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.