|Trees in my back yard|
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. I don't think it is important how big a church is. I think it is important how influential a church is. Influence, not size, is what really matters.
Could a church be large and have significant influence? Yes. Could a large church lack influence? Yes. Some entertainment churches struggle to maintain the infrastructure, and that can be oppressive.
I suggest: Focus on being faithful, rather than “successful.”
The word “success” is mostly metricized in the American Church. Data-ized. (See, for a cool spin on this, We Are Data: Algorithms and the Making of Our Digital Selves.) Quantized. Super-sized. (For support see Francis Chan, Letters to the Church; and Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel, The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb. Both books ask “What if the American Church got this wrong"; both answer, echoing Eugene Peterson and other prophets, “It has.”)
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, not rows of unsalted food. Salt influences food, rather than being influenced by it. Salt is active, not passive. I am to influence the world, rather than be 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)
Jesus-followers are to influence and salt the earth, which mostly takes place outside the walls of the church building.
I now think of my philosophy students. For most of them, "church" flavors nothing about their lives. They can't taste "church" at all. I attribute this to a lack of influence. Most have never encountered church (because church is something to be encountered, not attended). Most think “church” is a building that houses religious programs and performances.
How many people are in your church? Wrong question! Instead, ask, How salty is your church? Is it influential, as regards Jesus and the Kingdom? Focus on influence, by disciple-making. You could be twelve salty Jesus-followers and change culture.
Be influenced by Christ. Such influence flows from the Vine to the branch,
as one continuously abides in Christ. The focus is not on numbers, but staying connected to Jesus. This results in a daily being-influenced by him.
Focus on being connected. Pastors – live the abiding life, and show your people how to do this.
Focus on abiding, not on producing fruit.
The core prayer of a Jesus-following pastor is not, “God, supersize us!” It is, “God, super-use us.” At this point numbers do not matter. 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.
See my books: