Reclaiming God’s Original Intent for the Church

What is Success in the Ministry?

Many Christians at first glance define success in terms of positive results: large numbers of people responding in faith and obedience to the proclamation of God’s Word, coalitions formed, money raised and buildings built for the purposes of God’s Kingdom. These are all good. But how about Christians who minister to a faithful few? Are they “unsuccessful” believers and ministers? We may need to consider the following:

1. How do we determine success? Did Jesus measure it only in terms of attendance, budgets, buildings and programs? Or is it measured in terms of faithfulness, endurance and perseverance to His calling for our lives?
2. What really motivates us towards success? We often look up to people who are able to create big congregations and try to emulate them. But many who try to do so have ended up frustrated, wearied and beaten. If we’re honest we will have to admit that much of the motivation that drives us to be “bigger and better” is what the Bible calls selfish ambition – a desire to have others look up to us. We may need to ask, “Is something wrong with smaller churches remaining small?” Can we just be content that the Lord considered us faithful by appointing us to His service? (I Tim. 1:12)
3. Is it possible that smaller is okay? People who labor in small churches are often looked down upon but being church has to do with authenticity – no matter what the size. What our postmodern culture needs is a genuine witness to Jesus that is in tune with the times. Our faith communities need to demonstrate a clear alternative to the power structures of this world. They need to see what it means to live under God’s reign.

In order for us as the church to move towards the future we need to recognize and set side much of what we have assumed from the past. We need to learn important, yet basic values about ministry. This includes unlearning many patterns of church, Christianity and ministry ingrained into our senses, then reminding ourselves of basic truths we already know but which have grown strangely unfamiliar as we pursued “success” in the ministry.

How the Church Got Institutionalized

Many churches have tried supposedly proven “church growth” methods – ending up mostly with frustrating results. The problem is that many of these methods are out of touch with our changing world. Instead, we need to shift our focus to other more important areas of concern than simply trying to enlarge our congregations. First we have to look into the history of the church to help unlearn many of our assumptions that no longer connect with the reality of our changing world.

The church began as a movement but has ended up as an institution for the last 1500 years. And because of this length of time people have become too comfortably familiar with its kind of existence. However, this institutionalized mold – what has been called Christendom – is deteriorating and cannot be rebuilt. (Unfortunately much of the resources and energy now spent by the church is directed towards trying to rebuild this crumbling Christendom because we know no other way.) It is therefore important that we go back to the “much older ways” – to the time when the church was a movement, not an institution. In fact our current situation, which has been described as postmodern or post-Christian, is more like those early days, which could help us see opportunities for the present and the future. We can then form our ministries according to the “much older ways” – which are actually our heritage as Christians. But this demands a shift in our mindset.

The church during the apostolic period went against the grain of the power structures of the world – the Roman Empire and the dominant Jewish sect/s of the time – and because of this took on a nature that was the opposite of an institution. Here are some characteristics of the early church:

* They had a collective awareness of being called out (ecclesia) or set apart from the world; they went against the grain of the prevailing culture of their time.
* The environment around them was hostile and persecuted them.
* Under such circumstances, becoming a Christian demanded a great commitment; discipleship was a priority.
* They had a sense of mission – everyone did his part, not just a few professional clergy.
* They were radical – they had a radical commitment to a wild God who would often lead them to risky and dangerous situations.
* The church leaders were common men and women who did not have an air of professionalism and who mostly worked to support themselves and their families.
* They learned to care for one another – even as they came from different social and ethnic backgrounds.

All these changed when the emperor Constantine declared Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire in a.d. 313. Everyone in the Empire was regarded a Christian and came to demand the rights and privileges of church membership without the responsibility of discipleship. The emphasis on discipleship was lost. The sense of mission was also lost since now everyone in the Empire was a “Christian.” Mission was done by specialists who went to foreign lands outside the Empire. Rather than go against the grain of the power structures in its world, the church benefited from them because Christianity was now the official religion. The church became the institution of power within society and its leaders took on a new status, developing a system of church governance where they wielded power and control. They became spiritual elitists, a paid professional clergy.

Through the centuries, various forces such as the Reformers tried to chip away at Christendom that led to positive changes. But there were also negative influences such as modernism that led to rationalism being adopted into church thinking. As a result the church adopted a rational approach to theology devoid of any practical reality. Christians could believe and argue for the truth without living it out.

For the most part the institutionalized church has remained in essence today so that our attempt to rebuild a crumbling institution may unwittingly hinder what new movement God might be trying to raise up. (In fact it might be better to see the death of the institutionalized church so that it can be resurrected into the body God intends it to be – “unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies…”.) Today we need a new paradigm for the way we worship and serve God.

Authenticity, Not Size

Today’s church growth programs are mostly about increasing the size of church attendance. This is not an argument against church growth. God himself wants all men to be saved (I Tim. 2:4) which means we should strive to help as many as possible to come to a relationship with Him. But church growth is more the result of our work, not the goal of our work. A far more important goal – regardless of church size – is to be an authentic witness for Jesus Christ and the gospel of His kingdom.

Being a witness is a matter of being. It has to do with our character, how we exist before a watching world. It is a matter of personal and corporate holiness (I Pet. 1:15-16) – which seems to have fallen somewhat out of fashion in our time today. Our nature as the church is inseparably connected to our mission as the church. Our witness to the world flows from who we are as God’s chosen people.

Being authentic means that we as church become a living demonstration of God’s kingdom for the world to see. When we are different from the world in terms of character, integrity and values, the world takes notice. This implies that our message includes not only a compelling philosophy (which means we only have to sound more convincing and attractive than other religions) but a living demonstration of the impact of that message on our day-to-day lives. This means that we go beyond “playing Christianity” – speaking Christian language, playing Christian music, displaying Christian stickers, going to Christian places – to living out authentic lives in the power of the Spirit.

Authentic witness is not just being but also includes doing. There is an inward focus in terms of how we cultivate our relationships with God and with other believers (prayer, fellowship, studying Scripture, worship, etc.). But there is also an outward focus in terms of reaching out to a lost world with deeds of justice, love and mercy. And we also proclaim the kingdom with words. Through our actions people can see that we are different but through our verbal witness they can know why we are different.

If our focus is on bigger and better, it is possible that our priorities can get skewed in ways we don’t realize. Our emphasis will be on programs and activities that attract crowds and on business methods, marketing and sociology to attract more of them rather than life change, transformation, community, discipleship and devotion to Christ.

Making Disciples, Not Recruiting Volunteers

The early church seemed to understand the cost of discipleship. Going through persecution during its first 300 years, the church grew despite being outlawed and being considered societal outcasts. Lacking today’s big buildings and other modern conveniences, a myriad of programs and high-tech tools, the church nevertheless had a character that was so engaging that it could not be ignored.

Again, the adoption of Christianity by Constantine as the state religion in 313 changed that. People now became part of the church simply by being born into a Christian nation. They accomplished this without much change in character and a real commitment to be disciples of Christ.

The Enlightenment period fostered the assertion that people are free and independent individuals. This idea was adopted by the church who now viewed members in terms of a volunteer society. Present day ministry is based on this: if we can make Christianity appealing people just might choose church as an organization they would want to be a part of. In so doing we have allowed people to believe Christ exists for their needs instead of pointing out their need to come to Him as Lord. As a result many fail to actually make a commitment to Him and to comprehend what that commitment entails.

There is nothing wrong with numbers or with having a mega-church or a mega organization. We need churches of all sizes (and by the way the average congregation size in North America is between 110 and 135 people). And we need to be faithful and fruitful in proclaiming the Gospel. But we have often focused on numbers so much we forget Jesus’ command to make disciples. We can’t consider ourselves successful because we draw a big crowd. More is required of us.

