Dan Allender gives a great definition of a leader in his book Leading with a Limp.
“A leader is anyone who has someone following her. If anyone looks to you for wisdom, counsel, or direction, then you are a leader. If there is one little girl who looks at you and says, “Mommy,” then you are a leader. If there are fourteen high-energy boys holding aluminum weapons and screaming that they want to be first to hit the ball that rests on a rubber T-ball frame, then you are a leader.
It takes only one child grabbing your finger with a small, sometimes-trembling hand to signify that you are a leader. And from your child’s birth to the day you pass from this earth, you will continue to make life-shaping decisions as a parent. And of course it’s not just parents who lead with such power and influence. Anyone who wrestles with an uncertain future on behalf of others— anyone who uses her gifts, talents, and skills to influence the direction of others for the greater good— is a leader.
No one is a mere follower. If you are a follower of God, for instance, then you are called to lead. Every believer is called to help someone grow into maturity— and such is the core calling of a leader.”
A passage from Forgotten among the Lilies by Ronald Rolheiser (quoted in Common Prayer) :
“If the Catholicism that I was raised in had fault, and it did, it was precisely that it did not allow for mistakes. It demanded that you get it right the first time. There was suppose to be no need for a second chance.
If you made a mistake, you lived with it and, like the rich young man, were doomed to be sad, at least for the rest of your life. A serious mistake was a permanent stigmatization, a mark that you wore like Cain.
I have seen that mark on all kinds of people: divorcees, ex-priests, ex-religious, people who have had abortions, married people who had affairs, people who have had children outside of marriage, parents who have made serious mistakes. There is too little around to help them.
We need a theology of brokenness. We need a theology which teaches us that even though we cannot unscramble an egg, God’s grace lets us live happily and with renewed innocence far beyond any egg we may have scrambled. We need a theology that teaches us that God does not just give us one chance, but that every time we close a door, he opens on for us.”
“You are not the point. Your ministry is not the point and God has not pushed all his chips in on you, He has not put the kingdom in your hands as though all His hope relies in your ability to perform.” ― Matt Chandler
Originally posted by Jared C Wilson
I follow the ongoing pastoral and missiological discussions about “faithfulness vs. fruitfulness” from a bemused distance. I do believe that a church’s faithfulness to the mission of God is itself success, regardless of the “results.” And I also believe that a faithful church will be a fruitful church. But when some begin defining fruitfulness in quantifiable ways — decisions, attendance, etc. — I see more pragmatism and less Bible.
Does this mean I don’t think we should look for results? No. It just means I think we should look differently for results. I think measuring a church’s fruitfulness is not as simple as how many hands get raised during an invitation or how many parking spots are filled.
In 1741, the great Jonathan Edwards first published his now-classic book The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God. In this important work, Edwards is analyzing and synthesizing all he’s experienced in the revivals of his day (chronicled most notably in A Narrative of Surprising Conversions and An Account of the Revival of Religion in Northampton 1740-1742). He wants to know — what are the signs that a genuine move of God is taking place?
What, in other words, are the true evidences of Spiritual fruitfulness?
Interestingly enough, he prefaces his list of “distinguishing marks” with a list of things that may or may not be signs of a genuine move of God. It’s a curious collection — including things like charismatic experiences, the stirring up of emotions, and the fiery preaching of hell — and Edwards is saying that these things might be good things in many instances, but they do not themselves authenticate a work of God. A work of God may have charismatic experiences, stirring up of emotions, and the like, but it also may not. (He also lists some negative things — like errors and counterfeits — that he says do not necessarily disprove a work of God, since he reasons that a genuine move of God is likely to have Satan actively trying to derail it.)
I think we ought to apply Edwards’s strong reasoning to the ecclesiological landscape today. What are the signs of actual fruitfulness? How do we know our church is a growing part of something God is blessing?
Well, first, let’s look, as Edwards did, at some things that may or may not accompany a genuine move of God.
