways fall short of my ideals, if I hang in there with God and God’s people, the reality often far surpasses my ideals, as well. And, this truth is not just one I have learned about the church community, but also about all of life’s most important relationships. Here are a few examples.

I have never fully lived up to my ideals of what I could and should be as a husband, and my wife has never lived up to my ideals (nor her own) of what she could be and should be as a wife. BUT, I have continued to find new depths of who she is, and new admiration for who she is and how she lives life for over 50 years now. I never dreamed that I could sit and gaze at a 70 year old woman and just be overwhelmed with admiration and thankfulness. If I had gotten my ideals, we would not have made some of the mistakes we have made, true. But, we would not have the deep and abiding relationship that we have either, because I did not even know such love and caring with such depth was possible. Thank God that God mercifully delivered me from being prisoner to my ideals.

Similarly, I have never lived up to my ideals as a Parent, a Pastor, a Friend, a Relative, a Grandparent, a Great-Grandparent, a Neighbor, a Christian, or even as a basic Human. And yet, in each of these areas, by the grace of God, I experience realities that I did not even know to ask for or to imagine.

So yes, every friend, every family member, every Christian, every human, every phase of New Covenant Fellowship’s 40 years, and even God have failed to meet my ideals at times. That could be very depressing. Or, it can be thrilling.

Don‘t hear me wrong. Ideals are important, because we were created to move toward goals—but not to be enslaved by them. And it is very sad that our failures, sins, and mistakes are so prevalent, so costly, and demand so much grace and forgiveness from God and from one another. But they are not God’s last word about us.

Real life, real love, real people, and the real God are thrilling, because the reality God creates is always higher and deeper than my ideals—if I can be PATIENT and WAIT for God. That is true right now in this broken age of God’s history with us humans. I can only try to imagine how much more true it will be in God’s age to come, when all of God’s ideals become God’s reality and God’s gift to us humans. I am very glad this future promise, too, will not be bound in any way by my ideals of what it might be like or should be like.

Thank you God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus the Messiah, for not being limited by my ideals! And, thank you Father for allowing me to be a part of this Fellowship that, although it does not meet my ideals nor the ideals of its other members, has far surpassed my ideals in the realities of life and love through knowing you and serving you together.

As always, if you have any thoughts, comments, or questions about this post, or if there is another topic you would like me to explore in a future post, please leave a comment. I always enjoy your questions and thoughts.   / Ron

9 Comments On “What 40 years as a pastor has taught me: Ideals vs. realities (Part I)”

  1. Oh, how this tension between my ideals and what God brings to reality resonates with my life experiences as well. It seems I find it with each and every new circumstance and relationship. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I am so glad you are going to write this series. I look forward to reading more.

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  2. Have you learned anything? I remember sitting with you at a Christian leadership conference in St. Louis more than 35 years ago, when you said to another campus minister, “You have not learned anything until it changes the way you live your life.” It sounds like you have learned something.

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  3. Nice to know you will be blogging! I look forward to reading your thoughts when you are preaching them less often- going to miss that preaching though.
    Waiting and patience… That seems like a great thing to have learned. Valuable in relationships of all sorts, goals of all sorts- spiritual and otherwise.
    It is only through waiting and patience that we learn to go deeper and appreciate things that come only through time and patience. I have learned a lot through the cycles of ups and downs in relationships and struggles in organizations and yes, even my relationship with God.
    That is one of the great things about being older and I love it!

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  4. Thank you Ron for taking the time to do this. Thanks for taking the time of 40 years to help lead NCF. God has certainly used and will continue to use you in great ways.
    Praise God that He uses our broken ideals to mold into His perfect reality.
    It is often so very hard to see through the pain what His perfect reality will become.
    Looking forward to hearing more from you.

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  5. Karyn – I too find the tension between reality and ideals in every new circumstance – in fact, I guess in every circumstance. Thanks for the encouragement.

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  6. Alfred – what a pleasure to hear from you after all of these years. I do not remember saying, “You have not learned anything until it changes your life” 35 years ago. Thank you for remembering and reminding me. A lesson I am still learning! One of the great weaknesses of the academic world I love is the tendency to think that once you said it you have already done it.

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  7. Janet – please keep reminding me that waiting and patience are something I believe in. As someone said to Jesus years ago: “I believe, help my unbelief.” Thanks for the encouragement that growing older has many good sides as well as the tougher ones.

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  8. Greg – yes, the broken molds are gut-wrenching, but they do often turn out to be the new work of art in the “potter’s hand.” As a song I love says, “So Lord, please don’t let me off that wheel.”

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  9. Oh Ron. Your insight and humility are such gifts. In reading this, I considered how many wrecks I have created in my life with my own impatience and arrogance toward that which has not lived up to my ideals. The tenderness with which you survey your own missteps gives me hope. I’m thankful for you and pray that you will continue to share your wisdom long into your much-deserved retirement.

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