There are two words that have been the most common path to mediocrity. I’ll get to those two words in a moment. In reality, I doubt if any of us want to be mediocre. I always want to be above average. After all, being undistinguished, unexceptional, unremarkable, run-of-the-mill, lackluster and barely adequate is not at the top of my “To Do” or “To Be” list.

Here’s what I’ve noticed. The two most common words that lead to mediocrity — “Be realistic.” I’ve heard those words on the tip of the tongue of many parents, teachers, pastors, politicians and business owners. Be realistic. In other words, look at your circumstances. Remember your past failures. Think about what you don’t have. Stare at the obstacles. Make sure you focus on all the things that could go wrong. Those are the stepping stones to mediocre living.

I well-remember times when those two words, “be realistic,” were spoken to me. The most memorable time was about 1989. I had launched Cape Christian two years before. We had been looking all over the city of Cape Coral to find a parcel of land for building a future church campus. Too expensive, poor location, not large enough, and additional reasons squelched our enthusiasm for most of the sites we examined. But then there was this very crazy idea. An audacious option. Some said it was impossible. Others reminded me it had never been done before. Most politely said, “be realistic.”

Our leadership team bought into the idea of assembling 48 individually owned properties, three city blocks of vacant properties on a major thoroughfare near a planned yet-to-be-built cross-town limited-access expressway that would connect our entire region. An amazing opportunity! A top-tier property!

But the challenge was immense. These 48 owners lived in Germany, three Canadian provinces and twenty some states. One of the four-dozen landowners was preparing to build a house on his vacant lot. Contact with other owners included responses like, “I will never sell to a church—over my dead body.” “No way. Ever. I’ll build a fence around my land and throw my beer cans on the church property.” While the city officials said they would vacate the streets and right-a-ways in between the blocks and give us that land if we owned all of the properties on each side of the street the entire length of the block, they reminded us to “be realistic.”

Other pastors in town questioned why we would attempt something so difficult. They told me about larger parcels in obscure places for a great price that were owned by motivated sellers. Some made snide comments about the fact that we were trying to buy 14 acres when the minimum the city required was three acres and the average was five. After all, we should be realistic. The attendance at that time was approaching 100. Half the churches in America are less than 75 in worship attendance. 90% are under 350. Why isn’t one block of four to five acres enough? Surely, two city blocks or 9 acres should be plenty? Really, three blocks, a total of 14 acres? Why not be realistic?

And then, we were purchasing the properties, one by one, piece by piece. But what we thought might take four to five years, was now seven years, eight years. What if some one demands an exorbitant price for a necessary piece? Someone in the middle might hold out and not sell to the church. The streets couldn’t be vacated.  The plan will be ruined.

Well, there is not space here. But there are really 48 God stories that could be told. Amazing stories of turn-around, mind and heart transformation. Resistant land-owners dying and their families imploring us to buy their land. Water-front properties donated to the church that were used as trades. It took from 1989 to 1999 to get the 48th piece. But it became such a God-inspired unrealistic journey that we were frequently in jaw-dropping awe along the way.

Here’s the truth. “Be realistic” isn’t God’s language. That’s self-talk. That’s the talk of family, friends and strangers. Jesus said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27).

And now the decades have brought Cape Christian to an incredible ministry to thousands of families in Cape Coral. Twenty-five hundred people attend multiple worship services each week. Five of the fourteen acres is comprised of Tony & Ada’s Café and Fellowship Park with its fun-filled playgrounds, a splash pad, basketball courts, pavilions, a play field and more for thousands of families of the community to enjoy every day of the year. Our campus is a community hub of daily life-giving ministry for youth, grieving children, addicted adults, preschool children and much more. When I walk across the campus and see what God is doing, I cringe to think what today would be like if I would have followed those often-repeated words, “be realistic.”

 

QUESTION: Name a time when you refused to listen to the words, “be realistic.” Or, share a time you did listen to those words and you now regret it.  I’d love to hear your brief story below in the comment section.

 

 

11 responses to The Well-Worn Path to Mediocrity

  1. Charmé on July 26, 2017 at 4:05 PM Reply

    Realistic…good intentions. I tend to be more of a go-for-it kind of gal…with much prayer! But now I’m trying to make a decision on a camera. I know this is off the subject, but I know that you take beautiful photos. Any suggestions for an almost 60 year-old grandma, who loves taking pics of her grands, and could possibly foresee taking up the hobby of still-life photo in the time-off for simply enjoying the beauty of life. I’ve been looking at the Canon Rebel (basic beginners). Would appreciate any advice you could offer. Thanks,

  2. Al C on July 25, 2017 at 1:16 PM Reply

    Several years ago we gave our daughter and son-in-law (a pastor) a set of Dave Ramsey FPU CD’s for Christmas. They were not happy or partnering well in their finances at that time, although both were working with good jobs and were tithing at their church. Had student (his) and car loans, etc. They lived in Washington, D.C, and on the way home from Illinois they listened to all 9 CD’s. They got excited about what could happen (not being financially mediocre any more). Well, in 7 months, they agreed on and were using a budget, were completely out of debt, had downsized to one car, and on the road to substantial savings. And best of all, they quit arguing about money! Since then they have made real progress and are much more secure and relaxed. Amazing what can happen when both marriage partners pull together. (I think God was pulling with them).

  3. Ellen Eagle on July 21, 2017 at 5:18 PM Reply

    How honored I am to have been a part of the earlier years when properties were purchased. It was a time of prayer, giving and Fellowship. I am blessed to see the fruition of “Pressing on” inspite of what others said. Thank you for the reminder of God’s plans being bigger than mine.
    Hugs and blessings to all who labored in making CCF what it is today. Love you guys!

  4. John Verburg on July 20, 2017 at 10:10 AM Reply

    Well said Dennis. I don’t know if I’ve ever said this phrase, but I’m sure I may have thought it. Thanks for the inspiration.

  5. Debbie Long on July 20, 2017 at 8:47 AM Reply

    Delight yourself in the Lord and he wil give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way unto Him and He will bring it to
    Pass.
    You did just that. I also have a theory; He puts the dreams in your heart and He shows up big and brings it to pass. Yeah God

  6. Patricia Serio on July 20, 2017 at 7:21 AM Reply

    I remember my own mother telling me those words when I mentioned that I wanted to be an artist when I grow up. At the time, I was becoming a C average. I didn’t go to college until I was about 22 years old, but I did eventually graduate with a 3.8 average in commercial art. Now, more than 23 years later, I am still working in my career field as a graphic designer and have also been able to do some of my dreams and desires with in my career. One being the ability to work from home, which I have been doing for the past four years. Thanks to God!

    • Dennis Gingerich on July 20, 2017 at 2:44 PM Reply

      Great that you broke through that barrier others created for you!

  7. robinvdb on July 20, 2017 at 6:26 AM Reply

    So glad God put you two, Tony & Ada and the Troyers on this task! He knew what he was doing and blessed you for being obedient under tremendous odds. Sounds like this could be a story in His Word huh? Awesome

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