Fast forward a few years. The Sioux church we served was holding its own, so to speak. A new church plant 60 miles away we worked with only had about 4 families. In both cases we were told by outside sources that these works were not “viable.” In fact, when we left ND, no one was sent to replace us at the new church plant, and it died. (Of course we still brag about the number of “new church starts” but that’s another story).
Here was the question:
“In Texas, there is one SBC church for every 3,000 people in the state, and we have over 400 HMB missionaries. In North Dakota, we have only one SBC church or mission for every 30,000 people; yet we have less than a dozen people receiving HMB support. Why is that?”
Here was the answer:
“We get a better return on our investment in Texas.”
Once again, I’m finally getting to the point. A dear friend of ours is currently struggling in a “frontier” ministry. Response is very slow, but there are those in whom God is stirring a hunger. Yet his financial backers in another state, who by the way have never set foot on his church field, are telling him it’s time to move on because this is not a “viable” work. I guess they think they’re not getting a good enough “return on their investment.”
How do we measure success? Is it based on the numbers we draw (like a popularity contest)? Is it in terms of how much that work begins to give back financially (like a stock market investment)? Or is there more to it in God’s church.
Mark Dever, in his book Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, gives one of the best answers I’ve read. This is a lengthy quote, but it’s worth the reading:
We need a new model for the church. Simply put, we need churches that are self-consciously distinct from the culture. We need churches in which the key indicator of success is not evident results but persevering biblical faithfulness. We need churches that help us to recover those aspects of Christianity that are distinct from the world, and that unite us,
In a society where Christianity is being widely and rapidly disowned, where evangelism is often considered inherently intolerant or even officially classified as a hate crime, we find our world changed. The culture to which we would conform in order to be relevant becomes so inextricably entwined with antagonism to the Gospel that to conform to it must mean a loss of the Gospel itself. In such a day, we must re-hear the Bible and re-imagine the concept of successful ministry not as necessarily immediately fruitful but as demonstrably faithful to God’s Word.
Great missionaries who have gone to non-Christian cultures have had to know this. When they have gone to places where there were no obvious “fields white unto harvest” but only years andeven decades of rejection, they must have had some other motivation to keep them going. If William Carey would be faithful in India or Adoniram Judson in Burma, it could not be because their immediate success showed them that that they were being obviously relevant. It could only be because the Spirit of God in them encouraged them to obedience and trust. Rural pastors labor in churches amid declining populations, and they do so at the call of God. We today, in the secular West, must recover a sense of satisfaction in such biblical faithful ness. And we must recover it particularly in our lives together as Christians, in our churches.
My prayer is that we will find satisfaction and success in this way. And Brother Gary, if you’re out there, stay faithful, brother. As I told you, it’s all about the calling of God. He’s concerned with your faithfulness not the world’s idea of success. May we all learn that simple truth.