“Well done, brother. Well done.”
It was a sultry summer day in the heart of our nation’s capital. Just outside the restaurant, laborers were setting up fences and hanging bunting in preparation for the July 4 celebration.
Inside, we were having a celebration of our own. Some 10 or 12 men had gathered together to celebrate the ministry of one of our own church planters. It was a wonderful occasion.
Dozens of people walked by without interest as the brothers laughed, prayed, and encouraged this precious man. One by one, they spoke words of heartfelt gratitude for how he had inspired and encouraged them in their own ministry.
One documented the brother’s biblical fidelity, another his eagerness for evangelism, still another his coffee snobbery, followed by another who testified to his love for the church. Our hearts were as full as our bellies as we rejoiced in how this man had helped us all.
Had you been in the neighboring booth and listened, I’m sure you would have testified to the success of this planter. And you’d have been right. Only, the occasion of the meal was to say goodbye to this brother and his family as they transitioned out of the city; his church hadn’t made it past the indomitable five-year mark of a church plant.
In the eyes of church-planting gurus, he had failed. But in the eyes of God, he had not.
For far too long in America, we’ve been led to believe a lie. While few will come right out and say it, we’ve been led to believe that church-planting success is defined by the accumulation of what I call the “four S’s:” size, speed, self-sufficiency, and spread.
Get a large size, get it quickly, so you might be financially self-sufficient to spread your plant to other sites of various sorts. If you attain all of these, then you will have “made it.” You get the merit badge of the fifth “S”—success.
As an added bonus, if you can accomplish these S’s in an urban setting, you’re deemed an even more successful church planter. Conferences and publishers will come running to invite you to address the masses on how to duplicate your success.
I’m 100 percent confident the Lord has used this method for the spread of his infinite worth. I believe God has and will continue to cause people to be born again and discipled within these kinds of environments. I’d argue, however, that these markers for “success” are fatally flawed in the economy of God’s kingdom.
Failure and Success
This brother and his co-laborers worked hard in the city. They tabled at festivals, did service projects, prayer walked, handed out materials, invited neighbors for meals, and facilitated services that dripped with gospel grace. Some came, but after five years he needed to move on to make a living for his family and avoid being the infidel Paul speaks of in 1 Timothy 5:8.
Did he fail?
Unequivocally, no. Oh, what joy and freedom there is in that answer! I’d even go so far as to say he succeeded more than some church-planting gurus who stand on high-profile platforms.
Ministry success should never be measured by the machinations of Wall Street, Silicon Valley, Hollywood, or Manhattan. We believe that the Lord in his infinite wisdom used a humble teenage girl from a place like Possumtrot, Kentucky, to bring the Redeemer. We believe Jesus won as the world laughed at his loss.
Successful church planters are like the successful farmer of Mark 4:26–29. He scatters the seed, then he goes to sleep: “The seed sprouts and grows, and he knows not how.”
Surely, if we’d asked, “How do plants grow?” the farmer would’ve known the answer. But Jesus’s point is to highlight the sufficiency of the seed—the Word. As it’s buried into the soil of the world, fruit springs up in the places where it’s preached.
God Does It
There are no “proven strategies,” no books, no Enneagram numbers, that if you just plug into a city will produce success. Success is found in the faithful spreading of the seed.
How does it grow? We. Know. Not. How. We planters rest in the sufficiency of Christ and the Word that points to him as we lovingly and liberally scatter the gospel in our cities. Scattering seed and sleeping defines our success, beloved. How about that?
Success is found in the faithful spreading of the seed.
Feel the liberty, then, church planter, of descending on a city with the power of the gospel and the model of success that may result in two, 20, or 200 years. Feel the liberty of “succeeding” with a handful of messed-up people meeting in your home over some chili you threw together after working your part-time job.
Did you love those people in your home? Did you pray for them? Did you preach the gospel to them? Did you call them to respond? Did you offer to walk with them? Did you call them to walk with each other?
Then rest well. Go to sleep with joy in your hearts and hope for tomorrow. No matter what may come when the sun rises, you can rest assured you are succeeding. Come what may, you will see your Savior face to face and hear the words: “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21).