We want numbers to verify our successes.
There are two huge problems with that sentence – and they’re found in the words numbers and our.
First, not all successes have numbers to verify them.
Second, the successes of the church are not our successes.
We need to start getting comfortable, in the first instance, with Success Without Numbers and in the the second instance, with Success That’s Not Ours.
(This post is an excerpt from my book, The Grasshopper Myth: Chapter 11 – A New Way to Define Success)
Success Without Numbers
For years I was told and believed this premise of the church growth movement: that, just like the fruit of a healthy tree is other trees, the fruit of a healthy church is other churches. I believed it because it’s the truth. Unfortunately it’s not the whole truth.
Half the fruit of a healthy tree is another tree. The other half of the fruit of a healthy tree is, not surprisingly, fruit. Not all seeds are destined for the numerical growth of other trees. Most aren’t. Most seeds get eaten with the fruit while it’s offering its life-sustaining energy for the benefit of others. It gets consumed, not planted.
Sorry, all my seed-faith friends, you do need to eat some of your seed.
It’s easy to calculate the value of healthy seeds that plant other trees because you can count those new trees. It’s much harder to calculate the value of the healthful fruit that is eaten by the farmer’s family. But that use of fruit is just as valuable.
It could even be argued that the eating of healthful fruit is the ultimate goal of the seed, rather than the planting of other healthy trees. After all, if all the seeds are being planted but none of the fruit is being eaten, what are we planting the trees for?
Both uses of the fruit and seeds are valuable. But, unlike the tree-producing-a-tree-metaphor, the tree-producing-fruit metaphor is in the Bible.
Jesus never said anything about trees needing to produce other trees. What he did say was, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:19)
Also, when Jesus cursed the fig tree, he didn’t do so because he wanted to get seeds from it to plant other trees. He got angry because he was hungry and it was offering him nothing to eat.
Not every church is called to formally plant other churches. Their main job is to feed the flock – just like Jesus told Peter to do. That is success. And it is truly immeasurable – in both senses of that word.
Success That’s Not Ours
There’s an old saying that goes, “there’s no limit to what a person can do if they don’t care who gets the credit.”
Close, but not quite true.
Certainly it would be great if we could all remove our egos from the equation, which is what the quote is all about. But more accurately, and more biblically, there is one way in which it matters who gets the credit.
We need to be sure all the credit goes to Jesus.
One more time I refer you to the most important church growth verse in the Bible. Jesus said, “I will build my church.” (Matthew 16:18). Again, there are two key words in that quote. “I” and “my”.
As we’ve already talked about, these two words tell us it’s Christ’s church, not ours, so he gets the credit for building it.
When Jesus gets the credit, I should be just as thrilled when my efforts put someone into a healthy church down the street or around the world as I am when they come to the church I’m pastoring.
That’s what a lot of small churches have as their mission. They’re senders, not attracters. They may not be growing numerically in their church building and may never formally plant another church body, but the people who are eating of their fruit are growing personally and dropping seeds everywhere they go.
Again, that doesn’t give us numbers for our annual church reports, so no one may see the results of that work except God. But God does. That should be enough.
When each of my children got old enough to start working, I gave all three the same advice as they went nervously to their first day on the job. I told them to approach every day with three rules in mind.
- First, show up ready to work on time or early.
- Second, give it all you’ve got when you’re there.
- Third, don’t take anything that’s not yours when you leave.
If you do that, I told them, you’ll always be a desirable employee.
Those are good rules to apply to pastoring.
- First, let’s show up ready to go, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually for the job we’ve got, instead of dreaming about the job we wish we had.
- Second, let’s apply everything we’ve got to doing the best we can, then with God’s help, better things will happen than we’re actually capable of.
- Third, at the end of the day, don’t take anything that doesn’t belong to us. Leave all the blame in the garbage can, and give all the glory to God.
Copyright © 2015 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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