Fruitfulness, Faithfulness, and Competence in Ministry

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Covenant Joel

Puritan Board Sophomore
Having recently begun reading Tim Keller's Center Church, I found a couple of his thoughts interesting and would love to get some healthy discussion of the points he raises. To be clear, I understand the issues with other views of Keller (creation/evolution, etc). I'm not really interested in discussing those. I have also downloaded the book "Engaging with Keller" which will deal with those issues. For now, I'm really interested in these specific ideas, as they relate closely to my own life and ministry.

Keller discusses how various people and churches evaluate ministry. He rejects the approach that simply seems to see numbers as indicative of ministry "success." He goes on to say the following:

In reaction to this emphasis on quantifiable success, many have countered that the only true criterion for ministers is faithfulness. All that matters in this view is that a minister be sound in doctrine, godly in character, and faithful in preaching and in pastoring people. But the “faithful — not successful” backlash is an oversimplification that has dangers as well. The demand that ministers be not just sincere and faithful but also competent is not a modern innovation. (Kindle Locations 83-86)

After citing Spurgeon, he notes, "As I read, reflected, and taught, I came to the conclusion that a more biblical theme for ministerial evaluation than either success or faithfulness is fruitfulness" (Kindle Locations 95-96). After looking at several biblical considerations regarding "fruitfulness," he concludes with the following:

The church growth movement has made many lasting contributions to our practice of ministry. But its overemphasis on technique and results can put too much pressure on ministers because it underemphasizes the importance of godly character and the sovereignty of God. Those who claim that “what is required is faithfulness” are largely right, but this mind-set can take too much pressure off church leaders. It does not lead them to ask hard questions when faithful ministries bear little fruit. When fruitfulness is our criterion for evaluation, we are held accountable but not crushed by the expectation that a certain number of lives will be changed dramatically under our ministry. (Kindle Locations 107-111)

These thoughts were interesting to me for a couple of reasons:

(1) In my context (the Arab world), it's not always a lot of fun to play the numbers game. But then again, knowing from experience how hard it is to learn Arabic, I know that great effort in order to become competent is key. I see some people worried about techniques and numbers. I see others considered only about faithfulness in preaching the gospel--but not a lot of effort being put into being competent to communicate well and faithfully in this context. Keller seems to me to strike a balance here.

(2) Thinking back on many past experiences in the US (even going back to my childhood), I wonder if perhaps this is something that we in the confessional Reformed world have struggled with at times. I.e., have we been so focused on "faithfulness" to the means of grace that we may have forgotten to actually care about whether we see fruit in our neighborhoods? As an example, I spent some years as a kid in a an all white church in the middle of an all black community. Everybody drove in to meet there, little attempt was made to get to know the people actually in the community. Was there faithfulness? In many areas, yes. Was there fruit? Some spiritual growth in the members, I'm sure, but not much in the community. Predictably, the church ended up moving.

(3) As I think about my own efforts at sharing the gospel and preaching, I never want to be accused of being unfaithful in them. I pray that God would give me the confidence in his Word and Spirit to continue to use the means he has provided and not my own innovations. At the same time, I don't want to use my own "faithfulness" as an excuse for not being competent (which, in my case, means knowing another language well, knowing how people think here, knowing how to answer typical Mslm objections, etc). And I don't want to see that in the Western church either (examples could be: the pastor says true things, he's faithful, but his sermons are disorganized, unclear, and lacking a discernible point, etc).

So here are my questions (but feel free to comment on any of this):

(1) Do you think that fruitfulness may be a helpful category for evaluating ministry? If so, why? If not, why not?
(2) Do you think that we, as confessional Reformed people, have at times erred in not looking at the reasons why we're not seeing fruit?
(3) How can we encourage our churches to remain biblically and confessionally faithful and also seek to see fruit in our communities?
(4) How can we advocate for ministerial competence and yet avoid a numbers game or a lack of dependence on the Spirit?
 

Cymro

Puritan Board Junior
If I recollect rightly, at one time John Owen only had 39 in his congregation,
but they were 39 jewels! This was a different kind of fruit. I was told by a Pastor
whose expository ministry was the best I have heard,(and this was 40 years ago),
" there is a time coming in your lifetime that you must heed the Apostle's words,It is
required in a steward that he be found faithful."I believe we are in such a day.Preach
the word faithfully and if it please God he will give the increase.
 

Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
Do you think that fruitfulness may be a helpful category for evaluating ministry?

Absolutely. Depending on what you mean by fruitfulness.

It's going to look different in different settings, but if a church isn't bearing any fruit, it might as well shut the doors.
 

Covenant Joel

Puritan Board Sophomore
If I recollect rightly, at one time John Owen only had 39 in his congregation,
but they were 39 jewels! This was a different kind of fruit. I was told by a Pastor
whose expository ministry was the best I have heard,(and this was 40 years ago),
" there is a time coming in your lifetime that you must heed the Apostle's words,It is
required in a steward that he be found faithful."I believe we are in such a day.Preach
the word faithfully and if it please God he will give the increase.

Thanks for your thoughts. So if I get the gist of your point, you're saying essentially no to the first two questions?

Of course, in saying what I did above, I'm hardly saying we shouldn't be faithful to the Word. What I'm asking myself is this: "Is it possible that I am faithfully preaching the word (in the sense of saying true things, participating in the God-ordained means of grace) and yet failing to see fruit because I'm not examining my own competence or how the church remains faithful in my specific context?"

I'm not suggesting one must necessarily adopt Keller's answers to all of these questions. I have serious questions about some of his approach. Nonetheless, I think his point here is worth considering.
 

Covenant Joel

Puritan Board Sophomore
Do you think that fruitfulness may be a helpful category for evaluating ministry?

Absolutely. Depending on what you mean by fruitfulness.

It's going to look different in different settings, but if a church isn't bearing any fruit, it might as well shut the doors.

You're right in that the definitions are key. Both "faithfulness" and "fruitfulness" would have to be properly defined. In light of your answer, how would answer the latter two questions (which is where the rub is for me)?
 

Unoriginalname

Puritan Board Junior
It is hard for me to say anything that does not sound like an over generalization but I have noticed that plenty (or some) reformed churches are focused on being true to God's word in terms of doctrine and worship, but seem to de-emphasize engaging their local communities and the outside world such as your example of an all white church in a black community. I think a healthy ministry and church would be aware of situations in their local community and would try to find open doors in their community.
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
I Timothy 4:16
Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.

The reliance on the Word and Holy Spirit are key.

(1) Do you think that fruitfulness may be a helpful category for evaluating ministry? If so, why? If not, why not?

Is biblical obedience being more and more manifest? Is known sin being dealt with?


(2) Do you think that we, as confessional Reformed people, have at times erred in not looking at the reasons why we're not seeing fruit?

Would not suggest introspection, but would, here, suggest obedience, with teachers watching their right life and right doctrine because the enemy is always looking for opportunity to confuse and spoil.


(3) How can we encourage our churches to remain biblically and confessionally faithful and also seek to see fruit in our communities?

Teach the word of God. Pray a lot. Deal with sin.

(4) How can we advocate for ministerial competence and yet avoid a numbers game or a lack of dependence on the Spirit?

Very carefully follow the instructions in I Timothy 3 and Titus I, and review them for those who would lead God's people.
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
An analogy to the relationship between justification and sanctification may be helpful.

We are not saved by our good works, but we are saved for good works.

Evidencing God's grace (faith and repentance) over time is not a cause of our salvation, but is evidence of it.

An elder ought be seeing that evidence increase in his own life, and in the lives of the covenant community.

In the context you describe, are the people encountering opposition? In the face of it are they praying to suffer well for Christ?

That may be in many, may be in a very few.

But, in God's eyes, that is what will be rewarded at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
 

arapahoepark

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
I believe it is easy for him to play this 'numbers game'(fruitfulness) when you're in a city of 8 million people still surrounded by countless suburbs across either river.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Doctor
The basic framework of the ideas you mention sounds solid. Neither "numbers" nor doctrinal faithfulness alone is the right criteria for judging a ministry. A pastor should be both (1) faithful in doctrine and Christian living and also (2) able to teach and a competent manager. We get this from the qualifications listed in 1 Timothy 3, and it's supported by many parts of Scripture. It's right to demand both.

Most of us here would probably be quick to say that those who get "numbers" should constantly examine their doctrinal faithfulness. But in the same way, those who preach faithful doctrine but otherwise fail to carry out the job in a way that makes a church fruitful should be asking what more they need to be faithful in. We don't want to become content with doctrinally-faithful-but-otherwise-weak ministries.

