Editor’s Note: This article is the second in a series exploring seven temptations of the western Church, based on Jeff Christopherson’s novel, “Once You See.” Read Part 1 of the series here.
Every pastor who regularly preaches has wondered, “Did that message make a difference? Will anything happen?”
We’re all together in this. We often wonder. A lot. We preach and we pray and we hope. But every now and then, often on a Monday, deep in the pit of our stomach we honestly question, “Is this really it? Is this really the plan?”
All of us have been here.
I was speaking at a seminary to a varied audience of students, professors, and administrative staff for their annual “missions emphasis.” My opening salvos were a few slides that depicted the ground we have given away in the past decade. Church attendance, down. Church to population ratios, sliding in the wrong direction. Biblical belief amongst churched people, evaporating. Baptisms, down. Society’s sentiment toward helpfulness of churches, falling off the cliff. The bad news was not difficult to find.
I let all that depressing news settle in for a moment.
My next slides spoke of costs associated in educating each student in attendance. Students now learned that their tuition fees only covered a small fraction of their share in the vast expense associated in a sophisticated educational complex. An army of donors, denominational investments, and countless sacrifices from faithful believers were needed to backfill the costs of each student’s education.
My final slides spoke of the actual price to report one baptized new believer. The math was simple. Add up all the reported expenses of all the churches and divide that number by the baptisms reported. The most recent research showed that each new disciple in America cost $1.55 million.
A collective “gasp” was audible.
I then asked a rhetorical question. “And after graduating, how many of you are planning to serve in a local church?” I knew that most students in attendance would not be entering pastoral ministry but choosing some ancillary religious vocation.
I continued, “For the minority of those in this room who sense a calling to lead God’s people in the local church, the road ahead looks difficult. Much tougher than in previous generations.”
And then I asked the question, “And do you know how to ensure that we stay on our negative growth trajectory? And do you know how to guarantee that your education was a waste of all the kingdom dollars invested in you?”
The room was quiet.
“By graduating from this seminary, landing a church, and becoming their minister. By committing yourself to ‘excellence’ in your ministry. By becoming a pro. By becoming ‘needed’ and ‘required’ and somehow ‘essential’ to the church’s mission. That will cement your place in the status quo, and that will be your contribution to the hardening of the arteries of the body of Christ in North America. Because that is not your sacred calling from Jesus Christ. Your calling is far less glamorous. And it’s far less about your personal excellence. In fact, it’s far less about you at all.”
“Your calling is to equip His body, not to perform for God’s people. It is to multiply His laborers into His harvest fields, not to add your puny labors to a task which was Divinely assigned to the whole Body of Christ. It is to decrease in your significance, not to increase your platform. It is to discover and develop and deploy the people of God into the redemptive mission of God.”