Faithfulness and Fruitfulness

By Shannon Youell

In ministry, in church planting, in new initiatives, and in life and business, humans are always measuring. We weigh, we compare, we assess, we reassess, we deconstruct and we construct.  These processes are all good, useful and vital. However, we must be aware of what metric we are using in our measuring, comparing and weighing.

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What Does it Profit…

In a capitalistic society our metric is usually productivity and profit.  When productivity is high and profit is good, we consider things successful. When our children go to university and acquire a good career, we consider them successful (and we consider ourselves successful too!).  When our church is filled to capacity, we consider ministry successful.

The Gospel, however, demands a different metric; in fact, the entirety of the Story of God and humans demands a different metric. The metric of success as worshippers of God, disciples of Jesus, sent missionaries into our lived spaces, is faithfulness and fruitfulness. Here’s a helpful thought from Forge Canada on this paradigm shift.

Engaging Gospel: What Does Success Look Like?

As our church calendar moves towards the fall, and as CBWC Staff encourage our churches to join in the shared Engaging Gospel series,  we’ve been pondering what our metric or success in this series would look like.

One of our prayers is that, as we engage the gospel of the kingdom of God anew, we will find ourselves rediscovering how amazing and transforming it is. The God who loves us, in the midst of our brokenness, suffering and struggle to find our way, sends His Son Jesus to bring us back to the heart of God’s kingdom story.  Jesus’ great sermon expounds on God’s way of loving God, selves and others. He tears down the hierarchical boundaries of who is in and who is out by pouring out grace on all.

God’s great work of redemption, reconciliation and restoration begins with Jesus, as the one who calls humans back to God’s heart and reminds us of God’s covenant with us; as the one who is the last sacrifice for the sins of the world; and as the one who is Lord of our lives and to whom we pledge allegiance in how we live, work, play and pray.

Engaging the gospel is more than reciting God’s plan for these things, it is actually living into it in ways that bring healing, peace, hope, love, joy and grace to all people’s, to point them ever more deeply towards Jesus as king of our lives now and forever.

As we relearn, rethink and reimagine the gospel, and as we pray for God’s help in moving that gospel into the reality of our neighbour’s lives, we cannot help but be transformed ourselves to love God and others with everything we are and have.

Perhaps, then, we as a family of churches can begin to measure how we engage with people who do not yet know Christ yet. How do we care for those who have rejected organized religion as oppressive, or who cannot see God as loving because of the way humans, including Christian humans, have often treated one another?

Maybe it’s time to start counting the conversations our church members have with those of a different faith. Maybe should measure the instances of gospeling through both word and deed. In Kingdom Calling, Amy Sherman recommends creating an inventory of the many good deeds that a congregation is already involved with, and then  helping those involved to find words for the gospel that those deeds reflect (for example, what injustice is it addressing and why is the Gospel part of that story?).

Perhaps we can have in our metric the ways we, as already-believers, find our hearts expanded and our minds renewed to be disciples of Jesus who engage in the world in the way Jesus demonstrated and taught.

May we become demonstrators of Jesus’ way not as separated from the world to protect ourselves, but as friends who pour out our lives for the lost, the least and the last in both word and action.

“Success” in Church Planting

Last week, we heard from our friends from Pittsburgh Seminary on the way Jesus flips the definition of success when it comes to church planting (“Sometimes our expectations have to be crucified so that Jesus’ reign can be fully displayed.”)

Today, we continue the conversation about using Kingdom lenses to understand success in Church Planting, but this time with a Canadian perspective. Jared Siebert of the New Leaf Network shares these thoughts:

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Success for the Pioneer
Pioneers in research, in science, in social movements, and in any other disciplines make incalculable contributions to their respective communities—especially if their community is stuck or stagnated. Pioneers matter because they look for and often find a new way forward. For them, however, success is harder to come by.

Success for a pioneer is two-fold: they must not only success in what they do, but they must find a new way to do it. To succeed at one and fail at the other is not really success at all. To be a pioneer in the field of church planting is no exception. Success, for pioneer planters, not only means establishing a new church, but establishing a new kind of church.

The idea that the church in Canada is in a period of stagnation is hardly controversial—we are indeed slowly shrinking. Much of the “new growth” we see in our successful churches come from Christians moving from one church to another. This includes many of our successful “fastest growing” church plants as well.

We have lost much of our capacity to invite average Canadians into the good news life we say we believe in. This is why understanding the work of pioneer church planters is so vital. Pioneer planters not only teach us what works, in terms of sharing the good news, but they teach us what is possible. They have something unique to offer in terms of pointing the way out of our current situation.

Redefining Success
A Christian leader’s primary task is not to be successful, but to be faithful to God. This is an important starting point. The process of living out our calling in leadership—just like living out any other calling in the body of the church—is first and foremost a process of sanctification. God wants to sanctify us in our ministry. Successful use of skills will always be secondary. God’s primary concern is on deepening our character, and not simply ensuring that we’re meeting some kind of skill standards.

What if success was “being faithful to whatever it is that God asked you to do”? Here’s my logic: given the complexity of the current Canadian reality, we can safely assume we’re not all being sent out to do the same job. Some will be sent out to stabilize what already exists. Some will be sent out to repair. Some will be sent out to forge new ground. You know, different part but one Spirit kinds of stuff. So what if there wasn’t one unifying definition of success for every church in every place?

For instance, success in a conflicted church might mean a total focus on unity and conflict resolution. Numerical growth may not be part of the equation for a long time; it may even wind up being a distraction. Success in a complacent church may mean fostering holy discontent and discomfort—two things that can act as serious growth inhibitors.

