Stakes in the Ground
When you hear/read the word “faithful” what comes to mind? How would you know it when you see it? If we expanded it to “faithfulness” then what? Would you be able to quantify this concept to anything remotely close to clarity?
You could tell me what a cloud is even if the scientific specifics are not your specialty. You could give me a working definition of a spider well enough that if I were to see some 8 legged something crawling around I could know, based entirely on your description, to freak out.
My go to wordsmith-ing stuff gives words like “constancy”, “dedication’, “loyalty”, and “trueness” to help make sense of our word “faithfulness”.
Churches are no better… You could do a survey of church websites from a wide spectrum of theology orthodoxy only to find them to be indistinguishable. It would be difficult for you to know the difference between the heretical televangelist and your hero based solely on the way their websites use these terms.
It is for this very reason we are spending so much time defining terms. As the pictures below indicate, we have put a stake in the ground by defining "Church", "Community", and "Disciple". (Articles to follow in the days ahead.)
All churches everywhere toss around the idea of “faithfulness”. It seems right to use the word, but so rarely do we get it to the point where if it was crawling on the floor we could spot it.
The dominant NT term for faith is the Greek word pistis, usually translated “faith.” It conveys the idea of trust, a firm internal conviction regarding the truthfulness of someone or some claim. The verb form, pisteuo, is usually translated, “I believe” or “I trust.” Pistis and pisteuo in the NT correspond to the OT terms aman and yareʾ. Pistis also appears in the NT with the definite article to describe particular Christian beliefs, termed “the faith.”" But even this definition doesn't get us to specificity. 1
How are we to to determine if I (as an individual) and/or we (as a church) are faithful?
Full disclosure: This picture/barometer is not all encompassing, it does not say everything that could or should be said about faithfulness. This metaphor is simply a quick diagnostic for us, some handles for us to be able to grab hold of the murky concept of faithfulness.
Faithfulness as a River.
Faithfulness has a source, it is going somewhere, there is movement, and it has banks. Without a rivers banks we would have a mess of water, a swamp or some stagnation of water. Without both banks the river loses its strength, loses the momentum, ending up going anywhere and everywhere.
So, if faithfulness is like a river and its source is our sovereign God, through the finished work of Christ, by the empowering presence of The Holy Spirit what are the banks? The answer is The Great Commandment and The Great Commission. Both… working together… by the empowering presence of our great God… to move with power.
“And [you shall] [love the Lord your God] [with all] your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Mark 12:30-31
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:19-20
For a church to be faithful (and churches are only faithful as the people are growing in grace and faithfulness) they must be ensuring both banks are present and accounted for. If not, something is terribly wrong.
We need to face a sobering reality: far too often, we (the church) have reduced faithfulness to attendance and energy. We (the church leaders) and we (the church attenders) have too often settled for being entertained and comfortable and somehow thought this was being faithful. Keeping people entertained in our church buildings is not at all synonymous with forming them as dynamic members of the body of Christ.
James K.A. Smith, Professor of.... puts it this way,
"What passes as youth ministry is often not serious modes of Christian formation but instead pragmatic, last-ditch efforts to keep young people as card-carrying members of our evangelical club. We have confused keeping young people in the building with keeping them “in Christ.”
But the problem is not just in Student Ministries. The students learned this somewhere.... Smith goes on to say,
”In many cases we have already ceded their formation to secular liturgies precisely by importing those liturgies into the church under the banner of perceived relevance. So while young people might be present in our youth ministry events, in fact what they are participating in is something that is surreptitiously indexed to rival visions of the good life. The very form of the entertainment practices that are central to these events reinforces a deep narcissism and egoism that are the antithesis of learning to deny yourself and pick up the cross (Mark 8:34–36). While we might have many young people who are eager participants in all the entertaining events we stage for them, such participation is not actually forming their hearts.”2
A church focused on faithfulness will be doing the internal, messy, often painful work of soul formation as the BELOVED / COMPANIONS (Great Commandment) and the external, difficult, frustrating, uncomfortable work of the BOND-SERVANT / AMBASSADOR. 3
Faithfulness will Require MAKING ROOM.
The reality of faithfulness is that we have to make room… This is going to be a paradigm shift for many of you, and (full disclosure) it's going to be uncomfortable, and messy at times, and also necessary, and beautiful.
There I said it. Take a deep breath and that hard swallow and wrap this up.