Calling, Not a Career; The Priesthood of All Believers, Not Clergy

Many of those in the clergy think of their profession both as a career and a calling. In a career, people choose their own direction, map out where they are going and make deliberate choices about the next steps to further their career. In a calling, one submits to the Lord’s direction and may have to go where he/she does not want to. By seeing the clergy profession as a career, people tend to climb the ladder of success in the church business. If the church or Christian organization has a hierarchy it means climbing up that hierarchy. Or the person may want to move on to bigger churches with better opportunities. At the same time the person will be pressured to do well, prove himself or maintain an image. And this has produced enormous pressure on pastors and other clergy to perform. Many have succumbed to the pressure.

But if we see our profession as a calling, we will be faithful wherever the Lord places us. Instead of being pressured to produce results, we will experience the pressures that result from our cares and concerns about the church – about people. We will be humble and dependent on God. We will give up ownership of the ministry, our dreams, plans and expectations to listen to God. It will require us to be faithful.

The concept of career is not found in the early church. Neither do we find a sharp distinction between clergy and laity. Everyone in the church had a valuable ministry (Eph. 4 and I Cor. 12). Leadership was shared among a group of elders. After 313 a.d. church leadership took on an air of prestige. The status of priesthood in the old cults of the empire was transferred to the church which proceeded to develop a hierarchy of leaders. Before long people began to see priests as the professional clergy, the experts and the official interpreters of the Word of God. The Reformation, even with its concept about the priesthood of all believers, could not eradicate this deeply embedded system. It simply replaced priests with pastors!

The clergy is often seen as experts who interpret, teach, practice and maintain the dogma and manage the system. Because of their education and training in seminaries, seminars and workshops, the clergy is often thought of as knowing more than those who sit idly in their pews every Sunday. In so doing Christians have replaced dependence on God with professional expertise. If the church is going to go somewhere it will have to go under the professional leadership of the clergy. Members have been essentially trained to view themselves as incompetent for the task. They have been conditioned to see their pastors as dispensers of knowledge, truth, vision and ministry. They have become passive consumers. Ironically pastors complain that good workers in the church are hard to come by when the seeds for such a situation have been planted long before!

However, the Holy Spirit gave His gifts not just to the “experts” but to the whole church. The church’s mission does not reside with a few select people but belongs to everyone in the church.

Character, Not Credentials

Accumulation of titles, credentials and degrees has become very important within church as we know it today. It has become a way of proving an expertise for doing church work and working up the career ladder in church business. However titles don’t encourage relationships or the growth and development of character in people or those they serve. Pastors are experts in biblical exegesis but novices on cultural exegesis. This doesn’t mean formal education has no value. However we need to ask if formal education really prepares people for real relationships and authentic, life-transforming living. In the bible we do not find any formal education requirements for ministry. The requirement, however, had to do with character. Character has to do with our quality as a person especially when no one else is looking. Character is even more important today as we read about church leaders and other clergy who have ignored character.

Real growth isn’t the result of some science of church growth but the result of character, including character among the leaders of the church. Authentic Christianity lived out in our relationships and deepening our communities as we share our lives, dreams, joys and sorrows, will make the larger difference in a post-modern world.

Community, Not Management

Community happens best in small groups as many Christians know by now. However, just because you have a Bible study group, a prayer meeting, a support group or a social group does not mean you have community. Real community means there is a bonding between people in the group around a common mission. Christian communities in this sense become a living demonstration of what it means to live under Christ’s leadership (John 13: 35).

Instead of community, many have opted for management to encouragement organization in the church. Management is needed especially in legal, financial and administrative procedures. But management principles shouldn’t supplant the faith, trust and fellowship we are called to live out daily in our Christian communities. What happens between people in community needs to be a higher priority than organization.

An example of how management has replaced biblical thinking is a church growth assumption that churches tend to attract people who are similar to their current members (the homogeneous unit principle). Churches identify a target audience and seek to attract them. Although this principle seems to work it does not seem to agree with the nature of the early church which was multiethnic, multifaceted and from different socio-economic backgrounds (Gal. 3: 28). This was a demonstration to the world that the church breaks down social norms so that all may be one in Christ.

