This week we will look at ministry emphasis and measurement…in other words, how do we measure the effectiveness of today’s churches as compared with the mission they were assigned. If you were to spend much time at pastors’ conferences these days, one of the buzzwords you’d frequently encounter is engagement. The concept of getting Christians “engaged” in faith and ministry is alluring and makes sense…except that, as often as not, the object of such engagement is institutional advancement. We must be careful that people engage primarily with God and one another for the purpose of facilitating transformation. Anything less shortchanges the kingdom of God and disrespects the sacrifice of Christ. Another caution is for us to abandon our obsession with ‘bigness’. We have had more than a quarter century of chasing the megachurch dream. Are we any better off because we have more than two thousand congregations of two thousand or more congregants spread around the country? Has the cause of Christ infiltrated the culture in new and groundbreaking ways because of these large gatherings? Does American culture have greater respect and appreciation for the cause of Christ because of the big churches that dot the landscape? This is a difficult question to answer because of the many and varied mission fields such churches can become involved with and support. Does each congregant find an individual spirit of worship within the megachurch or is each congregant just a part of the ‘herd’ that enters the church, hears a sermon, and then leaves all behind until next week? Can each congregant find a relationship in the megachurch to have a special place in service to God and to the kingdom? Such churches can have a major impact on society but they must have a wealth of Godly leadership to do so. They must be able to wisely utilize the assets and gifts God gives them. Many of the large churches have turned to small groups within the congregants to create that family of God appreciation so important in inspiring and motivating God’s work.
Large numbers can be an asset but are not always necessary. Bigness in itself is not the problem; human pride in leading or building such girth can become the sin. God is neither impressed with nor in need of numbers. The God of Abraham is a God of quality more than quantity. He wants to reach and win the hearts of all people, but He will never compromise His values…truth, love, grace, justice, and the rest…for the sake of numbers. The movie “Persecuted” is a good example of a megachurch pastor who had to decide between success in the ‘church business’ and his obligations to take a stand for God’s truth. God has never needed…or used…a majority to accomplish His will. A single dedicated Christian can be the element needed to change society. I say this because the atheist and God-haters have found it to be true. Elisha [2 Kings 6], Gideon [Judg. 7], Moses [Deut. 7:1-12], Jonah [Jon. 4] are just a few examples of God’s people who took a stand and were victorious.
Christ’s modern-day followers must focus on truth and obedience rather than the glamour and material advantage of massive numbers. The kingdom of God is better off with one hundred sold-out followers of Christ than one hundred million fair-weather fans. In America today we are probably closer to the latter than the former. We can change that but it must start with each one of us. We have the power to get this ‘ship of state’ out of the ‘shoal waters’ it has found itself in but we must change our methods and the metrics by which we measure success. It may sound radical but perhaps we can wean ourselves off the big-numbers obsession by ceasing to count attendance, dollars, or numbers of programs; the quality of staff on board; or square footage. If Jesus didn’t die for it, should we be preoccupied with it? Maybe the new metric by which we measure our success is by looking at what Jesus called us to examine: the fruit of our lives. The more fruit we produce for the advancement of His purposes, the more effective our ministry is and the healthier the Church becomes…regardless of how many people fill the seats or how many dollars fill the offering plate. Jesus drove home the importance of bearing fruit when He taught His disciples,”When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father”. [John 15:8]. If each of us were to respond to our callings and gifts and pursue the vision and related opportunities God has uniquely provided to each of us, His work would be done in spectacular ways. His work and presence in the world would be even more evident to everyone than it is now. Rather than worrying about our attendance record to church services or our year-to-date offering total, how would our life change if our definition of a successful life and ministry hinged on practicing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control? [Galatians 5:22-23]. What if your daily objectives revolved around embodying righteous character and internally offering continual praise to God?
In the end, armed with a profound identity in Christ, transformed from a self-made person accepting an undeserved gift of salvation into a humbled servant who lives to love and is driven by a desire to bear fruit for His kingdom every day, the Church will engage the culture in ways that hastens its transformation too. We will be used as His instruments in that process, prepared to sacrifice everything in order to do His will. When the nation…’ship of state’…sees that kind of faith, attitude, and commitment, it will be ripe for restoration…extrication from the ‘shoal waters’.
Next week we will complete this series, “Safe Harbor, Restoring the Church” and prepare to start a new series, “Where’s the Church?” It will be a series on events and situations that are impacting Christians throughout the United States. It will be up to the reader to determine where the church is in standing strong with these Christians. Hopefully much of what is addressed in that series will open many eyes as to just exactly how the secular evil is trying to destroy God’s work on earth and how in some cases they are at least temporarily winning a few attacks. Thank God that we know the final outcome.
– Bob Munsey