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Photo Courtesy of Ken L. Haigler
Do you ever have one of those thoughts that simply hangs on, digging in the fingernails, refusing to let go? I have been grappling with one ever since beginning my journey as a church planter a number of years ago. But let me preface it by saying, this is not intended to be even about church planting. No, it really is simply a thought.
It started with listening to a conference speaker who explained how Acts 2:41, the response to Peter’s sermon with “…three thousand souls being added to the number,” was a good measuring stick for church starts. “Really?,” I thought and there it stuck and it did not leave me. I learned the real data later on, what churches need, people wise, to become a church. There is a simple reality of economics in our day that plays into this but then this is no different from established churches.
We keep finding ways to measure and report effectiveness. It has been talked endlessly now how pastors can be more effective as leaders and CEOs. It seemed like for the longest time, we could have the best of both worlds – borrowing from scripture on one handed and the sages of the corporate world on the other hand. Yet, we’ve neglected to consider what Les McKewon terms “The 3 Things Every Leader Gets Wrong.” He identifies those three things as:
1. The time needed to do things.
2. The relative importance of people and ideas.
3. What other people hear you say.
And just like getting the best of both worlds, when leaders err this way (and I have), then the church receives the worst too. Not only have we, as pastors, failed in leading our people, we’ve failed to demonstrate to live out the pattern of life Jesus lived and the Fruit of the Spirit-filled life which Paul taught - 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Galatians 5:22-23 (NKJV)
I know this too well from my own failings both in ministry and in my own heart. I kept coming back to my calling to ministry. Most of us did not come into ministry to enhance resumes and gain our share of the pie (I did say most). I came into ministry because God called, or let me put it this way – I prayed and God spoke. Now others confirmed this calling, so certainly it was not in a vacuum. What remains as the foundation is my journey began with prayer.
We don’t have a means to measure prayer at all. Now, we may try to measure our prayer but it doesn’t have the same measurability as say, numbers in chairs on Sunday morning or giving figures. As Don Saliers points out so pointedly, “…there is a tendency to define prayer primarily by its effects and by our own consequent actions in the world. The prayerful life is shown by its fruits, assuredly; but it can never be reduced to its “results (from Worship as Theology)." As Saliers notes, if we go down this road, reducing prayers to something measurable, to results, “…prayer slides toward magic.”
We cannot find in Scripture where God calls us to performance. To be actors in a play for God’s amusement is the stuff of mythology. John Wesley in his sermon on “The Means of Grace,” declares, “The chief of these means of grace is prayer, whether in secret or the great congregation…” There maybe many things on the to do list. The chief among them is not to be a more effective leader. Clearly not, the chief among them is to recognize we’ve been adopted into the family of God (Romans 8:15) and we as, the children, need our time with God. To keep our prayer practice in the forefront of our lives and ministry, is indeed a challenge, one not so measurable but one of far more significance to our soul.
The Rev. Ken L. Hagler is pastor of Cumming First United Methodist Church in Cumming, GA.