Encouraging real community in our time means learning to appreciate the discomfort of being with people who are not like us. It means learning personal sacrifice. It means setting aside time in our already busy schedules to “waste our time” with other people. It means giving up our rights and privileges for the sake of community, understanding that community is a greater goal than our individual needs. In the short run building community may not result in fast numerical growth. But in the long run it will pay greater dividends than we can dream of as our Christian communities demonstrate to local communities that we accept and care for one another – and that we always have room for more to be part of our communities.

Trusting God, Not Technique

The continuous search for the secret techniques that will bring church growth might be traced to the Age of Enlightenment when people began to see the world as a great mechanical system. Consequently, people believe in a rational application of methods leading to efficiency to every field of human activity – a reliance on technique. Success is defined as progress. In unwittingly adopting the Enlightenment model, many Christians have defined success as numerical church growth. To grow churches they then look for the right technique (e.g. the right program or the most engaging worship style).

As a result of this trend, pastors and other Christian leaders have become managers trained to practice principles more related to business and marketing than to following Christ. They start to care more about the bottom lines of attendance, budget, facilities and programs than about making disciples for Christ.

As a church we are different in nature from the rest of the institutions of this earth; we must present a clear alternative to the power structures of this world (Matt. 20: 25-28). The object of our confidence and faith should turn from techniques to the Lord Himself. We can be confident God is working in our midst even in times of danger and hardships but we must remind ourselves that God’s blessings doesn’t always come in the form of what we may consider as success.

Following the Spirit, Not Mere Strategizing

It’s not just a matter of bearing the fruit of the Spirit; it’s also a matter of being led by the Spirit. We need to develop sensitivity to what the Spirit is leading us to be and to do. The church will move into the future not on the strength of our programming but on the content of our character – character formed by the Spirit’s work within us.

Our major work is not programming, facility expansion or even growing the church; it’s spiritual formation through making disciples. The power of the church is the work of God’s Spirit within us, not our strategies for success. This power produces fruit in our lives giving authenticity to whatever work we do.

People need to hear the Gospel in a way that is meaningful to them, to their culture. This involves investing into the lives of others by listening and seeing, then speaking and doing in ways that are relevant. But many church strategies for reaching others are too fixated on models. Churches look to successful models and try to implement them piece by piece. Although some models of ministries can be helpful many aren’t fully transferable; what works in other situations isn’t relevant in all. Successful models might simply show that some churches are better at grasping their situation, thinking forward, creatively exercising their faith – better at being led by the Spirit.

Many churches today fail to see the Holy Spirit’s practical relevance. They generally fall into two main camps: the non-charismatic camp (who believe that certain gifts of the Spirit are no longer operating in our day because of the completion of the Scripture canon) and the charismatic camp (who recognize the Spirit’s presence in the giftings He gives to the church). The non-charismatics acknowledge the work of the spirit in the hearts of people being saved but apart from their doctrinal discourses they cannot explain or live out any practical relevance of the Spirit in the day-to-day operations within their church. Charismatics, on the other hand, look for spectacular signs (a kind of spiritual entertainment) but still fail to live out a practical relevance of the Spirit in their day-to-day operations. The end result of all these is a resort to techniques and strategizing.

The church needs to open its heart to the reality of the Holy Spirit and seek his direction. It must allow the Word of God to guide it in all its deliberations since the Spirit will only work in ways consistent with the Word. Because the Holy Spirit is given corporately to the church we must listen to one another rather than trying to steamroller our way with our own agenda. We must learn to seek consensus of direction believing the Spirit is leading and guiding each of us. (A good example is how the council in Jerusalem decided on Gentile believers in the church: Acts 15.) We need to learn to wait on the Lord’s provision, recognizing that not all the needs have to be addressed right now (Acts 16: 6). We can still do planning and strategizing but these must be done under the direction of the Word and the Spirit.

