Light and Life Goleta has just passed its seventh birthday. We have grown slowly to an average attendance of 65. Many church planters would consider those numbers as indicating a failed endeavor.
But not me.
I have learned that as long as the fig tree is bearing fruit and the lampstand remains in place, the work can and should continue. Buying into the culture’s models of success and seeking to copy other churches’ growth rates can been pesticide to the church plantings of the Lord.
I have a friend who planted a church in our area four years ago. They grew to 150 people at weekly worship and had a vibrant sports ministry that was reaching unchurched families. They had recently baptized fifteen people. But then he decided to pull the plug because the church wasn’t growing at the rate that his first church had grown (in a much larger metropolitan area).
I was disappointed, but I know that many of his people were broken-hearted. Not knowing the details of his family situation and the leadership/board dynamics, I can’t conjecture what the Lord thought. However if I just focus on the church planter him or herself, here is what I would ask of those in a similar situation…
What are your expectations? Do you have certain measures of success, and if so, are they legitimate? If those expectations include symbols such as a facility and numbers associated with the budget and attendance, would you re-examine those?
If, however, the measures of success are focused on fortitude and fruitfulness, I believe we are on the right track. By fortitude I mean a persevering spirit that endures disappointments and setbacks. By fruitfulness, I mean that we mark ministry success by Jesus’ measures and not the world’s.
Today at Westmont College’s Lead Where You Stand conference, I heard supermodel, CEO and committed Christian, Kathy Ireland, speak about her international business and the formative experiences that shaped her. Would you guess that Kathy Ireland experienced a ton of rejection prior to her success in business? I wouldn’t have. My first thought of Kathy Ireland was that she had everything handed to her—bestowed with business opportunities right along with her God-given good looks. The rest of us would have to use our bootstraps, but not she.
Apparently, that was not the case at all. Kathy exercised courage and fortitude and a never-say-die attitude from her first job as paper delivery girl at age 11. And it is the same mettle that you and I need in church planting. Will we give up when four people show up to a prayer meeting? Will we consider ourselves failures when we have not grown as fast as other church planters we have emulated?
We have to learn to go through rejection and disappointments. Hold on to the fact that God is invested in our enterprise of church planting. He is committed to our success, and he does not want us to give up when we experience disappointments!
Often it’s a failure of fortitude, and at other times it’s forgetting our fruitfulness.
To focus on fruitfulness induces nothing short of goose-pimple excitement. Are we helping marriages? Are we seeing people lead transformed and holy lives? Are we baptizing new converts? Are we impacting our communities? Helping the poor and disenfranchised? Alleviating burdens on single parents?
The list goes on and on and on.
When the Bible discusses spiritual fruit, keep in mind that breaking ground on a new state-of-the-art 10,000 seat worship auditorium is not mentioned, and Jesus shunned the allure of the crowd to focus on the relational discipleship of his small band.
Let’s be those who keep their focus on fortitude and fruitfulness.