Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Are Goals and Objectives Unspiritual?

Everyone wants to know... 'what's the vision?' 'Do you have a vision for Bethany?' I hear versions of the question all the time, and several events in the past months have me thinking a great deal, not about the vision, but about the way we articulate vision in churches, and more particularly, how we measure success.

Was Jim Elliot successful when, instead of his friendship evangelism leading to conversions among the Auca Indians, he died in a pool of his own blood? Are missionaries successful who work for 20 years among a people and don't see a single convert to Christianity? And if it's possible to be successful in rural Africa without having lots of converts, is it possible to be successful in urban America while producing the same dismal statistics?

It seems that the successful community of faith will be successful only to the extent that they become the physical and visible embodiment of the resurrected Christ. Thus, the presence in a particular place, of Christ's love, power, mercy, forgiveness, hope, and healing - the invitation to follow Christ - the coming together in worship to bear witness to hope -where these things are present, there's success. The trouble, of course, is that the manifestation of these things can either bring revival and hope. or can get you killed. People can either respond massively, or not at all. So the difficulty for ministry comes when we try to presume a certain level of response.

On the other hand, a lack of response might be for no other reason than that the people involved were lazy. And thus it is that "God's Will" often becomes a vieled mantra for "I'm too passive and disengaged, too apathetic and lethargic to actually do anything, so whatever happens as a result of my half-hearted efforts, I'll call that outcome "The Will of God". And with one swoop, all critics are thus silenced.

So how do we navigate these waters? I would offer two principles:

#1 - Jesus promises that those who abide in Him will bear much fruit. Thus it becomes vital that I understand what it means to abide, and that I develop practices that will lead to abiding. It is in this environment then, that I can have confidence that I'm in the stream of God's activity, but this environment is not a place of creating autonomous goals. Rather, it's a place of prayer and waiting on God. But my posture should be one of expectation: I expect that God will bring forth fruit because I'm doing my part by drawing on the resources of His life and stepping into the stream of His activity. He's directing me - and I'm going after certain things.

#2 - The nature of the fruit isn't always clearly revealed to us. I Samuel 14:9 contains that crazy little word: perhaps. Jonathan is going after a goal, but not with the absolute certainty that the goal will be fulfilled. We should do the same - we should be able to go after a vision for ministry and pour our whole hearts into it, believing that we'll be shaped by the pursuit, and that others will be blessed by our whole-hearted obedience. What happens when we're that deeply committed to a pursuit? Perhaps we'll succeed!


At 31/3/07 13:35, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Pastor Richard,
My husband are working in one of those places where it is possible to labor for 20 years and not see one person come to Christ. Frequent encouragement is necessary for those of us who work in this part of the world and I found your words encouraging. God bless you as you labor in my old neck of the woods.

At 1/4/07 08:46, Blogger Karis said...

I've been thinking/reading about these very ideas of Fruit and measuring Success. You pose the question, "Are missionaries successful who work for 20 years among a people and don't see a single convert to Christianity?"

In Cat and Dog Theology the author gave names to two incomplete views that Christians sometimes have regarding evangelism: Liberal Humanism (focusing on man's happiness in this life) and Evangelical Humanism (emphasizing man's happiness in the next life only).

Those he calls Evangelical Humanists tend to celebrate reports from afar of numerous converts. "And those missionaries who had learned the language, persevered in building relationships, stayed on the field in spite of frustration and fatigue, were revealing the glory of God through their patience and pain, and only gave prayer requests? There was no celebration for them."

We cannot measure success as God sees it by human means. I like the picture of both EXPECTATION and UNCERTAINTY (your "perhaps"), which may be the best way to approach our efforts for God's Kingdom...all the while keeping connected to Christ.

At 2/4/07 10:59, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why do churches seem to so often measure success by the number of people walking through its doors? Is that really an adequate measure? The rich young ruler walked away from Jesus after hearing what He had to say. So at times can success be failure...

We often say that quality is more important than quantity, yet when people ask how a church is doing the question of membership/ attendance numbers inevitably arises.


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