Marks of Neutrality – These May or May Not Authenticate a Church’s Fruitfulness
1. A steady accumulation of decisions or responses during Sunday invitations.
We have all seen the pastors touting their weekly catch on social media. Many people do hear the gospel and respond genuinely in this way. And yet, this kind of evangelistic strategy has been employed by evangelicals for the last 50 years, and we still face a discernible drought of mature Christianity in the West and a steady decline in evangelical numbers. The discipleship processes in so many of these “count the hands” churches seems to top out at the counting of the hands. Something isn’t adding up. Even Spurgeon commented on this practice, routine even in his day. No, what we can say is this — people coming to know Christ is always a good thing, no matter what kind of church they’re in, no matter the method by which they heard the gospel. But this does not itself sanctify methods. And a simple counting of “decisions” does not itself prove genuine fruitfulness because a (genuine) decision is itself only the first tiny bud of a life of fruit.
2. Large attendance.
It is wearying to need to repeat this, but American evangelicals love bigness, so we have to keep saying it: a lot of people is itself not a sign of faithfulness. It is another neutral sign. A lot of people coming to a church can be a good thing. There is nothing inherently wrong with a big church! But nor is there anything inherently right about it. One of the largest churches in North America is a church where Christ crucified is not routinely preached. Further, the Mormons have big churches. We need only look to the political realm for a fitting analogy: a lot of people supporting something does not mean that that something is doing something right!
3. Emotional experiences.
Here we track with Edwards again. Edwards rightly says that true worship often engages worshipers on an emotional level. It would be strange for a genuine love of Jesus not to make human beings feel something. But in many churches, the emphasis is on the emotional experience. This is why they advertise their music as “exciting,” “vibrant,” or the all-too-familiar “relevant.” These adjectives communicate that the worship is for the worshiper, which is another way of revealing that it is the worshiper the worshiper is worshiping. So it’s not a bad thing to get emotional in church. But it’s not in itself a sign that your church is doing something right.
So there we have 3 neutral signs, none of which are reliable indicators of genuine fruitfulness. A fruitful church may witness many conversions, growing attendance, and intense emotional engagement — or it may not. What, then, ought we to look for as signs of Spiritual fruitfulness? I happen to think Edwards’s “distinguishing marks of a work of the Spirit of God” hold up rather well.
Distinguishing Marks of A Fruitful Church
1. A Growing Esteem for Jesus Christ
How do you measure this? How do you know if a church is focused on the glory of Jesus Christ? Well, I think you start with the most visible communications. In sermon and song, is Jesus the focal point? Are the sermons preached making Jesus a bit player, an add-on at invitation time, a quotable hero? Or do they promote his finished work as the only hope of mankind? Do the messages labor more intently in the Law or do they delight more intently in the gospel? Are people getting a steady dose of five things to do or are they walking away understanding that the essential message of Christianity is that the work of salvation is done?
Musically, is the church focused more on creating an experience or adoring the Creator? Do the songs tell the story of the gospel? Are people the star of the show, or is Jesus? Does the church speak in vague generalities about hope, peace, light, etc. without constantly making the connection that Jesus is the embodiment of these virtues?
Do the people of the church speak more highly of Jesus than simply doing good or knowing the right doctrine? Do the pastors exhibit high esteem of Jesus? Are they Jesusy people?
If the church is not ensuring Jesus is explicitly and persistently the point, it is not fruitful. And conversely, if a church is ensuring Jesus is explicitly and persistently the point, it is being fruitful, since ongoing worship of Jesus is a fruit of the new birth.
2. A Discernible Spirit of Repentance
Is the church, first, preaching the dangers and horrors of sin? And then, in its preaching of the gospel, are people responding to the Spirit’s conviction and comfort with repentance? Do people own and confess their sin? Is there an air of humility about the place or an air of swagger? Are the pastors bullies? Are the people narcissists? Is appropriate church discipline practiced, gentle but direct? Is there a spirit of gossip in the place or of transparency? Is the church programming built around production values or honest intimacy with the Lord?
