Potential vs. Actuality

Recently I was visiting a pastor of a church in the Deep South, a church most people would call a “legacy church.” The church has a long and distinguished history, although in recent years it has experienced decline and seen significant pastor and staff turnover.

The new pastor leaned over to me as I was getting ready to speak and said in a very excited voice, “This church has so much potential.”

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard that phrase over the years.

As kindly as I could, I said to him, “Young pastor, I love to hear that kind of enthusiasm as you begin a ministry. I really do. However, you need to remember that potential is potential for a reason. There are reasons why potential is not actuality.”

When I got up to preach, I recounted the conversation I had just had with their young preacher. I told the congregation that they were the ones who must answer that question. Why has that which needs to be done been left undone? Given their heritage, why is their potential not reality or actuality? What do we hold on to that keeps us from doing what we need to do?

This question is an important one for every church. Every church gets tied up in some kind of tradition or practice that might have worked at some point in time but is now an impediment to future victory, success, and growth.

I spend a great deal of time working with churches that need assistance. I spend my weekends preaching in numerous churches and am currently serving my fifth interim pastorate since coming to my current role as president of the SBC Executive Committee.

Almost every church loves to talk about their great potential. While some churches may have more potential than others, and that is a good thing to recognize and analyze, we all must look and see why we are where we are.

In Ephesians 4, Paul the Apostle gives direction and admonition regarding the work of the church. He names some church leadership roles in Ephesians 4:11, followed immediately by the purpose for leadership: for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness (Ephesians 4:12–13). To grow into maturity as measured by Christ’s fullness is a lofty goal for every church. However, it is the role of every pastor to lead the church to that unity, knowledge, and maturity about which Paul speaks.

This same question of potential vs. actuality not only must be asked of a church, but also must be asked of each individual. Why have we not grown to where we need to grow? Why have we not reached that mature stature—as measured by Christ—about which Paul speaks in Ephesians 4? What strongholds have we allowed to enter our lives? What habits, sins, and problems have we allowed to fester and stay in our lives?

Paul notes that when we reach such maturity, We will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit (Ephesians 4:14). He concludes this short section with an admonition: Let us grow in every way into Him who is the head—Christ (Ephesians 4:15).

I pray that we will take a moment and review God’s call upon our lives as followers of Christ. May this be a day of realizing actuality and not just talking about potential!

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