Sometimes, we do not celebrate the most important things.
It is like celebrating the kid who got the congeniality award instead of winning the pageant. Don’t get me wrong. We should give Miss Congeniality a pat on the back, but winning the congeniality award is not why you enter the pageant.
So it is in ministry. Frequently, we pass over the big successes in favor of ones we have marked as more significant. In essence, we are missing the big “E” on the eye chart. What is more, a church congregation will work toward what it celebrates.
In the first chapter of Acts, Luke records for us a fascinating scene. Jesus is in his final moments on earth. He has been walking with his disciples for forty days explaining all the crazy events that took place around his death, burial, and resurrection. Then, in his parting speech, he drops a ministry bomb on his disciples.
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes,11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? (Acts 1:6-9, emphasis added)
And after giving his disciples the most impossible mission ever conceived, he floats off in to heaven. The Bible literally records their puzzled astonishment as an angel walks up and asks them why they are just standing around looking at the sky!
The Great Commission is too big for simple math.
There is no way addition will get the gospel to the ends of the earth. It takes multiplication. And so begins the narrative of Acts, where Luke pens the multiplication of the church throughout the western world. The gospel is spread during that 30 years through multiplication: multiplication of disciples and multiplication of churches.
While Acts is not a prescriptive church planting manual, it does gives us one clear picture. Regardless of your methodology, the gospel spreads through disciples and churches that produce more disciples and more churches.
We all say we love that, but is that really what you celebrate in your local church?
Let me put it another way. Do you get more excited about adding another handful of people to your church roll or about losing a group of people who are going to start a church? Pastor, when you hear about another church going up close by, what does your heart do? Do you feel a need to compete with other local churches in the area? Is your focus on growing your congregation to the exclusion of sending your best to start work elsewhere?
If a church works toward what it celebrates, then the church that gets more excited about growth in numbers, dollars, programs, and buildings than about sending members to start churches and serve overseas will see simple addition as success. On the other hand, the church that puts more emphasis on planting churches and sending members than on growing its own roll will see multiplication as success.
Perhaps it is time we flip the paradigm. Celebrate growth when it happens, but place emphasis on celebrating those who want to be sent for the sake of the gospel. That is when local church members will see the need and gain the confidence to go. That is when your church can have a legacy greater than itself.