Servanthood, Not Power

Power struggles within churches, denominations and organizations seem to be common nowadays. Often the battles stem from the people who control finances or, in the case of local churches, from those whose family has been at church the longest. Money has become a source of power within the church. So are raw numbers: people who will vote “your way” are a source of power. People use numbers to intimidate their way in public policy matters – to forge their platform on a political agenda. Some pastors seek to gain power through other means: the power of prestige (through titles and degrees) and the power of success.

There are also informal leaders around church circles who wield influence more than the appointed/anointed leaders. They are well acquainted with the mechanics of money and numbers and can manipulate decisions to suit their demands.

Interestingly we don’t see any votes being taken within the New Testament church. Neither was the church led by dictators. As church leaders served from a servant’s heart, there was little concern about their “power” or about authority.

Jesus’ example shows that God’s purposes are accomplished through weakness, not through the power structures of the world. Christ conquered the powers of the world through weakness (Col. 2:15). So did the early church. Through its weakness, the church sowed the seeds of the gospel and produced fruit. Despite its weakness, the work of God was accomplished. Greatness in the Kingdom requires the weakness of servanthood.

Sadly many church leaders today have adopted the power structures of the world. In many cases they’ve used these power structures to manipulate people into the Kingdom. We’ve learned to rely on the power of celebrity in the church, turning to the world of sports or entertainment to get our latest witnesses for Jesus. Such people can provide the “hook” to draw a large crowd. There is nothing wrong when anyone uses who they are to help bring others to Christ. But the sense you get is that Christians no longer rely on the power of a really transformed life to make their witness credible. The power of celebrity is wielded in a way that we infer that Jesus will make people winners or stars.

Even Christian speakers, musicians, authors and evangelists reach celebrity status now. Somehow, we believe that we can use the power of celebrity to proclaim a gospel that came in weakness and foolishness. We replace worship with entertainment. We substitute the study of God’s Word with self-help lessons that offer formulas for “how to… in a few easy steps.” We rely on the power of materialism. We design our services to be impressive, to enhance our image. We rely on the power of professionalism, entrusting the running of church business to modern managers who rely on the proper techniques to grow the church to a place of prominence and power within society.

All these should not lead to excuses to shoddiness in presenting the gospel. Rather we need to work at living with the truth that the gospel isn’t always about the good life; the gospel requires self-denial in following a Carpenter who came from a suspicious place called Nazareth.

The church learned to trust in the power structures of the world during the early formation of Christendom. It learned to wield political and worldly power (as the official religion of the Roman Empire) to “Christianize” society. People were coerced instead of invited to conversion. Much of this has filtered down to our day. We still think we can use the power structures of this world to make people Christians albeit in a gentler and kinder way. Still people read us correctly when they sense we are trying to manipulate them.

Instead of operating this way we need to be servants (Matt. 20:28). This requires a very intentional reorientation of our thinking. Too often we focus on being grand or spectacular, as if the greatness of an event or a program will captivate the attention of people we seek to reach. The world can entertain better than we can. But we can offer something far better, richer and deeper – real life only to be found in Jesus.

Learning to be servants means learning to be patient. It means serving as if no one is noticing. People will notice – eventually – but it will take repeated efforts and a consistent life of service for people to get it. Let’s plan to serve for the long term and not demand great results right away. It takes trust in the Lord to do this without immediate results. Servanthood calls us to pray that the Lord will work in our simple acts of kindness and generosity, that God can use our simple actions to accomplish His great works. Servanthood calls for church leaders and pastors to lead by example and as they do so to be servants to people both inside and outside the church.

God did not use Moses’ royal education to accomplish His great purposes. He chose to use a shepherd with a stick.

Fruit, Not Achievement

Pastors and other Christian workers get too busy when they try to live up to other people’s expectations. People have expectations about administration and communication within local churches. People may even expect their pastors to be involved in building maintenance. Other pastors and workers in the community may also have expectations on each other. They want their co-workers to be involved in some form of project, fellowship or association – which often requires organization, planning and energy.

