This post is my own response to an article in “Askamissionary.com”
“What do Missionaries wish they had known before they first went?”
“I wish I had known how difficult long-term fruit really is.”
To be truthful, long term results are very difficult to get.
I have been a pastor and missionary since 1986. Working with people is great. But when you have less than 10 years in working with a group of people, you see fruit. That fruit often disappears over longer time periods. What you thought were great, well-established Christians really weren’t.
I see the problem here in various forms. My observations come from years in the ministry, and from examining my own ministry and its results, as well as other people’s ministries. Some of my observations and comments are very simply my personal convictions. I have always done things like x-y-z, or I have never done things like that.
1.) The wrong motivation.
It is great to motive people. You really cannot have a good ministry with motiving your people. But the problem with motivating them is that it doesn’t work for the kingdom of God. If people do the right thing, but for the wrong motivation, then you have lost the battle. Over time that motivation will dissipate, and eventually they may even leave Christianity altogether. I have seen this in Hyles style ministries a lot. The problem here is that people have immediate needs (food, clothing, shelter), and these needs are not to be ignored especially when these people are believers. But the problem here is that when a ministry advertises itself or uses temporal needs as the drawing point into their church, their motivation will not be set correctly, and what they do in your church and for God is tainted, corrupt, and eventually this will cause grave problems.
Consider the tactics of many churches today. They send buses to pick them up. I worked in a church with this kind of ministry, and in some cases the parents slept in to noon, but they gave a key to their house to the bus worker, and they literally came into their house on Sunday morning, woke up the little kids, washed them, gave them breakfast, and put them on the bus. At church, there is a constant give-away mentality where candy, cookies, and anything is given to these kids to keep them coming every week. Here in Mexico many of these churches give “dispensas” or kitchen goodies to everybody present on a set Sunday. Those Sundays see extremely high attendance, sometimes three or four times the non-give-away Sundays.
Christ made a comment about the people following him for the food. He indited their motives. Their motives were simply personal and temporal gain. They were in it for what they could get out of the church. While this happens perhaps in all churches, or any church, it should not be the motive the church seeks to instill in their people. We should go to church because we love God, it is God’s will to go to church, participate in our church, and to support our church. Our motive should not be what we can “get out” of church as far as the physical and temporarl, but what we can give to our church, and how we can serve our Lord in the ministry and work of God in our church, and we should be seeking to “get out” of that experience spiritual things, eternal things. God will give those with that motive eternal rewards. The others, God will not bless them eternally with anything.
2.) The wrong targets or goals.
Another problem along the same line is very simply we are leaders are wanting and setting illegitimate goals for our churches and people. There is no real good in just getting a bunch of people together. If we give them clearly the gospel, then that may be considered good (it is evangelism). But to teach a bunch of pagans about tithing, about prayer, about a lot of moral principles that they don’t accept and don’t have the spiritual ability to deal with is just fruitless. It fills their head with ideas of spirituality when they are not saved. Unsaved people who think they are spiritual because they have daily devotions is not a good thing, but a road block that they must overcome before they are truly saved. The pagan mind confuses activity with spirituality, and this is seen in so many churches that it is sad and depressing.
What should be the correct goals in a ministry for the people? I think true spiritual discernment and growth is the main goal. To follow Christ instead of following a ministry or a human leader of a religious organization. Following Christ is a hard thing to discern so many times. People come to church. People work in your ministry. Are they following Christ or are they just caught up in the flow and activity of the moment?
What are keys or signs to discern these long term goals?
First of all is independence. Do your people actually come up with really good Bible studies, sermons, Sunday School classes, etc. on their own without copying some human leader or respected minister? Can they function independently (and show signs of success) without relying on you for the material of their ministry? In other words, can they come up with original material from the Bible without utter dependence on others?
Second is patience. Can they endure pains, suffering, tribulation, and solve their own problems in the ministry from what is in them without having to go to a spiritual “guru” to give them discernment? I have seen pastors with 20 years in the ministry that couldn’t do that really. They have to go running to other respected pastors to get their bearing on the hard issues of their church or ministry. Patience comes from staring Jesus in the eyes. Seeing the pain of the Cross in his eyes, you ask yourself, “Why am I caving in and giving up when Jesus didn’t?” The point is that communion with Jesus, the man who endured patiently the cross, gives you patience. You don’t get much patience from other human leaders. Most don’t have it to give, and if they have patience, then we go back to what gives patience. Patience doesn’t beget patience. Tribulation and trouble begets patience. Hardship, suffering, and unmet needs develop patience.
Third is reproduction. I appreciate any church that has any kind of evangelism endeavor. I think that the majority of the churches of our day have promotional endeavors to increase their membership, and this is not necessarily evangelism. Evangelism is to clearly present the gospel to the unsaved wherever they may be. Biblical evangelism ALWAYS begins with sin, and our need to repent of our sins. From there it goes to Christ and the cross. Biblical evangelism must focus on discipleship, making people to be followers of God, and this is done in the community of the local church, after a person is truly saved. While many churches do some kind of evangelism along these lines, few do it well. Most churches and ministries do not spend sufficient time and energy on really explaining salvation to their people. They don’t have an all inclusive environment of everybody witnessing and evangelizing the lost. The majority of the churches that have some kind of evangelism effort see success as simply interested people praying the prayer, and then getting baptized. It should greatly concern us when few of our baptized members continue on with the things of God over a short (months) period of time. Truly saved people will continue with God, and their relationship will be like a bud of a flower that blumes and blossoms and eventually gives a sweet fruit of itself. When I see somebody get saved in our ministry, and after time, some other lost person is saved and bought into our ministry by the efforts of the first person, then that is long term fruit.
Fourthly is prayer. Prayer works. Prayer changes our reality around us. I know that because God says it. But experientially, I don’t see that happening. When I see prayer requests that are very difficult to come into being (an unsaved spouse gets saved, people give up addictions, or people drastically change their character and behavior), then I see long term fruit. When a prayer request is made and in a few short weeks or a month or two it is answered, that is long term fruit. That SHOULD BE HAPPENING if we are truthful with ourselves. Why wouldn’t it be happening? Prayer is a power for change. God has made it so. But when ungodly people that call themselves Christians pray, God doesn’t answer those people’s requests. This is the litmus test of whether anything real is happening in your church or ministry. If people are really changing because of what is happening in your ministry, then there is long term fruit.
Fifthly is good activity. I am pastor, and I organize the activities of our church. Long term fruit is when God changes people’s hearts and makes them serve Him. Although it is initially an offense when people take it on themselves to do things, that is really long term fruit. When we organize a soul winning campaign, or a special time of prayer, or try to target marginal people in Bible studies or inviting them to church, that is good. That is what a church is supposed to do. But when our people do those things on their own, because God moves their hearts, that is better. I say I take offense, but it is because they are not following my leading, but God’s leading, and moreover, I find out by accident, not because they are trying to butter me up or impress me for some reason. They simply are sincerely following their Lord.