The idea that "fruitful" doesn't necessarily mean numbers of people in church (though that might be part of it) is also the right idea.
 

Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
The basic framework of the ideas you mention sounds solid. Neither "numbers" nor doctrinal faithfulness alone is the right criteria for judging a ministry. A pastor should be both (1) faithful in doctrine and Christian living and also (2) able to teach and a competent manager. We get this from the qualifications listed in 1 Timothy 3, and it's supported by many parts of Scripture. It's right to demand both.

Most of us here would probably be quick to say that those who get "numbers" should constantly examine their doctrinal faithfulness. But in the same way, those who preach faithful doctrine but otherwise fail to carry out the job in a way that makes a church fruitful should be asking what more they need to be faithful in. We don't want to become content with doctrinally-faithful-but-otherwise-weak ministries.

The idea that "fruitful" doesn't necessarily mean numbers of people in church (though that might be part of it) is also the right idea.

Thanks for saying it more artfully than I could.

I was thinking something along the lines of 'It is a sin to make a idol of being a big congregation. It is a bigger sin to make an idol of being a small congregation.'

In light of your answer, how would answer the latter two questions (which is where the rub is for me)?

That's going to take more thought. I'd like to engage further, but I'm going to have to do some thinking offline.
 

Covenant Joel

Puritan Board Sophomore
It is hard for me to say anything that does not sound like an over generalization but I have noticed that plenty (or some) reformed churches are focused on being true to God's word in terms of doctrine and worship, but seem to de-emphasize engaging their local communities and the outside world such as your example of an all white church in a black community. I think a healthy ministry and church would be aware of situations in their local community and would try to find open doors in their community.

Of course generalizations aren't always completely fair, but I'm sure that my experience was not the only one to happen. What kinds of questions should a church be asking of itself to make sure that it's reaching out to the local community?

(1) Do you think that fruitfulness may be a helpful category for evaluating ministry? If so, why? If not, why not?

Is biblical obedience being more and more manifest? Is known sin being dealt with?

You have to spell out for me how those questions directly respond to my Q#1.

(2) Do you think that we, as confessional Reformed people, have at times erred in not looking at the reasons why we're not seeing fruit?

Would not suggest introspection, but would, here, suggest obedience, with teachers watching their right life and right doctrine because the enemy is always looking for opportunity to confuse and spoil.

So, to clarify, are you essentially disagreeing with the ideas I brought up? You seem to be suggesting that if one is maintaining biblical morality and correct doctrine that this is the full sum of what one has to be concerned about?

(3) How can we encourage our churches to remain biblically and confessionally faithful and also seek to see fruit in our communities?

Teach the word of God. Pray a lot. Deal with sin.

Do you see no place for sort of looking at both ministerial competence and examining carefully how the church is doing the things you mention in the community?

(4) How can we advocate for ministerial competence and yet avoid a numbers game or a lack of dependence on the Spirit?

Very carefully follow the instructions in I Timothy 3 and Titus I, and review them for those who would lead God's people.

I'm not sure that you're getting what I'm asking in #4 (though you're certainly right that we would do well to review 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 more). What I'm asking is, let's say for example that one of the qualifications of elder is that he is able to teach. We have a pastor who says many true things derived from Scripture, but he stares at his manuscript the whole time, uses nothing that would connect the truth of Scripture with the lives of his people, etc. How can we advocate for more ministerial competence from him and yet avoid a numbers game or a lack of dependence on the Spirit?

Similarly, let's say a church is in a certain community. The church has solid doctrine and worship, but in 15 years of being at that location, there have been no converts, no people from the community coming to the church, etc (this fits mostly in a Western context, perhaps). Is there something else that should be looked at as a reason for cause of lack of fruit? Or do we just say, "They're faithful in their lives and doctrine, so just trust God to bring the increase?"

I believe it is easy for him to play this 'numbers game'(fruitfulness) when you're in a city of 8 million people still surrounded by countless suburbs across either river.

Not sure what you mean here exactly.

The basic framework of the ideas you mention sounds solid. Neither "numbers" nor doctrinal faithfulness alone is the right criteria for judging a ministry. A pastor should be both (1) faithful in doctrine and Christian living and also (2) able to teach and a competent manager. We get this from the qualifications listed in 1 Timothy 3, and it's supported by many parts of Scripture. It's right to demand both.

