Nickels and noses are easy to count and important to some degree, but numbers can be both enticing and misleading. When trying to measure the success and effectiveness of our church leadership team, the question to be asked is not:

How many people do we have?

But rather:

What kind of people do we have?

In other words, qualitative growth is more important that quantitative growth.

If we as leaders are faithful teachers of the gospel, attuned to God's will, spiritually vibrant, passionate worshipers of Jesus who are, in the words of Brother Lawrence, “Practicing the Presence of God,” the fire will spread, and, by the Spirit, our people will mature in the faith. The key to measuring our success and ministry effectiveness is making sure our people are maturing. So, it's as simple as that. Not quite, consider what the Scriptures say in Hebrews 5:11-14.

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

I believe much of the American church can be identified by this passage. The writer had just finished talking about Jesus the Great High Priest, who learned obedience through His suffering (suffering – a thing American culture teaches us to despise). We live in a milky culture. Think about it, all we’re getting from every direction is milk: TV, entertainment, shopping, Starbucks (fig. and lit.), prescription drugs, child idolatry, travel, longing for retirement, and even church. Every time I watch a talk show on television, the theme ultimately is “If it makes you happy, do it.”

This is what is constantly pounded into our people day in and day out. What fruit should we expect from them? The responsibility of leading our people into maturity is incredibly difficult, often with little return, considering everything they are up against. There is hope, though. After the writer of Hebrews spills out some of the milky things his readers ought to move on from, which, sadly, to us may seem pretty solid, like the doctrine of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, he then gives us hope:

Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things – things that belong to salvation. For God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love that you showed for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Hebrews 6:9-12)

Our people are Christians. They do have faith in Christ, moral convictions, and love for the saints. There is a desire in every one of us to serve the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. The exhortation here is “to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” This is basically a call to get off our butts and imitate Christ.

Yesterday morning, I woke up, and the first thing that came into my mind was “I am a sluggard.” I get so enraptured by the tasty white chocolate mochas flooding my soul that I forget the call of Christ. I sink into seasons of little communication with God, lose my footing and fall from prayer and Scripture reading and other disciplines. It’s not that I don’t love God and the church, but my problem is I am trying to fit God into my life, my plans, instead of finding my place in His. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that other leaders and church people struggle with the same thing.

We need to identify the evil powers at work in our lives and the lives of our people, pray against them with fervency, create a very visible awareness of these milky delights, as well as their danger to the soul, give our people hope, remind them daily of the gospel and Christ’s commission, listen, encourage, practice the presence of God unapologetically in our lives of worship, setting an example for the community around us to see Jesus, both inside and outside the church. Then we will be maturing, eating solid food “for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” Then we will obtain the “better things – things that belong to salvation.” Then we will be able to measure true success (not Osteen success) and see our ministry effectiveness.

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