Thursday, October 5

Working together is slower than working alone

This week we turned in our mid-year statistics that measure numbers of new church plants, total churches, baptisms, outreach groups, people being discipled, etc. Many of us frown on such number counting, even though the Bible is full of numbers like the feeding of the 5000, the 3000 added to the church in Acts 2, or an entire book of the Bible named "Numbers".

Are goals and number counting something unspiritual, displeasing to God? True, it got King David in trouble in 2 Samuel 24, and yet in John 15, Jesus himself says, "My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples." (emphasis mine)

I usually am for numbers when ours are pretty good (as measured with our peers), but tend to be against them when our stats are poor.

The reason so many of us do not like statistics is that they are often revealing of the little fruit that actually occurs from all our efforts. It is painful to see in black and white that we are not accomplishing all that we would hope for the Kingdom in terms of those tracked church planting indicators.

This year our stats are down and we are not happy with what we had to report. As I reflect upon what has taken place this calendar year I have asked myself what we have done so differently that has resulted in the downturn? Much of it can be attributed to some of the reasons listed below in our, "Why do so many of our church plants fail?" However, one of the reasons not listed in this post but is something that we are trying to do differently than in the past is to DO THINGS TOGETHER.

Charles Ringma has some good thoughts about this in his classic devotional, "Dare to Journey With Henry Nouwen." When we work together with our fellow brethren it is never an easy road to travel. I find it is a much slower process requiring greater patience and understanding on my part. For example, I assigned a task six weeks ago to a fellow team member that would normally have taken me a morning to complete. By assigning it to someone else, we have been delayed in moving forward with a project and still waiting for the needed work to be turned in. That is the difference between working together, rather than working alone. Instead of going at my own pace getting much done, we take on the pace of our fellow brethren. When I work alone I can be much more efficient, but it becomes "my work" rather than "our work."

Nouwen puts it this way, "a slow job done together is better than a fast job done alone." Ringma adds, "This kind of service does not have a quick end result in view. It has a process in view." It is so much easier doing things for others, but as Ringma points out, "...service takes on its true character when we do things with others..."

Yes, it has been a frustrating year in regards to seeing the longed for abundant harvest we had hoped to see this year. At best this will end up being a mediocre year (unless the Lord surprises us all!) in terms of seeing visible fruit from our labors.

Yet, somehow I find myself at peace. This peace comes from knowing that we are attempting to not make a name for ourselves, but are truly wanting to work TOGETHER to see His Kingdom come and His Will be done here in Guayaquil as it is in Heaven.


Donald said...

Wow. It is refreshing to see that someone else is all for numbers (so long as our numbers are good). I too am very hesitant when our numbers are not going where we would want for them to be going.

I also encourage you to continue to work with others. I believe that our task is to transform lives and culture. This is not always a quick and easy task especially when we go it alone.

I just finished storying through Acts for the second time in the past month. It is amazing to me to read through this wonderful church planting book to see how God continuously brought people into the fellowship. I am convinced that as we work with others to see God glorified, He will also bring people to Him.

Keep up the great work!

GuyMuse said...

DONALD--Thanks for stopping by and leaving this encouraging comment. Working together is something we have always sought to do, but it is always a great temptation to usurp what others are trying to do because they aren't doing it as fast, or as efficieintly as we would like. It is exciting watching people come into their own as we stand in the background encouraging, rather than DOING it ourselves.

Watchman said...

I agree with Nowen's quote. I believe we get seduced by efficiency in ministry at the expense of effectiveness. We make decisions like trying to solve space problems by going to multiple services. Its efficient for the staff, but doesn't really get anyone else involved. Anybody can give the same sermon twice, even three times in a morning. My wife and I have committed ourselve to doing ministry a different way. We've been at it over a year and have only added one person to our number. Doesn't look too good on paper for the short term, but hopefully we are in it for the long haul. Getting other people on board really does take a long time, but i believe it ultimately ends up in more laborers.

Darrell said...

Again, your honesty is such a comfort. I have done my best to do everything with others; giving to others as much as I can. However I have found that most of the time the work does not get done as quickly as it would if I did it. I wondered what I was doing wrong. Nice to know I am not the only one who needs to ask God for His patience daily!

As a father of a large family I know that I must train my children to do what I used to do for them. At first they do it slowly, and poorly. However in time they become good and efficient. Now I can honestly leave for a week, and they do EVERYTHING. Now we go camping and the kids can set up the tent, make the fire, cook the food, clean the dishes, catch the fish, and pack up camp when it is time to go. I guess family is a great CPM training place!

Dave said...

Wow Darrell,

That is some testimony. I am a father of three, and I know that training our kids is a priority. I'll be waiting to pick up your book on the subject when it goes to print.

Speaking on topic however, our mission movement prides itself on indigenous church priciples, basically teaching that it is more important to teach and model than do. We've seen as well that where this is modeled, the church is flourishing. These areas usually take longer to develop, but the fruit is generally longer lasting and, over the long haul, much greater. In the areas where these practices have not been followed, we've sometimes seen rapid growth, but the numbers dwindle as soon as the missionary must return for itineration, sometimes never to recover.

I am a believer, therefore, in sharing the ministry. I think the hardest part is communicating this idea to those at home supporting our work, especially when short-term missions workers routinely report incredible numbers after only weeks on the field, and holding firm to it ourselves when we fail to see the fruit that we were hoping for.

Ross Garner said...

Each morning I pray in the woods near where I live. I like to stand under an oak tree at the top of a hill. For the past few weeks I have been bombarded by falling acorns. The fruitfulness of this tree is amazing even though it is not a particularly fine specimen.

As I reflected on the sheer number of seeds thrown out by this tree, I realised that only one acorn needs to germinate and grow to maturity for this tree to have successfully reproduced.

GuyMuse said...

WATCHMAN--I read with interest your comment and was trying to think of something appropriate to respond, and then Ross Garner's comment above about needing one "one acorn to germinate...for this tree to have successfuly reproduced." How true. In our own work we have a huge fall-out. Most people usually hear only the success stories,but for every one of those good stories, there are dozens of stories that never get told.

DARRELL--What you write about in fathering a large family certainly holds true for the ministry as well. There are many similarities between successful raising of a family and church planting.

DAVE--While I had never heard it stated exactly like you do, your "it is more important to teach and model than do" is a very appropriate statement. I think I'll blog on that idea in an upcoming post!

ROSS--How I envy would prayer walks in the woods! Where we live it is all concrete with very little green anywhere. I loved your acorn reflection and was refreshed by the thought, thanks!