Our faith can often see possibilities, but sometimes our belief systems create obstacles. These limiting beliefs will keep a church from growing and maturing. Nothing will frustrate a pastor more than a church that keeps hurting itself. Here are six subtle beliefs that can hurt a church and frustrate its pastor.
“We know what’s best”
Many small churches, especially in urban and rural areas, operate within closed cultures. Either they keep people out, or other people keep them from getting out. Many rural communities don’t want outsiders to ruin their peaceful community. So, outsiders either have to adapt or they will be excluded. Some urban communities are limited by poverty, and the surrounding communities will do everything they can to keep those poor communities contained. When communities become isolated, they become closed to new ideas. The same thing can happen in a church.
When a church becomes fearful of the surrounding culture, they isolate themselves to protect their “purity.” This leads to a church that becomes time-locked from its community. They think they know what’s best for people, but their ideas and strategies are ten, twenty, and maybe even fifty years old. They may have sound doctrine, but they surrendered their ability to communicate effectively in modern culture. These churches are trapped by tradition.
For example, event-based evangelism isn’t as effective as it was sixty years ago. In a culture where many (if not most) people have never read a Bible or have never been to church, evangelism is more effective if it happens organically – through relationship. Many churches still don’t recognize this cultural change. They think that if they were saved at a revival meeting, a VBS program, or a youth retreat, then that should be an effective strategy today. To be fair, these strategies can still work, but they aren’t as effective as they were when nearly everyone had some biblical knowledge. Today, there’s an element of discipleship that has to happen before people are ready to hear the gospel. American culture is much more like what the early church faced than what evangelists from the Great Awakening to Billy Graham encountered. A church that wants to grow needs to have the humility to learn about its community.
“We don’t need a mission”
Some churches (and pastors) think that the Great Commission is all the mission they need. To be fair, Matthew 28:19-20 is the basic mission of the church:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
However, when we look at how that mission was implemented in the early church, we find differences between Peter, Paul, James, and Barnabas. Not differences in doctrine; differences in practice based on the culture they were ministering in. Does your church have a clear understanding of what a disciple of Jesus looks like, or is it just assumed? Do you have a process for when a person should be baptized and how baptism fits into the life of the church? Can the people in your church clearly explain what Jesus has commanded and how to do it? How you answer these questions and your process for doing this work in your context will be different from church to church. Therefore, each church needs a clearly defined mission.
A church that says “We don’t need a mission” is aiming at nothing. When you aim at nothing, that’s exactly what you get – nothing. A pastor who is trying to make disciples of Jesus will be frustrated by the church’s resistance to clarity in their mission.
“We’re too small”
In a culture that values bigger as if it were better, a small church can very easily develop an inferiority complex. When we look at ourselves and our abilities, we should be fearful – we’re not that great. However, when we look to God and his abilities, we begin to see the possibilities produced by faith. We can be like the spies who went into Canaan and said, “We seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers.” Or we can be like little David, who saw a giant and said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” The excuse “we’re too small” doesn’t work when you are doing the will of a majestic, sovereign God.
This doesn’t mean that we need to act like a big church. Instead, it means that we need to depend more on our big God. If our thoughts are that we are too small, then we need to focus on God until he fills our hearts with his greatness. We then must humbly submit to our great God and ask his direction for our church. Doing ministry in our own strength will eventually fail – no matter what size the church. Following God’s leading will always bring us to where God want’s us to be. Quiet trust in God silences the shouts of our fears.
Do you want to encourage your pastor? Tell him, “It doesn’t matter how small our church is, we serve a big God.” Then demonstrate that faith by seeking God together.
“There’s not enough money”
This is really the same limiting belief as “we’re too small.” Jesus told Peter he would find a coin in the mouth of a fish. A poverty mind-set is no way for a child of the King to live. If we are doing his will and following his command, he will provide in his time. Maybe the real problem is that we are trying to do the wrong things, or we’ve spent the money that God provided for mission on foolish pursuits. Maybe it’s not that there’s not enough money; maybe there’s not enough repentance. We would be wise to meditate on Luke 15 to see both the riches and forgiveness of our God.
“There’s not enough money” usually means we are doing the wrong things or spending money in the wrong ways.
“We don’t have enough people”
I’m sure Gideon felt like he didn’t have enough people to defeat Midian, but he followed God anyway. When God calls us to do something, he doesn’t really need us at all. He can accomplish all his will without our help. When God calls us to follow, he is giving us the honor of being used by him to accomplish his purposes.
When we say, “We don’t have enough people,” what are we really saying? Are we saying that we don’t trust God? Maybe we are scared and looking for some excuse to avoid the difficulty of the task or perhaps we are seeing with wisdom and realizing this is not something God has called us to do. Take some time and honestly evaluate which is true.
If we have rightly discerned God’s will, then the belief that we don’t have enough people is a call to either recruit more people or trust God more.
“I’m not gifted for that”
Spiritual gifts are an amazing work of the Holy Spirit. When someone is using their gifts, it’s a beautiful thing to behold. However, we don’t have to be gifted in everything that God calls us to. For example, God has gifted some as evangelists, but he has called all Christians to evangelize or speak the good news of Jesus. Some gifts are developed over time. First they are obedient stumblings. Then they become skills we have developed. Finally, we begin to see them as genuine gifts of the Holy Spirit. In this case, obedience precedes the gift.
Sometimes people who don’t believe they are gifted are simply unaware of their gifting. I never thought I was a good public speaker until someone told me that I had the gift of teaching. Through some trial and testing, I found that I was a better-than-average speaker and I actually did have the gift of teaching. But I needed to hear it from someone else first. Imagine how much joy in Christ I would have missed if I had stuck to my initial belief “I’m not gifted for that.” Now, I find great joy in helping people follow Jesus through teaching. It’s what I love to do most.
What limiting beliefs are keeping you or your church from truly following God? How do these beliefs work against your pastor’s call to help you grow into maturity in Christ (Ephesians 4:11-14)? Use the questions below to help you discover your limiting beliefs:
- When I think of God’s commands from Scripture, what causes me to fear?
- What excuses am I using? How do these show a lack of faith in God?
- What frustrates me about my church’s culture? How does my pastor answer this question?
- How have I isolated myself from those who need Jesus?
- What parts of my church’s mission are unclear to me?
- Who do I need to invite into the mission of the church?
- What gifts or talents do others see in me?
- What unused gifts or talents do I see in others?
Talk over these questions with one or two mature believers and decide how your faith in God will impact your church.