However our main priority when “doing church” needs to be what is happening in the hearts and lives and relationships of people and the impact we all are having on our community. We are not contented with being a pastor, worker or Christian leader. We also want to be president of the local Jaycees, be a chaplain or “spiritual consultant” for a police department, and be active in a denominational committee. If we’re honest about it this kind of thinking many times stem from our ego. We all want to believe that what we are doing is important.

God’s plans for us, however, do not always share our expectations for “success;” His ways are not our ways. He doesn’t see size or numbers as important. He looks at our heart. We keep searching for something big or significant because we forgot that God has already given us something significant, counting as worthy to be His servants and co-laborers.

Making disciples is powerfully important! It’s exactly the kind of work Jesus did. He had the courage and vision to think and start small. But many people equate building big churches as obedience to the Great Commission forgetting the command to make disciples.

Authentic ministry is about fruit, not achievement. Fruit comes from an organic model; achievement comes from a mechanical model. Fruit is produced naturally, a natural byproduct of a healthy organism and a healthy environment. This includes proper nourishment and pruning of the plant from time to time. We need to allow the Lord to prune what is dead and cut off the branches that will sap our spiritual energy – in ourselves, our families, our friends, our co-laborers. The pruning process is not easy. But if we trust the Lord to have His way in and through us we can eventually enjoy the fruit.

The mechanical model is different but many prefer it because they think they can control the process. This model says that having the right machinery and the right people in place are important. Time management and efficiency becomes important. The mechanical model drives us to produce. It rarely works to help people develop lasting relationships. The premium is placed on production. If a worker is productive we may reward him; if he is inefficient we replace him. Production is valued. People have no intrinsic value.

Jesus says that a fruitful life will occur naturally as we live in a healthy relationship with Him. We need to stop leaning in the unrealistic expectations we place on ourselves. We need to learn to be patient, waiting on the Lord to produce the harvest He promises us. We need to focus on the things that make the environments in our churches and communities capable of bearing fruit, nurturing them in the Word and equipping them to be God-dependent. Instead of driving people to become what we expect of them, we’ll patiently wait for the Lord to do His work in their hearts as we continue to minister to them with the nutrients they need.

Listening, Not Just Preaching

Pastors see preaching as one of the, if not the most important function they have. Unfortunately, the word preach has taken on a negative connotation in our society. Of course many cannot stand preaching because they refuse to listen to God’ s Word, wanting to run their own lives and not submit to Christ’s lordship. But there are other reasons:

* People see preaching as “preaching down” to them. Too much preaching can indicate an air of authority and moral superiority. People can sense when preaching is authentic – from the heart – and when it isn’t.
* Some types of preaching pressure people into service or commitment by making them feel guilty. This kind of preaching takes on an air of condemnation without forgiveness, of the law without grace.
* Another problem is preaching without relevance – when the preacher speaks without listening to the concerns of the church. A monologue rather than a dialogue results.

When Christendom lost the sense of mission of the early church, the focus of church began to center around the event of worship. So today, most churches cram the actual practice of most of the purposes of the church into the event called a worship service. Evangelism takes place there. Teaching occurs there. For many, the only fellowship they have is found there – sitting side by side, facing the preacher. Church has come to mean meeting together for worship – the Sunday production – and taking in the content and delivery of the sermon.

We therefore have come to think of church as what happens inside the walls of the church building, but the apostolic model shows a way to do church without buildings. It has a lot to do with listening, something all of us can do anywhere. First we must listen to the Lord – what He is saying in His Word and what He is saying through others who are seeking Him. We must be open to God and His Word and allow His Word to challenge and change us. We must be wary of thinking we know it all or that we have it figured out.