Are the people good repenters? That’s a real sign of genuine fruitfulness.
3. A Dogged Devotion to the Word of God
A lot of churches say they are “Bible-based,” by which they mean they will quote some Bible verses in the sermon. Or you can take a look at their small group offerings and see most of them are built around special interests, hobbies, or personal demographics. But fruitful churches love God’s word. They preach from it as if doing so gives oxygen. They study it with determination and intensity. They believe the word of God is sufficient and powerful and authoritative. You might even see people carrying their Bibles to the worship gathering!
Edwards says that a mark of a true move of God is high esteem of the Scriptures. I fear this mark is much missing in too many evangelical churches that admittedly use the Bible but aren’t effectively esteeming it.
4. An Interest in Theology and Doctrine
Yes, knowledge apart from grace simply puffs up, but this does not make knowledge disposable. Edwards says that the people of God will love the things of God. They will search out his ways, following the trails of doctrine in the Scriptures straight to the throne. In our day, it is common to see emotion/experience set at odds with doctrine/theology, and so it is quite common to see churches that have devoted themselves to one while keeping the other at arm’s length. But just as unfruitful as a church that’s all head knowledge and no heart is a church that’s all feelings and no depth. Some pastors even publicly mock theology or denigrate Bible study. But the church has not endured for 2,000 years on “spiritual feelings.”
The Lord himself says that true worshipers worship in spirit and in truth. We cannot jettison the truth for a dominating “spirit.” And in fact, as Edwards says, the work of the true Spirit “operates as a spirit of truth, leading persons to truth, convincing them of those things that are true.”
5. An Evident Love for God and Love for Neighbor
Exactly as it sounds. True fruitfulness is evidenced chiefly in obedience to the commands of God, the greatest of which is loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves. If a church appears to exist only for the sake of its own survival, only for the sake of its own enterprise, only for the sake of its own internal experiences, no matter how big it gets, it is not likely fruitful but more likely swollen.
Fruitful churches may or may not see steady conversions but they will have a steady outward heart of service and compassion for the world outside their doors.
Measuring the Spirit
Obviously, these five things are harder to quantify than simply counting hands and bodies. I think this is why we (lazily?) tend to equate hands and bodies with fruitfulness. But I want to make the provocative claim that a church can be Spiritually fruitful without seeing many or frequent conversions, without bursting at the seams attendance-wise, without creating “worship experiences” that stir people emotionally and imaginatively. Seeing those things can be good when done from the right place. But they are not themselves indicators of genuine fruit.
Yes, the early church counted. It’s totally fine to count. But we don’t see the kind of emphasis on high attendance and decision-producing that exists today in the pages of the New Testament. We see faithfulness. And we see fruit (“in season”) and sometimes we don’t (“out of season”). The job of the church is not to succeed but to be faithful. If you are not seeing much evangelistic fruit, in other words, be careful that it is not because you are being evangelistically disobedient!
Here are some good diagnostic questions to help us go deeper in our church measurements. I have adapted them from my book The Prodigal Church:
1. Are those being baptized continuing to walk in the faith a year later? Two years? Three years?
2. How many of our people are being trained to personally disciple others?
3. What percentage of our weekend attendees are engaged in community groups? Evangelism? Community service?
4. How many of our people could articulate the biblical gospel?
5. What is the reputation of our church in the community?
6. Are our people graduating into other grades and classes demonstrating a growing understanding of theology and a growing walk with Christ?
In Galatians 5, Paul contrasts a list of bad behaviors with good qualities. The fruit of the Spirit. These are much harder to measure than an accumulation of good deeds, but they are a much better indicator of spiritual growth. One thing we keep seeing in the Scriptures is how character, disposition, quality, being is consistently emphasized over behavior, position, quantity, and doing. The former is much harder to measure, yes, but shouldn’t this make sense? The Holy Spirit is not so easily sized-up.
