Fiercely Faithful

A picture is worth a thousand words, but a few words may suffice for this one: “Vision becomes cartoonish when skill is lacking.”

In the church world, we have an ongoing debate about faithfulness vs. effectiveness. It’s funny how “effectiveness” gets a bad rap in the church. Our culture is all for excellence and getting results when it comes to education, sports, and achieving material success. But the church…oh, the church is too “spiritual” to seek effectiveness or excellence.  And yet, the New Testament Church is one of high expectations, dramatic results, and total devotion to living for Jesus Christ. Christianity was never meant to be a mediocre, comfortable religion. To be “faithful” as a Christian is to follow the trail blazed by fiery apostles, powerful deacons, devoted martyrs, theologically rich and spiritually deep thinkers, and evangelists who brought faith to new people groups around the world. Following faithfully in this line is an awesome thing to behold.

Still, when one finds that much labor has yielded little to no fruit, one is tempted to lose heart. We comfort ourselves, saying, “So what if we don’t get results, at least we are being faithful.” I get it; I’ve been there. How often I’ve heard the familiar line, “If just one person is reached, it will all be worth it.”

I look back on a time of ministry in which it felt I was plowing through mud. In that instance, making a difference in just a few people’s lives was consolation that the frustrations and disappointment were all worth it. But don’t misunderstand, it was never my goal to reach just a few people. Maybe it’s because I’m an evangelist at heart – I never envision reaching a handful of people. No, I see masses like those in the book of Acts.

In the early Church, thousands accepted the Christian faith and people were added to the Church daily. Evangelism around the world continues to thrive as hundreds of thousands of people respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So, while I comfort myself when my efforts bring meager results, my vision is always bigger. God help me if my vision ever becomes small enough to match my surroundings or experiences. That’s where faith comes in. I want my faith to always be full and fierce; not the tame, safe faith that some hold to. I believe that God still moves mountains, shows up in the least likely places, and that God can still rock our world.

The flip-side to my faith that God can do all things is the fact that, as a Christian leader, I feel called to strive for excellence in leadership and in implementing ministries wherever God sends me. I don’t want to be like the tattoo artist who allowed his own meager ability to butcher a grander vision. So, no matter how big my vision may be, accountability is needed to ensure I’m not all talk (or all vision). Further, accountability is needed to ensure that I never allow Kingdom-of-God-sized-vision to be whittled down to fit the lower standards of the kingdom of this world.

For pastors, leaders, and churches everywhere, we must humble ourselves to be held accountable. While it’s tempting to just remain “faithful” to do what we’ve always done and expect different results (you remember the definition of insanity…), the desire to make a real difference in the world will lead us to step back, pray, read, regroup, rethink how to get from point A to point B.

The Western Church has a faint vision of a fierce faith that leads people to point B, but we continue to pat ourselves on the back for all the effort it has taken to maintain our ministry at point A. Meanwhile, the Global Church runs laps around us. This is why pastors attend continuing ed opportunities, create reports on ministry to be discussed with their district superintendents, and participate in clergy clusters for encouragement and guidance. We know we must be held accountable to move forward in our faith, knowledge, and implementation of ministry.

No matter how grand our vision may be, the question is how much of that vision we are bringing to life. Are we, by the grace of God, teaching our congregations to expect more? More than doing what we’ve always done. More than maintaining status quo. More than. This means accountability for Sunday school teachers, ministry leaders, and pastors alike. Expect more, raise the bar, ask uncomfortable questions. And yes, it’s far easier said than done. God help us.

The question isn’t really whether we are to be faithful or effective; rather, the two are meant to go together. For if we are faithful to the high calling of Jesus Christ (faithful to ongoing discipleship, prayer, sacrifice, service, and to humbling ourselves to be held accountable in our ministry), then faithfulness will lead to fruitfulness (“fruitful” is another word for effective).

Just as I’d hate to be the one to tell the guy above that his fierce dragon tattoo is less than expected, I don’t want to stand before God’s throne sheepishly fessing up to the fact that I continued to paint the Kingdom of God in less than fierce, grand colors and strokes. This isn’t about enacting some misguided perfectionist tendency or seeking to do God’s work for him, but rather being faithful to continue to learn, grow, and change so that God may better use us for his glory.

The difficulty in all this is not so much that it requires more effort, but that it calls for humility. Trying something new or different, stepping out on a limb, risking failure or worse – embarrassment – is all part of searching for effectiveness, excellence, fruitfulness and faithfulness in ministry.  May God grant us all fierce vision of his good will and may he give us the will to faithfully pursue it.

Blossom Matthews is the pastor of First United Methodist Church of Pampa, Texas, where she co-pastors with her husband, Nick Matthews. She is the proud mother of Ruth, Josiah, and Malachi.

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