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If you think everything in your ministry will go exactly as you plan—with no problems, no delays, no disappointments—you probably should check yourself into a hospital and have a psych exam. Ha!

Life is full of problems and ministry is no exception! There's no way to avoid problems; you have to learn to expect disappointments, delays, and even some disasters.

Now, there's nothing wrong with plans; plans are good. The Bible says we ought to plan because plans help lead you in the right direction. But things rarely go perfectly as planned, so if you expect that they always will, you're setting yourself up for big disappointment.

The way to avoid disappointment is to plan for realistic buffers. Say you're headed across town; you think to yourself, "It's going to take me 15 minutes if traffic is great," and that's all the time you allow. But there may be traffic. You may have a flat tire. You may run out of gas. You may forget something and have to go back.

I think that's why certain people keep showing up late to church—for ten years straight—there's no margin in their lives. They think, "It's only 15 minutes from my house to the church property." But once they get to church, it takes another ten minutes to get into the building. And what if they stop to get a donut?

The fact that they're consistently late week after week means there's no margin in their lives.

In John 16:33, Jesus told us to expect problems. He said, "In the world you will have trouble." (NAB) Notice he doesn't say, "You MIGHT have trouble." He doesn't say, "You COULD have trouble." He says, "You WILL have trouble." So why are we surprised when trouble comes along?

We assume that everything's going to go right. Listen, I struggle with this too; I'm a naturally optimistic person. I don't think about how things could go wrong and that's why I need people around me to say, "But what about this," or "What about that?"

They need to think like that for me because I simply don't think that way. I'm always saying, "It's all going to work out great; it's going to be fine. What problem?" So I'm learning to expect the unexpected. It's good to hope for the best but plan for the worst.

Vacation Time
I remember a few years ago—in one of my wife's weaker moments—I convinced her to go on a vacation without any planning. "Let's just put the kids in the car and head off!" She looked at me and asked, "Where are we going to go?"

I told her I didn't know, but we'd find out together. It would be an adventure. We'd just jump in the car and head off on a vacation.

She said, "Why in the world would you want to do that?" I said, "Because my entire life is planned. As a pastor, almost every minute of my day is planned. I need a vacation from planning. I need to just do something that's totally unplanned."

It sounded like a logical idea. Actually, it sounded like a really good idea! We put the kids in our van, and we headed out across the desert having no idea at all where we were going. Kay refers to this as our pinball vacation.

The first night we arrived in Durango, Colorado, and slept in the car because there were no motels open in the whole city. Every single hotel and motel were filled. So we slept in the car.

The second night we got to Denver, Colorado, and found that there wasn't a single motel room open in Denver. How was I to know the annual rodeo was in town? Every room in the entire city of Denver had been booked for weeks and weeks. So we slept in the car again.

The third night we found ourselves in the No Tell Roach Motel in Dumptyville, Utah. This place was run by a gas station. The motel rooms were trailers. Really! They were actual, battered, beaten-down trailers. The one we got had a screen door on it that was hanging on one hinge with the screen punched out so mosquitoes could come through. There were little roaches crawling across the ceiling. We decided to get back in the car.

It went like this until the last night on our last stop toward home. I can remember sitting in Las Vegas in a loud, smoky lounge at one in the morning waiting for someone to check out so we could get in a room.

Was that a fun vacation?

The Bible tells us that thinking ahead is the mark of wisdom. "A prudent person perceives difficulties ahead and takes precautions; the simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences" (Prov. 22:3 NLT)

Now, why didn't I see that verse before our vacation?!

So plan for what you can, but also, don't be surprised or alarmed when complications pop up. God often uses those challenges, disappointments, delays and problems to make us more Christ-like, or to re-direct our focus.

This article is used by permission from
Rick Warren's Ministry ToolBox by Rick Warren.
More information available at

Author Biography

Rick Warren
Web site:
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. Beginning with just his wife, Kay, in 1980, the congregation now averages 22,000 attendees at its 5 weekend services.

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