Practicing Pastoral Patience

April 16, 2019 • Adam Wyatt

The book of Nehemiah gives great practical insights for pastors, especially those who find themselves in a revitalization effort.  After Nehemiah found out that Jerusalem’s gates had been destroyed, he immediately began a season of prayerful planning that eventually led him to be able to go back home in order to help lead the rebuilding efforts in the city.  In the same way, pastors need to have a passion to help lead their flock to rebuild the church.

Nehemiah is a great example of how to do both two things: pray and plan.  Both are needed if a pastor is going to lead change in a church.  He prayed. He planned.  Pastors must do both.  If we are honest, we generally do one at the other’s expense.

While praying and planning are needed, Nehemiah also gives us another great characteristic for a pastor in a revitalization effort: patience.  In church revitalization, things generally need to change; that is the entire point! Scholar Derek Kidner once said “Sometimes it takes a stranger to see sharply what has been softened by familiarity.” As a pastor begins to lead a church toward revitalization, you must seek to change and shape the church culture but you must do so with patience.

Everything in a church cannot be changed overnight; so be mindful that a church did not decline or platueau overnight.  Understanding this helps us understand that in order to lead in change, we must lead with tactical patience.  I define “tactical patience” as a pastor who knows when to act and, maybe more importantly, knows when to let things go.  A pastor with tactical patience is somehow who knows that everything is not worth fighting for.  

Nehemiah waited at least 3-4 months while praying and planning the beginning stages of his ministry (Nehemiah 1). So he prayerfully planned what he needed to do. But it took him 3-4 months before he was presented with an opportunity to ask the king is he could go back and rebuild the city.  Additionally, he spends roughly 10 years in Jerusalem doing the work. Nehemiah was committed to the long-haul of ministry. In other words, Nehemiah practiced pastoral patience.  Most pastors tend to overestimate what we can do in the short-term and underestimate what we can do in the long-term.  

If we are to fully engage in church revitalization and do so effectively, we must be patient. Continue praying; continue planning; but be patient.

If we see church revitalization as a long-term commitment and endeavor, we will be better able to see the value of our work through the lens of patience. Replanter, be patient. As the legendary coach John Wooden said once, “Be quick, but don’t hurry.”

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