John 5:41-44The Message (MSG)
41-44 “I’m not interested in crowd approval. And do you know why? Because I know you and your crowds. I know that love, especially God’s love, is not on your working agenda. I came with the authority of my Father, and you either dismiss me or avoid me. If another came, acting self-important, you would welcome him with open arms. How do you expect to get anywhere with God when you spend all your time jockeying for position with each other, ranking your rivals and ignoring God?
Burnout comes when we are unable to share the load. Sharing the load is not just physical or emotional but also spiritual. We share the load as we can vulnerably open our lives up to a few trusted friends love you enough to challenge, pray and encourage you. As ministers, we struggle to do this but this is vital to life and our congregation!
I would be dead in the water if I did not have a few guys that are willing to take runs or cycling rides with me and give me the freedom to share my joys, sorrows, triumphs and failures. And better is when they hold me accountable to share. The way out of burnout is to let out our spiritual struggles to a trusted friend!
- Who can you seek out to be one to hold you accountable to share your spiritual burdens?
- Who can you seek out to serve holding others accountable in sharing and growing spiritually in the gospel?
Originally posted by Dave Kraft
“For they loved human praise more than the praise of God.” -John 12:43 (NLT)`
Jesus, may this not be true of me. I know I come back to this theme over and over, but it’s such a big deal to me…and to you.
It’s all about YOU not me. When I receive praise, respect, accolades from people, help me quietly thank them and pass it along to you.
“Isn’t everything you have and everything you are sheer gifts from God? So what’s the point of all this comparing and competing?” 1Corinthians 4:7 Msg. There is no point if I truly believe everything is sheer grace and gifts.
Wanting and seeking praise recognition from people will be a struggle until I go to meet you.
“We have met the enemy and he is us.”
We have met the enemy and he is us! I am my own worst enemy and often get in the way of what Jesus wants to do. Self-worship, self-interest & self-preoccupation are idols that cause me to feed off of people’s praise.
Years ago, in my regular morning Bible reading, meditation and journaling, I ran across John 5:41 in the NLT,
“Your approval or disapproval means nothing to me.”
My first thought was, of course it means nothing to you…you are God, but to me, approval or disapproval means a whole lot. When I am approved I feel great…like I could run for president. And when I am disapproved, I feel like pond scum and want to run and hide somewhere.
Lord I’m tired of living like a yoyo…up and down and at the mercy of how others view me. Let me live and minister for an audience of one…YOU!
This is totally possible through the power of the Holy Spirit who resides in me.
+To ponder: Has it gotten to the place where the praise of men means more to you than the praise of God?
Great excerpt by Scotty Smith from his book Reign of Grace (p288)
“WHERE ARE YOU IN YOUR STORY? Some of us are alive to neither our story nor God’s Story. With no story to give bearings or boundaries, life is simply a series of unrelated events, moments, people, and experiences. We are in constant need of redefining ourselves and finding new gods to “bless us” and to deliver us from “curses.”
Some of us are alive only to our story. We are committed to personal growth, but within the confining orbit of our own narrative. Life goes well as long as our narrative doesn’t experience planetary collision with some other person vying for the same air space.
Some are alive only to God’s story. We love the promise, beauty, and music of God’s story, but we cannot locate ourselves in his narrative. We love to worship more than we love God. We are more comfortable using “god speak” than engaging in normal conversation with the people in our world.
Others are alive to both stories, but don’t connect the two. We live a dualistic life— in two minds and in two worlds: one sacred and one secular. Whichever identity serves the moment wins the day. We are chameleons on Scotch-plaid, cultural schizophrenics— engaging but confused, confident but ambivalent.
Finally, some of us are alive to both stories, and experience them synergistically. This is where the gospel takes us. In this state, we bring the reign of grace to bear wherever God places us— in relationships and in the culture. We are nostalgic for Eden, engaged in the present, and homesick for heaven. We make people thirsty to know Jesus. May God increase this tribe!
