Friday, November 16, 2007

What's The Difference?

As I write I’m taking the night train back home. It’s time for assessment. I spent three days and about three hundred dollars for transportation, food and hotel. The class was not thirty pastors working where the Christian population is less than one percent. I was delighted to speak to those assembled on the theme, Reaching Your Community For Christ. The sessions went well; those in attendance seemed to appreciate the new concepts presented to them.

Before I left, my national friend and I discussed the challenges of being in ministry, especially since we both have to raise funds for our work. The Great Commission system is out of kilter as the only thing our Lord said to His disciples was to go into the world, present the message and make disciples. He didn’t say anything about church buildings, bible schools, holding seminars, raising funds to travel on a train or renting a place to live in a foreign country. Some of the best work for Christ is everyday people who live in their everyday communities telling family and friends about the joy that have in Jesus. Even more impressive are those Hindu’s or Muslim’s who are now followers of Christ that quietly, but faithfully, work out their salvation in their own context. They publish no prayer letters, they solicit no funds. They are the unseen church, though not invisible.

And then there is the mission industry, which is a branch of the market driven church. Missiologist write about and opine on the need to target UPG’s (unreached people groups), do statistics on the most UPG’s, but know that if they don’t quantify the ROI then the ecclesiastical venture capitalist (foundations, churches and individual donors), won’t be forthcoming in underwriting the foreign enterprise. The vicious cycle that the capitalist church finds itself in today is one of counting noses so the nickels (pennies actually, compared to the dollars that remain in America) will continue to make it’s way to those who have never heard His name.

As my train rolls on down the tracks, my mind swings back and forth, keeping rhythm with my swaying coach. What good is all of this traveling, teaching and begging for support? If I really were a gospel entrepreneur I’d package these seminars so that people in states could buy “soul shares.” For $50 a month they could support one national pastor which will baptize roughly ten people a month, which means their ROI is a mere $5 a soul. If more souls are saved there will be, of course, more bang for the buck and the initial investment will result in higher dividends. If the national doesn’t produce we can always close his account and give to the servant who took ten talents and doubled the initial investment. While this idea sounds economically and strategic viable it’s just another market scheme generated with a view of the bottom line but often does not make missiological sense.

Larry King asked Billy Graham, in his last interview, what difference he thought he made in the world? Is the world better today than when he first began his ministry? Graham replied that he didn’t know what difference his life made. On the surface the world doesn’t look a lot better than when he began his ministry in the ‘50’s. His answer was that “only in eternity will anyone know what difference they made on this earth.”

I have no idea the outcome of my time this past week, whether it will make any difference in the grand scheme of things is something won’t be revealed until the universal clock stops. I will always struggle with my role in a system that seems to have lost its way. I can’t quit, though sometimes it’s a temptation. I won’t because, in spite of all my reservations, I’m a bit-player that still has a role. Perhaps that’s what Christ had in mind for all of His followers – to do the best we can with the gifts He has given us, keeping our eye on Him and not the ROI.