From a distance, my lawn looks great. Up close, my lawn looks terrible. Both perspectives are unfair, I think. It is self-serving and lazy to imagine that a quick glance from the street is how best to measure the quality of my work. It is self-defeating and depressing to hover over each blade of grass (or weed, or dead spot) and wonder what I did so horribly wrong as to bring on this tragedy.
Perspective makes all the difference. You’re either a hero or a goat, a genius or an idiot. Both perspectives are true, and both are lies.
Preachers’ work is similar. I have always found it amusing (or annoying, depending on my state of mind at the moment) when preachers in town for the week wax rhapsodic about the good work of the local man — a man whom he has known less than a week, with whom he has spent virtually no quality time at all. I’m all for believing all things, a la 1 Corinthians 13:7. But get some information to believe first.
On the other hand, the local man himself has far too much information. He’s aware of much, perhaps even most, of the local group’s weakness, shallowness, jealousies, and the like. He’s been addressing it all, most likely. And when results disappoint (and to one degree or another, they always disappoint), he wonders what he did wrong.
The reasonable approach, as usual, is to avoid both extremes — have the humility to see areas of potential growth, and have the patience to allow the growth to take place (1 Corinthians 3:7). Pretty good advice for non-preachers as well, come to think of it.