What if our definition of success changed as the people and the job did?

This article is from Jared’s book Gutsy: (Mis)Adventures in Canadian Church Planting. You can find it on Amazon, or ask if you can borrow my copy next time we see each other! ~Cailey

 

 

 

 

 

Cruciform Expectations

As we carry on our series on seeing through Jesus’ right-side-up lenses in an upside-down world, let’s see how His Kingdom impacts the way we view church plant life spans. This article is reposted by permission from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary’s blog, originally published June 7, 2016.

“We need more five-year church plants,” said John Ogren. He was Skyping into our “Planting and Leading New Churches” class at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, part of the M.Div. Church Planting Emphasis, and reflecting on his experiences in a new church that started, lasted a few years, and then for a variety of reasons, didn’t continue.

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It was the first day of class, and our students who had assembled to learn how to plant a (presumably successful) church, seemed relieved to begin with a story of supposed failure. John described how ministry and mission have a “cruciforming” effect upon us. We can receive this as a grace: By following Jesus in mission, we are formed more into his likeness, including his death. Sometimes success is crucifixion and failure is preserving our lives.

It’s okay to fail.

“Failure” is not uncommon in church planting. One study suggests that only 68 percent of church plants last for four years. Two speakers coming to Pittsburgh Theological Seminary this month have been a part of new churches that didn’t continue: A church plant which Rachel Held Evans (Being Church, June 10-11) was part of failed and Mark Scandrette (Invitation to Simplicity, June 26-29) has written about his failed attempt to plant a particular kind of church in San Francisco.

The way we approach church planting can make a significant difference in how likely our new worshiping communities are to be sustainable. But there are also a host of other factors beyond our control which affect sustainability. And when for any combination of reasons a ministry has to call it quits, a ministry’s task becomes dying with faithfulness to the mission Christ gave it. So what does a faithful death look like?
Death becomes a launching point.

I like Mark Scandrette’s approach. A dozen years ago he wrote that in the wake of seeming failure, his community “needed to go back to the Gospels and rediscover the goodness and beauty of the kingdom of God. Jesus is the place where reconstruction begins.”[1] Death became a launching point. Experience of failure led Mark and his family to explore “a more primal pursuit of Jesus and his kingdom . . . practicing and imitating Jesus’ life in our neighborhoods: eating with the homeless, creating art, engaging in classic spiritual disciplines, practicing hospitality, etc. Our vision has changed from a house-church movement to an indigenous Kingdom movement.”[2]

Sometimes our expectations have to be crucified so that Jesus’ reign can be fully displayed.

Christians believe resurrection follows death. Otherwise we would be “of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor 15:19). We’re supposed to be set free from the fear of death (Heb 2:15). So what might our ministries—new and old—look like if we didn’t fear institutional death?

Last fall, our Church Planting Initiative hosted a conference at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary about multi-cultural church planting. In one of his plenary talks, Jin Kim, founding pastor of Church of All Nations, described his church’s identity as a “high risk, low anxiety church because Jesus is Lord.” If Jesus is sovereign, we can take risks for the sake of witnessing to him, even risks that may lead to worldly “failure.” So why do we think we can add one hour to our churches’ lives by worrying about them?

My own church plant might be starting to think this way. I’m accepting a call to a church in another part of the country and will be gone in a couple months. The church we planted in Pittsburgh has dedicated and incredibly gifted leaders, but the transiency of our young demographic means we keep sending people out each year, and those losses are getting harder to replenish. As our elders imagined what could happen in the church in a couple years, one said that if it were to die, it shouldn’t be because of complacency. Rather, she said we should “take the reins and do something big” so that if we die it happens “in a blaze of glory” because we’ve remained faithful to our mission.

Amen. Jesus didn’t die because he gave up. He died because it was essential to the mission the Father had given him to bring resurrection life to the whole world.

For any church to follow that pattern will mean it takes a few risks, wades through lots of uncertainty, and experiences some suffering. But that’s what we’re called to do. The PC(U.S.A.)’s Book of Order actually says that the Church is called to be faithful in mission, “even at the risk of its own life.”

Death can be as much success as it is failure.

Death for a new church (or any other ministry) can be success as much as it can be failure. Sometimes it will be both at the same time. But a ministry’s degree of success and failure is not determined in terms of sustainability, as though sustainability is an end in itself. Rather success and failure are determined in relation to faithfulness to the mission God has given. A church or ministry can be sustainable but unfaithful. Or we can bear faithful witness to the reign of Jesus Christ and find ourselves broke and worn out. In which case do you think God’s power is more likely to be displayed?

As Romans 8:28 says, God works all things for the good of those who love him. The next verse says that we’re destined “to be conformed to the image” of Jesus. That conformity again includes both crucifixion and resurrection. The death of a ministry can be holy if it dies like Jesus: giving wholly of itself in fidelity to God’s mission in the world. Out of such deaths, the Spirit will bring new life.

The Rev. Christopher Brown moved to Pittsburgh from Colorado to pursue a master of divinity (MDiv) degree at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He currently serves as the coordinator of the Church Planting Initiative at the Seminary along with pursuing his master’s in sacred theology. Chris is the organizing co-pastor of The Upper Room Presbyterian Church, a church plant of the PC (U.S.A.) in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. Chris regularly blogs at https://christopherbrown.wordpress.com and tweets at @brwnchrstpher.

[1] Mark Scandrette, “Pilgrimage Landscapes” in A Community of Kindness by Steve Sjogren & Rob Lewin (Ventura, CA: Regal 2003) p. 216

[2] Ibid.