The True Measure of Our Success
Some years ago I was in Rwanda with a small team. I remember vividly how we went to a prison and shared the gospel with the inmates. More than 600 prisoners indicated their decisions to give their life to Jesus that day. For us it was a great response. However following our meeting as we were traveling with the prison’s volunteer chaplain, he expressed his deep regret to us that it would be impossible for him to follow up on each decision. He did not have the time or the resources to disciple each individual, and he knew that many of those prisoners would be unable to keep their new faith without the encouragement or input from mature believers.
Still as is my practice I dutifully reported that we had seen more than 600 people accept Jesus (which was true)… But I often wonder if I was just playing “the number game” to measure our success. Had I reported the number of inmates who would be involved in a discipleship process for follow-up, the number would have been much smaller but consequently probably a more accurate reflection of those who in the end would still be following Jesus. In our world more is better… on the scoreboard, when we compare salaries, how big our churches are, how many people attended this or that event that we organized, how many people came to Christ… the larger the number the better we feel about ourselves and that we have actually achieved something. Isn’t it time for a change?
I have been involved in sports ministry now for many years. It continues to be something that is close to my heart, not only because I enjoy it but also because it is, I believe, the greatest tool that God has given us to reach this generation with the Gospel. Through sports and recreation in every culture of the world we can build relationships with people. Maybe you have heard this quote attributed to Plato: "You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation." As we play we build relationships that open us up for getting more intimately involved in others' lives.
Of course there is also a down side. By nature in sports ministry we are more likely to do the 'sports and recreation part' better than the 'ministry part'. Sports and recreation is often done by active people for active people where the game becomes more important than the relationships. It's easy to play, but it takes time and effort to be intentional in sharing the gospel and then growing those new relationship. Now add this to an already existing focus on ‘the number game’ and a lack of focus on discipleship for many churches and you have a situation that sucks the life and resources out of the church. It is for these reasons I believe that the Sports Ministry movement has largely failed at making disciples. It is time for a change…
We know Discipleship should be central to all that we do as followers of Jesus. It is a term we hear referred to often in our churches and Bible studies, but it is often dismissed individually because we have created an expectation that makes it nearly impossible for the ordinary person to achieve or participate in. In reality discipleship should be simple. It comes down to three relationships* that every person needs in their life and if we can begin to leverage these relationship in the right way then discipleship will take places simply because we are living the gospel:
A BARNABAS, an older man or woman (in faith, not necessarily age) willing to build into your life. Someone who is willing to share not only their strengths, but also their weaknesses. We need to be accountable to those around us. It was Barnabas who came alongside Paul and mentored him when the rest of the leaders of the early church in Jerusalem were afraid of him (Acts 9).
“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you.
Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” Hebrews 13:7
A PAUL, a soul brother or sister. Someone who loves you but is not impressed by you. Someone who you can link arms with and go into battle together. Someone who is your peer (your equal) in life and ministry like Paul and Peter.
“When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face,
because he was clearly in the wrong.” Galatians 2:11
A TIMOTHY, a younger brother or sister (in faith, not necessarily age) whose life you are building into. You are their spiritual father or mentor who helps them grow through the ups and downs, joys and sorrows of life and ministry. Look into 1 and 2 Timothy.
Paul did not want to make converts but desired that all become mature in Christ. One of the best summaries of his work and calling is found in Colossians 1:28-29. “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” Presenting everyone “prefect in Christ” speaks to the spiritual maturity that Paul wanted to help his disciples obtain. This was his ultimate measure of success and was accomplished only through relationships.
So how will you measure success in 2016? Will it be in playing ‘the number game” or will it be through the quality of your Barnabas, Paul, and Timothy relationships? Is it your desire to see your friends and family become all that God created them to be as they are made ‘perfect in Christ’? Allow God to use you and strive to become more intentional in the relationships that He has given you!!
You can be the change...
*Barnabas, Paul, and Timothy relationships are adapted from the teaching of Howard Hendricks, former professor at Dallas Theological Seminary.