Soul Work Is Slow Work

By Jim Tune

Paul Sparks, a cofounder of the Parish Collective, likes to refer to the reverse Prayer of Jabez. I find his twist on things refreshing:

Shrink our territory,
And narrow our boundaries
That we might truly be a blessing to all.

Yeah. Like that would be a best seller or catalyze a 40-day program for the typical Evangelical church. Most preachers and church planters struggle with impatience. We have goals to achieve, targets to hit. Wherever we are, it seems, we are itching to leave. Here and now is never enough. We want to get to some imagined “there” and we want it to happen soon. We fall victim to the impatient mind-set of wanting to do big things famously and immediately.

Mar9_JT_JNHoward Schultz thought he had a great business idea, but everywhere he went he kept running into roadblocks. He approached nearly 250 people in an effort to raise the $1 million he thought he would need to begin expanding Starbucks. People told him he was lazy, a dreamer. He just needed to give up and “get a job.” His closest friends advised him to abandon his “pipe dream.” Today Schultz is CEO of Starbucks, and his pipe dream has grown to more than 23,000 outlets in 70 countries.

Starbucks is one of the most admired companies in the world, according to annual surveys by Fortune magazine. Schultz made multimillionaires out of the people who had faith in his early vision. But this was no overnight sensation. In reality, Schultz began working on the concept in 1982, the year he joined Starbucks. After leaving Starbucks, starting a different coffee company, then acquiring Starbucks in 1987, Shultz began implementing that vision. Still, Starbucks didn’t open its first location outside the United States until 1996 (in Japan), and it took a few more years for Starbucks to become a permanent marketplace presence.

Eugene Peterson, writing for Christianity Today, insists, “I think the besetting sin of pastors, maybe especially evangelical pastors, is impatience. We have a goal. We have a mission. We’re going to save the world. . . . All the goals are right. But this is slow, slow work, this soul work . . . and we get impatient and start taking shortcuts.”

Of the companies on the Fortune 500 list in 1980, more than one-third disappeared over the next 13 years. The average life span of a multinational company is now just 40 to 50 years. Many church plants fail to reach their fifth anniversary. Building something good or great takes time. In my own desire to grow large quickly, I encountered the temptation to see the people in our plant as a product to mobilize instead of a congregation to do life with.

Nothing lasts forever, and great churches are not created in months or even years. An Italian proverb says, “He that has no patience has nothing at all.” Wise words for those who would build something great for God.

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  1. March 9, 2016 at 11:38 am

    Rome was not built in a day and neither is the church. Let patience have her perfect work. Good thoughts, Jim!

  2. Carl Lipke
    March 9, 2016 at 7:56 pm

    Spot on, my friend. 3 1/2 years into our Canadian church plant, now — I still often wish I never would have read an “American model” book for church planting. Canada fits nowhere into that box. You have no choice but to be on the slow, slow, soul work plan…. Finally coming to peace (and grips) with this . . . it’s not been easy!

  3. Cheryl Morris
    March 10, 2016 at 4:23 pm

    A great reminder for those planting churches – Canadian church planters need staying power and patience.

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