Pastor, What Are Your 30-Year Goals?
In my early years of pastoring, I remember reading books and articles on pastoral ministry and leadership that emphasized the importance of vision and mission and 1-year goals and 5-year goals. Those may have their place. But what if real results and fruitfulness are not short-term, immediate results, but long-term? What if the real harvest is tested in generational faithfulness? What about 30-year goals for a church?
I first came to my church as a seminary student and intern in 1999. The church had recently been through some very difficult years. The congregation was small, discouraged, and spiritually depressed, many families barely hanging on. As usual for interns, one of my first tasks was working with the youth group. We saw a few conversions. God is good; the word is powerful; God saves people in dark circumstances. But most of that generation of youth, whose families had gone through the difficulties, were lost and are not walking with the Lord at all today. The problems could be traced back years earlier. During the times of difficulty, there had been very little discipleship for families, little encouragement, little fellowship. The leadership had been distracted by the conflicts. The children growing up in that environment didn’t see much power or reality to the Gospel in their parents or in the church, and so they rejected it. Sometimes the consequences take years to manifest.
Turning around the culture of a church takes time. It requires planting, watering, growing, pruning, replanting, re-watering. Some of your seeds don’t grow; some parts of your crop become blighted and are lost. You see good seasons and hard seasons. You seek to expand your fields and your harvest, with each harvest building off the one before, building momentum.
Over the years, we finally started to see some major changes. To use our youth again as an example: in the last few years, we have seen a real work of God in this generation of youth in our church. Many have professed faith. There is a spiritual hunger among them. They’re excited about worship, about Bible study. The peer pressure in the group is to have a real relationship with Christ. Obviously, that is a work of the Spirit. But God also uses means. And the fruit can be traced back again years before: with families building godly habits of devotion early, with healthy discipleship and church life, spirituality in the home, healthy relationships in the church, putting a priority on the church and the means of grace. So we have young people coming from godly homes, who are well-taught, who are professing faith, who are becoming influencers and not followers. And they are attracting other kids looking for more serious spirituality. And now even kids from outside the church, even from unbelieving backgrounds, are seeing something attractive, are seeing the Gospel at work, and so further seeds are being planted. It’s feeding into the life of the church, as the young people start to have a vision for service, for staying and blessing the church.
As pastors, we’re often not aware of the long-term effects of health or dysfunction. We don’t anticipate how current problems (failures and distractions in leadership) can have lasting effects down the road. We also don’t anticipate how current faithfulness bears fruit for the future, and sometimes the real multiplying harvest takes time. But the Bible promises a general expectation of fruitfulness that can be expected from long-term faithfulness, discipleship, and health (Gal. 6:7-9).
In Matthew 13:31-33, Jesus tells the parables of the Mustard Seed and the Leaven. Both parables emphasize the amazing effects of something that starts out small. Jesus uses the parables to encourage his disciples, who were tempted to be disappointed with the harvest they were seeing, with the relative smallness of the response to the Gospel, the relative weakness of the kingdom in comparison with the world. Jesus and his band of followers did not look very powerful. But apparent smallness doesn't always predict the result. Sometimes small things lead to dramatic results. But you also have to give it time.
In ministry, it’s very easy to overestimate what can happen in the short-term and underestimate what can happen in the long-term. You make your 5-year goals. Maybe those goals are disappointed; maybe they’re met. But maybe the real test of fruitfulness (the fruit that remains) is yet to come. Maybe it’s measured in compounding harvests. The ministry you’re doing right now may have its real effect 10 years from now, even 20 years from now. The fruit you’re seeing right now may have been planted 10 years ago.
So our vision for ministry needs to be broader and longer. What should be your 30-year goals for your church? You want to see long-term faithfulness to the Gospel over multiple generations. Unfortunately, I know of only a few churches that have seen that kind of faithfulness and fruitfulness over multiple decades, churches where three generations of a family are in the same church and faithful to the Lord. But those churches do seem to have an outsized and longer-term impact. And that’s certainly what I want for my church. Ultimately, it’s in God’s hands, but he’s entrusted to me so to pray and so to labor.
What if you only have a few years left in ministry? Should you still be thinking about long-term goals? Yes! Absolutely! You don’t want to just focus on expediency, but plan for the long-term. Don’t be Hezekiah, saying, At least “there will be peace and security in my days” (2 Kings 20:19). Don’t quit repenting and hoping and praying. They are even more necessary. We are called to labor by faith, to put our hands to the plow and not look back, to believe our labor in the Lord is not in vain (Luke 9:62; 1 Cor. 15:58). Ministry requires the eyes of faith for God’s timetable, looking not to what is seen, but what is unseen. And so we go on planting, watering, growing, pruning, and trusting.
Matt Foreman is the pastor of Faith Reformed Baptist Church in Media, PA. Matt is a graduate of Furman University and Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He previously served as the Founding Chairman of the Reformed Baptist Network, is the secretary for the RBN Missions Committee, and is a lecturer in Practical Theology at Reformed Baptist Seminary. Matt also writes music for worship; some of which can be found at ekklesiahymns.org.
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