Since I began my first ministry leadership position over twenty years ago, the metrics for success have seemed to shift somewhat from church to church. How many people are on the church membership role? How many people did we baptize? How many people attended the weekly worship service? How many people did we connect with through an outreach event? How many people were assimilated into small groups? In every case we were measuring numbers. Don’t misunderstand me: numbers matter because they represent real people with real names who really matter to God. The bigger issue revolves around what do these numbers mean? What are we really measuring?
Even here in Burlington, I can find myself slipping into measuring numbers without knowing why. One of the big goals God has placed on my radar is to launch Gospel Communities in every Burlington neighborhood, and we don’t want to stop there. We want to see similarly minded churches started in towns throughout Vermont and New Hampshire. These seem to be noble kingdom minded goals. Starting new Gospel Communities around Burlington and new churches around Vermont would be a big win for the kingdom of God… right? Maybe, but only if those numbers actually represent something deeper that God is doing. The scary thing for me is that we can actually start new Gospel Communities and new churches, and still have minimal kingdom impact.
This brings me to three big questions that the Spirit keeps placing at the forefront of my mind. I believe these questions are 100% in line with what we see throughout the New Testament. These questions are vital because the questions we’re asking of ourselves determine how we really define success.
- Are people following Jesus who were not following Him before?
- Are people making disciples who were not discipling others before?
- Are people becoming leaders who were not actively leading before?
If we cannot share the message of Jesus, lead others to follow Jesus, make disciples who make disciples, and equip indigenous leaders, then we cannot really do church planting from a scriptural perspective. If we rewind to the early stages of Jesus’ ministry, we see Him sending out His disciples and challenging them to “pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:38, Luke 10:2). Where were these new laborers coming from? There weren’t any churches in nearby towns to send people. His disciples were it. The laborers could only come from one place: the harvest. The narrative of the New Testament consistently backs this up: new followers, new disciple-makers, new leaders being raised up out of the harvest as the message of Jesus spreads.
Over the past few weeks a couple of Burlington City Church’s Gospel Community leaders have asked me how I think we’re doing. I take them back to those three questions. In both cases they named names of people in their neighborhood who were beginning to follow Jesus, people in their Gospel Communities who were beginning to disciple other people, and new leaders who had never led a group of people on mission before (in one case the Gospel Community leader is that person). This past Easter Sunday we saw a picture of these goals being reality. In this short video…
- Rick was baptized. He may have seemed on the social fringe and spiritually far from God a few months ago, but He recently became a follower of Jesus.
- Gee Gee lives down the street from Rick. She’s been a follower of Jesus for a while, but recently recognized her God-given calling to share the message of Jesus and invest in others.
- Dave and Brian are Rick’s Gospel Community leaders. These two guys dove into the deep end by moving into Burlington’s Old North End neighborhood to launch a new Gospel Community.
There are many others like Rick, Gee Gee, Dave, and Brian whom God has entrusted to us. If stories like this continue happening, then we will launch new Gospel Communities and new churches that really matter. Please pray that we will continue to ask the questions that matter most.