We must also listen to one another, to listen for the ways the Holy Spirit is moving among the people we minister to. Since the Holy Spirit was given to all believers are we willing to trust that He is alive in and speaks through our brothers and sisters in the Lord, regardless of their position, function and role in the church?

Finally we must listen with renewed interest to the needs of the world. We must have the ears to hear what the world is thinking and what the Spirit wants to say to the world. We must evaluate and analyze what is going on to the world so we can minister to people in relevant ways.

Jesus was willing to be among people who needed Him most – even tax collectors and prostitutes – not just among the religious leaders of His day. Most of us wouldn’t even think of being with “sinners” for fear of being criticized by other Christians just like Jesus was. Perhaps we need to hang out at our local bar a bit and listen to people. We need to listen to people in the world to have points of contact with them rather than being a separatist community, existing only for our self-preservation.

There is another reason why we need to listen to the world. There is a lot of critical talk about the church in our time. Rather than dismiss them we need to ask if what they re saying might be true. We need the humility to listen so that we can allow the world to correct and reprove us. Many times we deserve some negativity towards the church. We have often been mean, judgmental and hypocritical. The world has seen these errors – are we listening and repenting?

Love, Not Being Right

Too many petty disputes over nonessential doctrines characterize church today. Churches split over insignificant matters. In our desire to reach unbelievers we rattle off theology, arguments and programs that are devoid of love. Unbelievers can also see this in the way we sometimes relate to other believers. But we are blind, it seems, to what people in our communities think about us. We don’t care what they think as long as we have the truth.

But unless the people we serve inside and outside the church see goodness, they won’t come to see the truth. For them Christianity is not true if it’s not good. Simply being right is not enough. Christ himself made it clear that it is our love for one another that will testify to an unbelieving world that we are His (John 13: 35). His early followers were true to this. They were so committed to caring for one another that they sold their possessions to be able to help the needy among them. History also records that they fasted to save food to give to others who were more in need. It is no wonder that they were such powerful witnesses for Christ.

It takes time to love. It requires we invest time and a commitment to develop relationships. Unfortunately we are not always willing to make such an investment especially if we have goals or an agenda in mind. We think we have more important matters to attend to. But if we re going to minister in the name of Jesus we may have to do things we don’t want to do. We’re going to have to deal with the prostitutes, tax collectors and sinners of our day. We will have to enter the tangled mess of people’s lives to minister the hope of the gospel. We will have to learn to be friends with sinners, getting to know them on their turf, not ours. It can be discouraging because we can pour our lives into people only to see them walk away. Because live is difficult and discouraging many turn to the substitute of doctrine or the rightness of our cause. We exchange being right for being loving.

Evangelism is not just a matter of “closing the deal” with a quick presentation and prayer, but rather the hard work of serving others with love and self-sacrifice and of building relationships with people who do not yet know the Lord. It does not mean pressuring people or shoving the Gospel down their throat if they don’t accept our logic or Scripture quoting, but caring more about people, not converts.

It’s About Our God, Not Us

Lesslie Newbigin: “mission in Christ’s’ way will not be a success story as the world reckons success. There is a kind of ideology of success that fits badly with the gospel.” The Bible calls us to both faithfulness and fruitfulness but we must be careful how we define and measure both. Fruitfulness comes as we are faithful to the calling God has given us. We also need to measure success in terms of being and making disciples.

The Gospel has sometimes been promoted as personal salvation, escape from hell and the gift of eternal life – and indeed it is. But the way we have promoted it sometimes makes Christianity look like a tool for comfortable living. But the Gospel is not about us but about God. It’s a Gospel that calls us to live under God’s reign, as His disciples. And that means dying to our own dreams and ambitions in order to live for Him.

We are called to honor and follow Christ, not to try to make a name for ourselves – to live for Him, to labor faithfully in the present with a hope for the future. No matter what the church will make it. The Lord’s purposes will not fail. We will make it, not because of our strategizing, marketing, managing and entertaining but because He is in control of history. He will push us into the future. He is the meaning of all these – the purpose, the goal.

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