For the week of July 17, 2006

Making a Silk Purse Out of a Sow’s Ear
By: Bill Easum
Recently, I received two pieces of mail – one in the snail mail and one online. The snail mail article came from a person I’m not sure I know, but the article was from a religion professor at Southern Methodist University. The jist of the article was that the church is called to be faithful – not effective. The online article was sent through one of our listservs and basically said that we were called to live out our faith in the ordinary. The last line in the article goes as follows: “For He has called us not to the extraordinary and the spectacular, but to faithfulness in the ordinary and the routine.”

While there is wisdom in both of the articles sent me, there is also an insidious heresy and misunderstanding of the biblical witness. Let me explain.

Many portions of the church today have a very weak understanding of what it means to be faithful. It most certainly doesn’t mean – live out your life in mundane ordinary ways and don’t worry about being effective.

We were not put here in either the Old or New Testament to merely exist. In both Testaments, faithfulness was tied to action. In the Old Testament it was usually to multiply and either replenish or subdue the earth. In the New Testament it was to make disciples of every peoples group on the earth. In both Testaments, faithfulness meant achieving something out of the ordinary. That sounds like effective to me.

One of the primary heresies of our time is the way we have reduced faithfulness to the realm of the mundane and ordinary as if God gave his life in Christ so that we could be ordinary and mundane. I just can’t buy that, not when I read the stories of Abraham and Paul and all of those in between. God has called us to a much higher plane of existence than just ordinary.

Maybe that’s one of the primary problems with mainline Christianity. We don’t believe any longer in some of the extraordinary events in the Scriptures – raising of the dead, healing of the demonic, casting out demons (controllers?), walking on water, parting the seas. I could go on but none of those are ordinary.

We’ve so glamorized the ordinary that we have encouraged Christians and churches to be comfortable with the ordinary, yea we seek it out and bask in its glory as if ordinary and faithfulness is simply surviving. So Christians just hang on by the seat of their pants, and churches merely pray to keep the doors open, while all the while God is crying over our lack of faithfulness and effectiveness.

No Christian should aspire to the ordinary. No matter how ordinary our lives might be, God makes the ordinary extraordinary. God makes the mundane profound. God makes the weak strong. Need I go on?

One line in the article sent me (wish I had kept it but I threw it away in disgust) suggested that it was wrong for people like me to even hint that faithful churches always grew. What a cop out! What an argument for the ordinary and ineffective church that has emerged in the Western hemisphere – many among mainlines. Everyone else seems to be experiencing an extraordinary, explosive expansion of the Kingdom. Could it be because they understand the biblical link between faithfulness and effectiveness? Could it be because they pray for God to unleash the Spirit on their work in a powerful way while we bask in the sun of the ordinary?

So let me set forth a biblical understanding of faithful and effective. Jesus’ last command to us was to “go make disciples of every people group.” To be a faithful follower of Jesus means making disciples of all people. It’s that simple. We don’t need long theological debates over what faithfulness ultimately means in the New Testament. The early church writers made it very clear – they understood Jesus’ last words to be “Go make disciples.”

So let me make the statement again – Faithful churches always grow in numbers because being a follower of Jesus means making disciples. And if your whole being is tied up in making disciples your church will grow.

Now, let me chew on that statement a moment by asking some questions.

* Do you spend the majority of your time at the well like Jesus talking with the Samaritan?
* Have you trained anyone to articulate their faith to another person?
* Does your church spend most of its time strategizing on how to reach those who aren’t part of the Body of Christ?
* Does your church spend most of it’s time, energy, and money on those who aren’t yet part of the Body of Christ?

If you or your church aren’t doing the above, neither of you is faithfully following in the steps of the Master. You and church are not learning the trade Jesus died to teach you.

So, you see, God has called the church to be both faithful and effective. And that ain’t ordinary folks. That’s extraordinary and effective!

God can and does make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear!