There's no losing, just not winning

I’m not the kind of guy who is willing to settle. In fact, when I hear someone announce victoriously, “Well, at least it’s a wash,” it literally makes my skin crawl.

Maybe its an overabundance of testosterone. Maybe I have an over developed sense of confidence. Maybe I am unapologetically competitive and can’t stand the thought of not winning (you see, there is no losing, just not winning).

In some circles I’m sure they would call it pride and arrogance, yet in others they would call it perseverance and determination. Whatever you might label it, I simply know me, and I know that unless we are moving forward I feel like we’re moving backward.  And, that is not acceptable.

I’m that way in all my relationships, work projects and hobbies. Maybe that’s why the enthusiastic tone I felt whilel reading an article on church growth kind of left me queasy.

In an article from christianpost.com I read this line:

Every year, approximately 4,000 churches are birthed in the U.S. (500 more than are closed).

You have to know the title of this article was “Total US Churches No Longer In Decline, Researchers Say.” (The article).

In other words, they are saying this is a good thing! Let’s do the math on their stats:4000 church openings averaging 500 more than church closings equals 3500 church closings every year.

I guess in a mathematics sense this is a gain, but when you look past the numbers you have to ask yourselves the very research oriented question, “What’s the deal?!”

There really aren’t 4000 church openings every year if there are 3500 closings. A good chunk of those have to represent splits of existing churches, wandering sheep from church to church and any number of other non-growth/swapping sheeple scenarios.

So it’s hard to get really excited about a net gain of 500 churches when there is obviously so much dysfunction, bad management, immature believing and brokenness in church after church.

Lately, I find myself standing alone in church group circles. The emphasis as of late has been on church planting, meaning an emphasis on putting more and more churches out there in the hopes that it will fix all our problems we have by working on sheer volume.

In other words, the standard answer for declining spirituality and bad church growth/health is… to do more of it?

Thats like saying I can’t stand eating asparagus, but when I do it in bulk… mmm, mmm, mmm!

Its just like the much over-used quote from Albert Einstein defining insanity as “Doing the same thing but expecting different results.”

Trying the same diet that failed you last year. Dating the same person who treated you bad last time. Reading the same self-help book that sent you into spiral pit of depression and despair clamoring for any hope that life was worth living… again.

When something doesn’t work, more of it is usually not the answer.

More isn’t better, better is better.

That’s why planting churches for the sake of planting churches isn’t a long term solution to changing the world. We will eventually not be able to sustain a church planting pace to match our system wide dysfunction.

We will run out of energy. We will run out of money. We will run out of ideas.

The answer then isn’t how to do more of what we got. The answer is how do we do better with what we already have.

How do we become more dependent on God? More focused on His mission? More pliable in His hands? More responsive to the Spirit? More focused and determined to improve our our walk with Him before we work on His church?

When we take care of issues like these, God will grow His church and we’ll just be along for the ride.

I pastor a multisite church that has grown from 120 to nearly 2000 in the last seven years. We moved from one location to six campuses in five cities, with several other partnering ministries around the state and it’s all be done in a rural setting.

The vast majority of our staff have no ministry degrees and never served in ‘church work’ until we convinced them to give up their real jobs and real paychecks and work for us.

So how does it work?

It doesn’t. We’re pretty clueless. We lack focus and vision. We’re pretty short on long term plans. But, as a faith community we just believe that God is big enough to more than make up for our inadequacies and we do everything we can to give Him our all.

We read and study, work and pray hard, and we only try to reproduce what God has His hand on. We don’t want to work harder, we want to work smarter. We want to generate more of Him and less of us.

I hope and pray we have a close kinship to the ministry style and philosophy of the Apostle Paul. I think I see an excerpt of his desire to good ministry, not mass ministry, and trust God for great results in Acts 14:

1 At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed. 2 But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. 3 So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders. 4 The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles. 5 There was a plot afoot among the Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them. 6 But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, 7 where they continued to preach the good news.

Look at the quality of this ministry.

  1. They practiced consistency. At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. Paul and Barnabas knew what they were good at, what they were called to, and where their gifts were. They didn’t  come into every town and do deep demographic studies, prayer walk the perimeter and then pursue a strategic plan to isolate a particular people group within the subculture of that indigenous region. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. They just did what they were used to doing because God built them that way. Churches today, and ministries and ministry leaders, need to know where their gift sets and callings are. Then unapologetically use what God has given you to make a difference in whatever context God put you in. We need to move beyond the paralysis of analysis and just do what we’re good at. Find your sweet spot in ministry and with laser focus keep pulling that trigger.
  2. They got good at what they did. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed. The talents that God has entrusted us with need to be developed. If it’s speaking and teaching, it’s giving and serving, if it’s worship and praise, if it is prayer and devotion; it does not matter what your gifted with or called to it matters only that you become devoted to using what God has given you.  Skill, practice and effectiveness are the calling cards of successful,  good ministry. You will know a tree by its fruit. If you can’t sing, stop it. It may be a joyful noise in heaven, but down here it’s not helping. Save it for your quiet time. The same goes for anything that you might enjoy but aren’t necessarily a “blessing” in. Do what you’re good at, and get better at it every day.
  3. Add endurance to your consistency. But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there.  This cracks me up! Just about the time anyone else would have given  up because of pushback and dissension, that’s when Paul and Barnabas decided to set up shop. It seems like an opposing response; the ministry  team did not receive a favorable response, so they stayed there a considerable time. part of good quality Ministry is staying power. We all know the stats. Pastors barely stay in one location long enough to become a pastor, and support staff have tenures measured in months. What does that teach our late leadership about commitment to leadership and endurance?
  4. Be bold.  So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders. I think we get confused sometimes about whether to be an Old Testament church or a New Testament church. The latter is full of love, grace and mercy. We’d never do anything to isolate or ostracize anybody, I mean come on, WWJD?  But, a good Old Testament church will send you straight to hell on your first visit. The healthy balance between the two is a church that stands on the word boldly, loves boldly, serves boldly and takes risks for the kingdom boldly. Boldness is a quality of a quality church, ministry or leader.
  5. Exercise wisdom. There was a plot afoot among the Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them.  But they found out about it and fled.  wisdom is the key. Wisdom is not intelligence because you can be extremely smart yet oh so dumb. Wisdom is not education because you can be extremely informed and still monopolize the market on ignorance. Wisdom is not street smarts or common sense because wisdom is supernatural. Wisdom is a connection not to your own abilities or understandings, but a reliance on the knowledge, power and authority of your God. Wisdom is the ability to hear from Him and know what He would have you do and then do it, no matter what the latest books are telling you to do.
  6. Focus. But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, where they continued to preach the good news.  New city, new people, same mission.  This biblical lesson on leadership ends where it began with Paul and Barnabas doing consistently but they did everywhere they went.  They built on the gifts that they had been given, they gave all they could as they used them, and they trusted God would do great things. And He did. Focus…log out of Facebook, quit twittering all the time (no one cares what you had for lunch), limit yourself to a reasonable amount of leadership books and conferences, and pour yourself into the work God has created you for and created for you. FOCUS!

I believe in the depths of my being that God does not care if we do more, He only cares that we do well with what we have. He is in charge of more.

Whether you’re a pastor, church planter, ministry leader, or simple devotee of Jesus Christ simply remember that more is not better, better is better. Focus on being who He made you to be and get better at it every day.


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