Coming alive in my story and God’s story. 5 things: Gather, Dialogue, Reflect, Integrate, and Share.
- Gather Data
Gather all the information you can about your family of origin and compile as complete a history as possible of every season of your life— from infancy until today, from the mundane to the great pains. Become a genealogical newshound. Look for photographs, letters, diaries— anything you can find that contains information about your life and times.
Commit to learn as much about God’s Story as you possibly can. That Story is faithfully recorded for us in the Bible. Seek to become familiar with the contents of all the books of the Bible. Get to know each book and author as they emerge in the context of the overall story God is developing in history. Begin the discipline of reading the Bible all the way through, over and over.
Talk with significant people from your past and present. Interview those who can tell stories and who are willing to interact with you about your family system, their memories of you, descriptions of your community, the times of crises, transition, and joy. Be bold in your pursuit and attentive as a listener. Expand the conversation to include peers, neighbors, teachers, coaches, extended family, etc.
Like any other story, God’s Story comes alive through rich conversation. Get to know the people in your community who love the Bible and are vitally involved in the fabric of its story Learn from them. Learn with them. There are no dumb questions! But the most important dialogue we can develop is with God himself, and the most vital and powerful context for this dialogue is worship. Every time we gather to worship as the people of God, we are called into a dynamic conversation, not a one-sided monologue. God graciously speaks to us in Word and sacrament, and we respond in confession, faith, adoration, and obedience. Remember, worship is a covenantal conversation— a doxological dialogue between the Creator-Redeemer and his people. Learn to prepare yourself for worship as one coming to give Jesus everything you have and are— as a beloved Bride looking forward to a special time of intimacy with her passionate and present Bridegroom.
Make time for rumination and meditation. Journal as many of your feelings and thoughts as you can. As you reflect upon the information you are gaining, ask yourself these questions: For what and whom are you profoundly grateful? What makes you sad or angry as you remember certain people and places? What are you learning about your heart, longings, fears, and foolishness? How does God fit into your world and story, if at all? How do you wrongfully medicate your pain, instead of dealing with it constructively? What new questions are emerging? Be ruthless and honest and not in a hurry.
There is no way we will be able to come alive and stay alive to God’s story if we do not learn how to reflect upon the glory, beauty, and graceof Jesus. The more we learn about the story of redemption, the more we will begin to see ourselves as a part of the sacred romance— the great love affair between Jesus, the loving Bridegroom, and ourselves, his ill-deserving but beloved Bride. The truth and grace of Jesus are to penetrate into our hearts, deeper and deeper. There is no substitute for significant and focused times of communing with the Lover of our souls.
This is where you begin to connect the past, the present, and the future. To come alive to your story is to participate in an ongoing journey. You aren’t writing a research paper, a third-person novel, or a litany of excuses for why you are such a mess! You’re learning how to live. How will you integrate what you are learning and feeling into this present season of life? What will it cost you to grow? When and where will you get help for your wounded heart? Who can help you sort out the God issues?
It’s at this junction that our participation in God’s Story either heads in the direction of passion or pastime. Will the drama of his Story invade the rhythms our daily life? Will the knowledge of having Jesus as our loving Bridegroom find us living as his faithful, impassioned, submissive Bride? Or will we choose to keep our knowledge of God’s story as devotional bookends to an otherwise self-contained life or as inspirational material for good, conservative morality?
- Share in Community
For this process to become more than a dusty monologue or self-centered soliloquy, you must be part of meaningful community. Who are the people in your life with whom you can share what you are learning about yourself and your life context? From whom are you willing to receive honest feedback and loving accountability? To whom are you committed to share the same costly involvement?
Becoming a committed member and servant-participant in the church, in a local expression of the body of Christ, is vital to coming alive and staying alive to God’s Story. It is “together with all the saints,” as Paul has said, that we come to know “the height, width, breadth, and length of the love of Christ.”
Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.
― Brené Brown