After living in the church planting world now for 10 years, I have learned how easy it becomes to allow our affections for success to get the better of us. It starts with a vision that our particular city and neighborhoods need Jesus, but our vision for gospel saturation begins to require some form of success to measure the worth of our programs and methods. The problem isn’t that we establish a metric for value or success, but that our human tendency is to value numbers, conversions, and events over what the Scripture lays out as true verifiable fruit. The Apostle Paul called the Galatian churches to consider “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23) as their metric of success.
Last week, as I attended a church planting network conference, I pondered the reality if we believed these to be a good metric of success. Any time you go to a conference, there is a lot of small talk that goes on. But as I sat on the shuttle from the airport to the hotel with fellow church planters, not once did I hear, “How is your church growing in love?” “How is your family expressing joy?” “How are your neighbors experiencing kindness and goodness?” No, instead I was inundated with questions of sphere of influence, size of staff, and number of people in my church. And what came to mind is that if we as the “shepherds” struggle with this false metric, how much more does our congregation measure success by the number of people on Sunday or the popularity of our events.
Peter encouraged the church leaders by saying:
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you...being examples to the flock.
(1 Peter 5:1–3)
What I know to be true is that anyone can gather a crowd, but the gospel effectiveness that we are seeking is a changed heart by the powerful working of the Spirit. So the question remains, “How do we lead this? How do we as the shepherds bear an example of this to the flock?” Let us consider these three disciplines of ministry:
1. Humility. I have come to experience humility in the sovereignty of God. As I consider my life and story as part of God’s greater narrative, I have been humbled at the reality that God cares for the smallest part of His creation. I am a nobody in comparison to the great men and women who have lived in history, and yet God knows, loves, and includes me in His grand narrative of redemption. Peter goes on to say, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.” (1 Peter 5:6) We have not only been invited into God’s story, but he will “exalt us.” Rather than looking for metrics to exalt ourselves, would we humble our hearts to see mighty hand of God? In some strange way we believe that God is more satisfied in our works if we have 200 people in our church rather than 50, but the truth is that He will exalt us not on behalf of our own merit (or church size), but on the merit of Christ and Christ alone. Let us root our humility in the finished work of Jesus on our behalf.
2. Focus. When left to my own metrics of success, I can at times get spiritual whiplash. I whip from one program, one system to another. Could it be that our sole focus be on the work of the Spirit in the life of our church? We need to pray and ask the Spirit to focus our hearts not on our own plans, but on our own hearts. At times I am so wrapped up in searching for the success of my program that I miss the work that the Spirit is doing right in my very own heart. Peter says, “Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) This last year I felt fatigued from mission. And as should be expected, some of the leaders that serve alongside me felt it personally also. We need to set our focus both privately and publically on the powerful work of the Spirit. Let us begin by publicly confessing and sharing our misdirection, casting all our anxieties on him, and corporately calling our church to the care of the Spirit of our individual lives. The Spirit cares for our unbelieving hearts as much as the “not yet believers.”
3. Determination. This last one could be tricky. Determination could be perceived as “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” kind of mentality that focuses again on false metrics of success. But the determination that I want to call us to is that which believes that Jesus will establish his kingdom and the gates of hell will not prevail. It is a determination that no matter how difficult, how unsuccessful, or how much we suffer in the work of ministry, the glory of God will prevail. I love that Peter ends his exhortation to elders with this line of determination and encouragement, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 5:10-11) Let us lead our church to not find success in what Zig Ziggler, Tony Evans, and Joel Olsteen can accomplish, but in the power of the Spirit to change the hearts of men and women in our churches, our neighborhoods, and our living rooms, starting with us.
Chad Mondragon lives in Centennial, CO with his wife Melody and their 5 kids. He is lead pastor and planter of Sola Church in Centennial, and has also planted a church in Lexington, KY. Chad is part of the Acts29 Church Planting Network, North American Mission Board, and the Soma Family of Churches.