“Our ministry reached X number of people for Christ this year!”
That’s wonderful. Really! And, say, if we find out your ministry wasted $10 million, didn’t follow through on agreements, manipulated people to get donations, featured abusive, ego-driven leadership, reached settlements in multiple harassment lawsuits, and ramrodded its agenda over other ministries, we might guess what you’ll say:
“But our ministry reached X number of people for Christ this year!”
Some people will buy this. God, however, won’t. To Him, the “bottom line” isn’t the bottom line.
To Him, the WAY we do things matters infinitely. The ways, and the means… not just the ends.
When Jesus was in the wilderness, he was tempted by Satan. Writer Eugene Peterson makes a great point: What Satan was tempting Jesus to do weren’t bad things.
Make bread. Do a stunt and impress people. Take over.
Jesus could have performed what Peterson calls a “circus act” by jumping off a cliff and amazing the crowd. People would have been talking about Jesus and his amazing power! But that’s not the way Jesus wants to do it. Not with stunts.
The way matters.
Jesus could become the ruler of the world? That would be a wonderful thing! Who could argue with those results?
But the way matters.
The days of appealing only to the ends, of saying, “Well, yeah, but he/she is reaching thousands,” need, themselves, to end. Sure, some people became believers through the PTL Club, but Jim Bakker deserved to go to prison, because it was a sham. I know people who came to Christ as a result of ministry positions that men were using to carry on affairs. Our response should be, “Thank you, Lord, that you can do such a thing, in spite of us,” and not, “Well, those guys got results, so that ends the discussion.”
Some ministries make money off you without you knowing it. “But it all goes to a good cause,” they’ll say.
Some ministry leaders bully and threaten their “underlings” mercilessly. “Yes, but the ministry is growing, so some good things are happening, too. That’s what matters.”
No. The way matters.
It’s not just the “how” in the way, either; it’s the why.
Why did I do what I did? We can do wonderful things, but for the wrong reasons. Jesus makes it clear there will be those saying, “But Lord, didn’t we (insert powerful ministry stuff)? And didn’t we (insert other impressive ministry stuff)?” And he’ll tell them He never knew them.
“Didn’t I move people to worship on Sunday with my guitar and vocals and…?” Yeah, and I also got paid to do it and I love attention. What people are impressed by, and what God is impressed by, are very different things.
This isn’t to say “Don’t lead worship music.” It’s to point out that we can always look wonderful in religious terms. (At least, those of us adept at navigating the “good Christian” world can do that.) But, as always, God’s concern is the heart. Our motives. Some of us act religious for the same selfish reasons others are “good”: We’re scared of being left out of civil society. We want others to think highly of us. And, most powerfully, we want to feel good about ourselves.
None of those motives are holy, and yet they drive the appearance of much holiness.
But doesn’t God always love a big festival or gathering, as long as it’s in his name? No, he despises some religious festivals, and some assemblies are a stench to Him. I know this because he says “I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to Me.” Not subtle. But we still think a big gathering or successful spiritual-sounding enterprise must surely be righteous. We’re kidding ourselves.
The why matters.
“Just look at the fruit, though! This ministry may have bilked people for millions, but you can’t argue with the fruit!”
But the fruit of the Spirit is not mass-appeal, nor institutional footprint. It’s not multi-campuses. It’s not community awareness or revenue growth. If it is, Starbucks is a spiritual giant. The fruit of the Spirit is another list, entirely: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, and self-control.
“Okay, but Jesus would never question or criticize spiritual enterprises like churches.”
Except in Revelation, where Jesus criticizes churches. Like the one in Sardis, which – to everyone else, based on appearances – was “alive”!
Jesus said it was dead.
A fruit-check is a great idea: What’s really going on?
Thank God there’s the flip-side to all of this. We are not to assess the right-ness of anything based on apparent “success” because God does not judge based on apparent “success”. That’s sweet music, indeed, for those who don’t have, say, a radio show, or a satellite TV network; whose religious resume may be less than a line long, or those who can’t possibly imagine even having the time to think about all this stuff.
I once talked on-air about how God favors the humble, and how God chooses the poor. I got the usual call: “Brant, God doesn’t ‘favor’ anyone over anyone else, and sure, He loves poor people, but He doesn’t ‘choose’ them over anyone else.”
And yet, the Bible says, “God favors the humble,” and “Did not God choose the poor…?” He “chose the weak to shame the strong”.
God does not look at “success” at all. He wants faithfulness. You might need a CEO job, or a powerful speaking platform, or a record deal for impressive worldly “fruit”. But you need none of those things for faithfulness for the real kind. Faithfulness is what God wants, and we can give it to Him now. All of us.
Meek. Kind. Patient… faithfulness.
The way we do things matters.