Thursday, April 19, 2018

In the Real Church Influence, Not Numbers, Matters

Image result for john piippo influence
My praying chair, in my backyard by the river, emerging from the winter

Reading Eugene Peterson's The Pastor: A Memoir, solidified in me an idea
I have had for many years. Which is: as a pastor and Jesus-follower,
I am to desire influence, rather than size, in terms of numbers of people. 

It is not important how big or small a church is. It is important 
how influential a church is. Influence, not size, is what really matters. Just a handful of Jesus-followers in the first century changed the world, right? Why not your church family, or mine? 

By "influence" I mean the kind of things Jesus talked about when he used 
metaphors like "salt" and "yeast." "You are the salt of the earth," Jesus said (Matthew 5:13). 
A little bit of salt can flavor a lot of food. What's needed are salty Jesus-followers. Your church is the influencer of the earth.

Salt influences food, rather than it is influenced by it. Salt is active, not passive. 
I am to influence the world, rather than being influenced by it.

Non-salty "Christians" are, in Jesus' eyes, "no longer good for anything, 
except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot." (Matthew 5:13) Whether your church is large or small, if it lacks influence it is worthless. (Read Matthew 5:13 again.)

I now think of my philosophy students. For most of them, "church" flavors nothing in their lives. They can't taste "church" at all. Most of them have never had a bite of Real Church. They eat the world's food, minus the salt of the Church. Church, for them, is a flavorless, hence worthless, thing. 

How many people are in my church? Wrong question! Instead, ask, How salty is my church? Is it influential as regards Jesus and the Kingdom? Reject what Peterson calls "the lust for size." Pray instead that influence would be multiplied. (Forget the words "success" and "metrics.")

Begin by being yourself influenced by Christ. Influential power flows from the Vine to the branch (that's you), as you continuously abide in Christ. The strategy is not on numbers, but staying connected to Jesus. This results in a daily being-influenced by him. You become salty. Then God pours you out of the saltshaker and into the world. (See here - still, a book that has influenced me.) As you are impacted by the living Christ you will not be able to contain your salty self.

The core prayer of a Jesus-following pastor is not, “God, supersize us!” It is, “God, use us.” 
At this point numbers do not matter. Neither smallness nor largeness secures influence.

Peterson says that he "wanted to develop a congregational awareness that was shaped under the influence of Sunday worship and that then infiltrated the hours and days of the week implicitly in every workplace and household." (Peterson, The Pastor: A Memoir, p. 275)

Influence infiltrates.

My understanding of church history is that cultures, communities, and even nations that began to follow Jesus did so as a result of what God was doing in a small number of Christ-abiding, salty people. My church, and your church, can make a difference. This is where the numbers do not matter,