Never pray for patience. This bit of wisdom is advice I have heard (and given) many times. Why not ask God for patience? The logic is that growing in patience usually requires the experience of challenging circumstances. But I’ve come to believe that never praying for patience is terrible advice. Patience is a fruit of the Spirit, so it seems to be an essential character trait of any follower of Jesus. Patience is not only necessary for spiritual leaders, but it is also helpful to prevent you from burning out.
Ministry is about people. Thank you for the brilliant observation, Captain Obvious. However, many leaders will feel that if they organize the right activities or create the best online content, they have done ministry. Your content and programs may be good, but they are only a means to an end. The end goal is always for people to be rescued by and conformed to the image of Jesus. The entire journey of discipleship is about patience.
In Exodus 34, we learn that God is slow to anger and abounding in love. Think about the story of your own life and how far away you still are from being the man God wants you to be. Remember the depth of God’s love for you and how patient he has been with you. Patience and love work together to do the work of ministry in a person’s life.
The work of discipleship requires a change in a person’s life. Change always takes time. Science will tell you it takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit and an average of 66 days for a new behaviour to become automatic. If you are connecting with someone once a week or even once a month – think about the patience it will take to create even one new change in that person’s life. Now think about the dozens or hundreds of ways we all still need to be changed to become more like Jesus. Ministry is more like cooking food in a crock pot than throwing popcorn in the microwave.
Patience does not abdicate responsibility. Instead, it takes the long view of any effort. For example, one man recently shared his desire to build strong friendships with other men. He organized a dinner and time to hang out with about ten men. Everyone had a great time and mentioned how they wanted to do it again. But then nobody reached out or took any initiative to plan something. He was discouraged by what seemed to be their lack of interest. After several months, he reached out again to plan another dinner and each man enthusiastically agreed to get together again. Discouragement will try to get you to quit your efforts. Patience calls you to keep going.
Patience is not only a gift to the men you are trying to lead – it is also a gift to yourself. In ministry, there are so many moments where you would want things to move faster. You get discouraged because of how few men attend your programs or take their faith seriously. Sometimes you mentor a man who only connects with you once, but you know he has much more work to do. Patience is a gift for your soul. It says success in ministry is not defined by the reality of the moment but by faithfulness over the long haul.
So pray for patience. And thank God for every circumstance that is shaping it in you. By giving you patience, Jesus sets you free to be at peace in your soul and leadership.