When I was a young leader just starting out, I wanted to conquer the world, and yes I wanted to do it overnight.  A bit of hyperbole here, but a lot of truth as well.  I jumped right in and was eager to make things happen.  I was a producer.  This was not all bad.  I worked hard, a biblical value by the way, and I laid out aggressive plans and goals for ministry.  Like many of us, I learned as I went and I did the best I could to move the ball down the court.  I saw God work in some amazing ways but I also experienced some blows to my ego in the school of hard knocks.  In those early years I learned, as many of us do, some very valuable ministry lessons.

I want to share one of those lessons with you.  I learned that producing is important, but preparing is even more important.  In fact, I learned that preparing is foundational for producing.  This truth should have been evident to me from the beginning since God was speaking it from ages past.

Preach the Word, be prepared in season and out of season, correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience
and careful instruction.   (II Timothy 4:2, NIV)

Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”
(Joshua 3:5, NIV)

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors
and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up . . .
(Ephesians 4:11-12, NIV)

As leaders, God is challenging us to prepare our own lives and the lives of those entrusted to us in our local church.  We all want to be productive in our ministry, and to see God do amazing things, but it begins with a consecrated heart, one that is set aside and ready for His service, a life prepared to be productive.

We live in a culture which propagates the myth of instant satisfaction.  We want results now, and we sometimes buy into the notion that we can produce those results without preparing:  Like the preacher who flies-by-the-seat-of-his-pants on Sunday morning and expects God to show up in some amazing way; like the pastor who expects his fellow elder to be more spiritually mature without taking the time to invest in his life; or like the church leader who wants to transform his church from unhealthy to healthy but fails to take the time to build relational trust.

Gardeners understand this principle.  They understand that if they expect to produce a bountiful crop, they must do the work of preparing.  In fact, most gardeners spend most of their time and energy on tilling soil, spreading fertilizer, watering and pulling weeds.  Although gardeners think about harvesting the crop, they have their hearts and minds in the moment, doing the work of preparing the garden.  It’s not because the harvest is lacking in importance, but because it is ultimately in God’s hands.  What is in our hands is the work of preparing.  When we prepare, we can expect that God will take care of the results.

When it comes to church leadership, where is your focus?  Is it on producing a healthy church, one filled with fully devoted followers of Jesus?  That sounds really good, but if we are not careful this focus on producing could lead us to believe that the results are in our hands.  When leaders start believing they are the producers of fruit they have succumbed to a very subtle lie.  Satan wants us to believe that we possess such power and control over our future.  In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, God reminds us of the truth:  “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow”  (I Corinthians 3:6).  God made it grow.  Production is ultimately in God’s hands.

Where should our focus be?  I believe it should be on preparing the soil.  There’s nothing wrong with wanting a healthy church filled with fully devoted Christ followers.  We all want that.  God wants that.  It should be the deep desire of our heart.  But, only God can do that.  What I can do, is to prepare the way.  As I see it, a church leader is really a modern day John the Baptist who fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:  “A voice of one calling in the desert, prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him” (Matthew 3:3b, NIV).

What does it mean for a church leader to be a preparer?  I believe it means . . .

  • Investing in personal study of God’s Word
  • Investing in prayer, including listening to the gentle whisper of God
  • Investing in sharing the good news with those who are lost
  • Investing in building relational trust, earning the privilege to speak truth (leverage)
  • Investing in casting biblical vision
  • Investing in discipleship of God’s people, teaching and modeling biblical truth
  • Investing in mentoring future leaders for the church
  • Investing in strategic planning, always seeking to align with the plans and purposes of God
  • Investing in developing systems of accountability
  • Investing in teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness
  • Investing in encouraging others in their walk with Christ
  • Investing in holy living and nurturing of godly character
  • And so it goes . . . the work of a preparer

Now, let’s put this in perspective.  I want to be a productive leader.  I want to see the church growing healthy and strong.  I want to see the lost find a Savior.  I want to see believers becoming fully devoted followers of Christ.  But, I have come to learn that the best way to be productive is to be a really good preparer and then to trust God for the harvest.  Learning this lesson has brought great joy to my ministry!