Today I had a Facebook friend post that he was told by his Bishop that his church was not generous and that his ministry is not successful because they were only able to give a small amount in a charitable offering and are only at 25 people. This is disheartening to me on so many levels.
I’ve been in booming churches with thousands attending and I’ve served in the small country church with less than 70 people but with hearts that loved God and their community. By secular standards, the first church was successful and more deserving of their praise than the second church that was faithful. The first church, however, was a revolving door of people, and the depth of both giving and spirituality was thin. The second church was full of faithful members who attended for years and years and faithfully gave to support their pastor and the outreach to the community. The first church was “cool” and the second church was, frankly, not.
Don’t get me wrong, God was at work in both churches, but any day, I would still pick the second church over the first.
Tim Keller, in his book Center Church, tackles this question of measuring our success– should we rely purely on numbers, or should we rely on ‘faithfulness’? He gives us a third option: fruitfullness. He puts it this way:
As I read, reflected, and taught, I came to the conclusion that a more biblical theme for evaluation than either success or faithfulness is fruitfulness. Jesus, of course, told his disciples that they were to “bear much fruit” (John 15:8). Paul spoke even more specifically. He spoke of conversions as “fruit” when he desired to preach the gospel in Rome “that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles” (Rom 1:13 KJV). Paul also spoke of the “fruit” of godly character that a minister can see growing in Christians under his care. This included the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:22). Good deeds, such as mercy to the poor, are called “fruit” as well (Rom 15:28).
Paul spoke of the pastoral nurture of congregations as a form of gardening. He told the Corinthian Christians they were God’s field” in which some ministers planted, some watered and some reaped (1 Cor 3:9). The gardening metaphor shows that . . . [g]ardeners must be faithful in their work, but they must also be skillful, or the garden will fail. Yet in the end, the degree of the success of the garden (or the ministry) is determined by factors beyond the control of the gardener. The level of fruitfulness varies due to “soil conditions” (that is, some groups o fpeople have a greater hardness of heart than others) and “weather conditions” (that is, the work of God’s sovereign Spirit) as well. (Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City, pp. 13-14)
What an amazing corrective! The gardening of our parish is not just what Fr. Gene or Fr. Frank or I do as clergy. No, we are responsible and will ultimately answer to the Master Gardner. The outcome will rely on all of us working together to grow into Christ’s likeness just a bit more each day that we begin to impact our neighbors and community. May those acts of mercy, moments of prayer, and faithfullness of worship begin to transform us and transform our city.