Picture your ideal meeting place for a church to gather and worship. Got it? It may be a cathedral with breath-taking stained glass, someone’s living room, or the most modern facility with all the bells and whistles needed for projections, intelligent lighting, fog, and comfort.
It really doesn't matter what you are picturing. Just get some clear picture of what you think is ideal, realizing every other person reading this will have a different picture of ideal.
Now, picture with me, this ideal worship environment is that raging river of faithfulness banked by the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.
People gathered, worshipping the Living God. People who have been far from God, brought near, rescued by God, The Tremendous Lover who has taken to the chase, who through His church walking in faithfulness has thrown open the storehouse and gone to the community to shout of the kings’ great feast.
Do you have the picture?
Can you feel it?
Is this what we want?
It cannot happen if we are not willing to multiply…
Because even if you have the biggest, baddest church in all the land it is not enough. And, maybe even more important, the biggest and baddest on one corner still leaves hundreds and hundreds of other corners.
Faithfulness Will Require MULTIPLICATION
For years I travelled to a nearly 100% Muslim country for the purposes of seeing the Name of Christ glorified. We worked to develop a plan to reach the people with the Good News. I still think about this each and every day and long to see the Lord move in this land.
There was/is a local Pastor who was/is FAITHFUL and bold. Check. We needed that. We had numerous Missionaries pouring their lives into the area and loving the people FAITHFUL-ly. And, I was part of a stateside church that was moving mountains (resources and people) to serve the cause FAITHFUL-ly as a partner and tool to extend their reach.
It was uncomfortable, messy at times, hard, and also necessary, and beautiful. And not enough…
We had a great team and fantastic resources, but we didn't multiply and ultimately stalled out.
That area didn't need one more missionary family living there or one more church coming. And it certainly did not need another massive building. It needed the church living faithfully as people filled (BELOVED) and sent (AMBASSADORS) to be seeds in their fields, on the paths they walk daily.
And our city does not need one more church building trying to pull a crowd or a service. This city, like all cities, need hundreds of new churches scattered as BELOVED AMBASSADORS sent with the hope of the gospel to every community.
Multiplication > addition
Jesus often used allusions to seeds, soil, harvest, famine and drought in His teachings and parables. In Luke 8:1–13, the seed is “the word of God” and the soil is different kinds of people. In the parable, seeds that are planted in good ground, protected from birds, and kept free of weeds will produce well.
One seed may yield 30, 60, or even 100 seeds. It was important to maximize the yield of grain because the harvest needed to: replenish what was used to plant the previous crop so that there would be enough seed for the next year, and provide enough grain to feed those who were depending on it. If a crop produced enough, the extra could be sold. Multiplication always beats addition.
J.D. Greear puts it this way,
”If you looked at every one of your blessings as “kingdom seeds,” how many of them are you planting in the fields of God’s kingdom, and how many are you keeping in storehouses to use as “food”?"
”How many of the seeds God has blessed you with are you planting into kingdom fields —fields that have great potential but yet may contribute little to the “bottom line” of your organization?"
”Too often, we church leaders measure the success of our ministries by one criteria and one criteria alone: How large is it? How large is the attendance? How big is the budget? And so we spend all our money on things that will increase our attendance, our budgets, and our capacity. But if John 12: 24 is true, then Jesus measures the success of our ministries not by how large we grow the storehouse, but by how widely we distribute its seeds. Jesus’ measure of the church is not seating capacity, but sending capacity. To church leaders and individuals alike, Jesus presents a very clear choice: preserve your seed and lose it; plant your seed for his sake, and keep it through eternity (John 12: 25). The Future of the Church I believe that every church, every ministry, and every follower of Jesus Christ ought to be devoted to planting —giving away —what they have for God’s kingdom." 4
Now How are we going to LIVE / WALK / SHARE in faithfulness? I can almost feel the questions and what that looks like practically. We look at that in the next post.
- Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary
- Excerpt From: James K. A. Smith. “You Are What You Love.” Baker Publishing Group. iBooks. Check out this book on the iBooks Store: https://itun.es/us/kR9b9.l
- If the words in ALL CAPS are confusing to you or you are not sure why the seem to be prominently displayed it is because they are the four identity pieces we want to always be growing in as believers. More on this in future posts.
- from "Gaining By Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches that Send (Exponential Series)" by J.D. Greear, Larry Osborne