First of all, give up the fantasy that there is a perfect church somewhere else. When unhappiness sets in, people often live with the fantasy that it will be better “over there” or “down the road.” They think, “If I only attended that church…. served under that pastor… or had that budget… then I would really be happy at church again.” The truth is, all churches have inherent flaws within them. So get over the illusion of greener pastures. That place does not exist.
Second, serve in your area of responsibility in such a way that leaves the church better than you found it. For instance, maybe you are a small group leader, a youth worker, or even a staff member, but you feel “boxed in.” Maybe you feel stifled, or something. I would challenge you that it is not your responsibility to push the pastor or the elders to go in a direction that suits your gifts and preferences. Instead, use your gifts and talents to help the church fulfill the mission that the overseers have already established.
The day may come when God leads you to another church to serve in, but in the meantime make your present church better. Don’t destroy it and don’t tear it down simply because of your own inner dissatisfaction. And when the time comes to depart, leave it better than you found it. By serving this way, you will be helping the church and advancing God’s kingdom. It also honors God when you serve with a cooperative spirit.
Third, practice the “one thing” principle. Let’s suppose the church you attend is not passionate about the same things you are. Maybe you love evangelism or discipleship but the church is weak in those areas. Maybe the teaching is dry and the doctrine not deep. Whatever it is that “rings your bell” the church is not ringing it, and your bell hasn’t rung in a long, long time. If this describes you, you can practice the “one thing” principle. The “one thing” principle states that “there is always one thing I can learn anytime somebody opens God’s Word.” This means you can hear a really bad sermon, but still walk away with “one thing” that rings true. You can listen to a dry and dusty lesson in a Bible class and still apply “one truth” that can be life-changing for you. Your church services may be as dry as chips, but there is always “one thing” that is God-honoring that takes place. You get the idea. Practice this principle and you will discover God speaking to you every single time you gather at that place. You see, it’s more about the condition of your heart (i.e., the anticipation of receiving) than it is about the environment measuring up to your expectations.
Fourth, finish well. The way you finish one season of ministry is going to have a big effect on how successful your next season of ministry will be. How you end one season will determine how you enter the next; so you need to finish well.
I was on staff at a church in Pensacola early in my ministry. I served as an associate pastor and my responsibilities included preaching, youth and the bus ministry. The people in that church really loved me and were very gracious. But then this church entered a difficult season. There was discontent. There was tension between a group of people and the senior pastor. A fight was brewing and you could sense the build up. Then people started telling me “how great I was” and “how much better I could preach than the pastor.” Others were inviting me out to dinner. Stuff like that. I could see what was happening. These little pockets of gossip were gathering together, like bugs being drawn to a light bulb, and I was being manipulated to join. It was sneaky, underhanded, and deceitful. I had no part of it. I told them no. I did not go to their meetings. And when they gushed over me about how great I was, I told every single one of them that I was absolutely loyal to the pastor (even though this man was very imperfect). What they were doing was wrong, and there was no way God could possibly bless their efforts. Plus I didn’t want my ministry there to end that way.
If you every find yourself in that kind of temptation, don’t get involved; don’t go to those meetings; don’t go to those lunches; and don’t go to those small groups. It is not the right way to end your ministry, and if you end that way you will mess up your future.
Refusing myself to be drawn into the discontent, and handling it in an honorable manner, turned out to be one of the most vital lessons I have ever learned in the ministry and church life. I also believe it to be a key reason God has blessed my time in the ministry over the years.
Fifth, keep a secret playbook. Keep a journal and write down every ministry idea that you would like to implement yourself one day. Let’s suppose you see something in the church you don’t like, and you think to yourself, “If I was in charge I wouldn’t do it this way, I would do it another way.” Instead of undermining those in leadership, write your ideas down in your secret playbook. Create a file and gather material. Put them in a 3 ring binder. Keep all this between yourself and God. Let the ideas accumulate. Allow them to percolate for a couple of years. And maybe one day, if God ever allows you to be the overseer of a church a department head, or lead a ministry yourself, you will be able to implement the ideas you’ve recorded in your journal.
I spent years doing this, serving under others, learning along the way, and it is how I prepared myself to become a church planter.