Though the conversations are both sad and tragic, I do learn from them. And after dozens, perhaps a few hundred, of these conversations, I see patterns. These patterns become warning signs for any of us, lest we be so naïve to think we have no vulnerabilities.
There’s a tendency in our culture, and often in the Church, as well, to say that our faith is something personal, something just between us and God. But whether we realize it or not, we’re all part of a larger story. While we absolutely should have a personal relationship with our Creator, we also need to acknowledge that our life—and our faith—is not just about us. I think God never intended for my life to be about me and your life to be about you—like two unique snowflakes melting alone on the ground. Rather, God intended for our lives to be meshed and grinding forward toward something purposeful.
And yet somehow… it’s amazing how the training priority just seems to leak away and not happen. When Col and I talk to people about a “Trellis and Vine” philosophy of ministry (nearly) everyone stands and salutes, and says how much they love the idea of growing a fellowship of disciples who make other disciples. But then we ask: “So how, in practical terms, are you going to train each of your members to be everyday disciple-makers this year?” And the room goes kind of quiet.
And, as a Lutheran-Catholicish kind of person, I imagine myself into a non-clergy role, sitting at my kitchen table anxiously waiting for someone from Barna to call me, and realize I might answer the question–you know, the one about reading the bible in the last seven days–in the negative, because I didn’t realize hearing the bible in the liturgy, or praying it with others, or reading it as quotes in other contexts, might count. I figure only evangelicals read the bible every day as part of their quiet time in the morning. Then they journal it and take a photo of their bible with a cup of coffee and post it on Facebook.
But the job wasn’t the problem. I was the problem because I refused to attach any significance to the work I was doing. The work was boring and mundane, dull and tedious, because I allowed it to be that way. I wasn’t thinking Christianly about that job or the work I was meant to do there. My lack of joy in doing my job was a direct result of the lack of significance I attached to it.
Don’t be deceived: It is difficult to consistently seek God’s righteousness because of the ebb and flow of our human desires. We can be easily distracted, depending upon the urgency of a situation. Hungering for righteousness is a matter of priorities. When we say we love God and choose to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, hungering for righteousness is a matter of first importance. We should desire to be filled with his Spirit and become like him in our spirit.
Neither dependence nor independence is truly Christian, and both can destroy us. We are continually transformed as we fully depend on the Lord, repent of our independence, and interdependently connect with a group of believers. As the writer of Hebrews said, “But encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception” (Hebrews 3:13).
My experience with wise church leaders is that they reluctantly embrace growth when it comes, but they do not chase it, they do not fixate on it, and they do not use it as an indicator of anything in any short-term way. They do look at long-term trends to help identify obstacles to effective ministry, and they certainly celebrate the stories of people who experience gospel-centered transformation. For the most part, wise church leaders focus on actual people and celebrate names way more than numbers.