Most of us here would probably be quick to say that those who get "numbers" should constantly examine their doctrinal faithfulness. But in the same way, those who preach faithful doctrine but otherwise fail to carry out the job in a way that makes a church fruitful should be asking what more they need to be faithful in. We don't want to become content with doctrinally-faithful-but-otherwise-weak ministries.

The idea that "fruitful" doesn't necessarily mean numbers of people in church (though that might be part of it) is also the right idea.

Thanks for your thoughts. I think you highlight what was pointed out earlier: that a lot depends on definitions. I.e., if we restrict "faithfulness" to doctrinal accuracy, then we may have already exposed part of our problem, as we ought to be faithful in much more than that.
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
Quote Originally Posted by Scott1 View Post
(1) Do you think that fruitfulness may be a helpful category for evaluating ministry? If so, why? If not, why not?

Is biblical obedience being more and more manifest? Is known sin being dealt with?
You have to spell out for me how those questions directly respond to my Q#1.

If this is what is meant by "fruitfulness"- then yes, it is helpful.
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
(2) Do you think that we, as confessional Reformed people, have at times erred in not looking at the reasons why we're not seeing fruit?

Would not suggest introspection, but would, here, suggest obedience, with teachers watching their right life and right doctrine because the enemy is always looking for opportunity to confuse and spoil.
So, to clarify, are you essentially disagreeing with the ideas I brought up? You seem to be suggesting that if one is maintaining biblical morality and correct doctrine that this is the full sum of what one has to be concerned about?

In line with I Timothy 4:16, this is the priority for the elder/bishop/minister.
This is what Paul exhorts Timothy near the end of Paul's life as being important.
Remember, orthodoxy leads to orthopraxy. We have faith that God will get glory as that happens, not reflect so much on ourselves.
Do you see no place for sort of looking at both ministerial competence and examining carefully how the church is doing the things you mention in the community?

(4) How can we advocate for ministerial competence and yet avoid a numbers game or a lack of dependence on the Spirit?

Very carefully follow the instructions in I Timothy 3 and Titus I, and review them for those who would lead God's people.

It's not clear what is being assumed as ministerial competence. The call of an elder ought be confirmed, which includes an ability to clearly and carefully handle the Word of God. It's a rare call, and obviously many are not held to God's standard in that in the first place. But since it is a gift of God, and a call of God, that's what the process ought be confirming, that person ought not be driven by what THEY think are "results."

For example, would Hudson Taylor have ever gone to China, or stayed there, with the "results" (looked at one way)?

What if God is calling the elder to suffer persecution and to endure for a season with few, if any seeming "results"? Think of the apostles, and prophets. What does that have to do with competence. Is man the task master?
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
I'm not sure that you're getting what I'm asking in #4 (though you're certainly right that we would do well to review 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 more). What I'm asking is, let's say for example that one of the qualifications of elder is that he is able to teach. We have a pastor who says many true things derived from Scripture, but he stares at his manuscript the whole time, uses nothing that would connect the truth of Scripture with the lives of his people, etc. How can we advocate for more ministerial competence from him and yet avoid a numbers game or a lack of dependence on the Spirit?

Yes, but the Pastor, called and equipped by God to teach and carefully handle His Word is not just saying true things. The Holy Spirit will attend the Word. But who knows what effect that will have.
The natural man is not seeking God in his natural state. John 3:16-21 goes on to say men do not WANT the truth. They do not want God. So it's not a matter of presentation really, but is a work of the Spirit.

You are right to mention the work of the Spirit, but it is tied to the faithful preaching and teaching (and hearing) of the Word.
 
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Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
Similarly, let's say a church is in a certain community. The church has solid doctrine and worship, but in 15 years of being at that location, there have been no converts, no people from the community coming to the church, etc (this fits mostly in a Western context, perhaps). Is there something else that should be looked at as a reason for cause of lack of fruit? Or do we just say, "They're faithful in their lives and doctrine, so just trust God to bring the increase?"

It would be quite natural for an elder to question his call in such a situation. There were times when the Prophets in the Old Testament lamented this kind of scenario. But one does not see a biblical pattern of them pondering changing their delivery technique. It was faithfulness, even unto death.
It is hard to imagine that kind of testimony not being used by God for some kind of effect.

Preaching and teaching the full counsel of God's Word is going to affect a lot of things. Husbands assuming spiritual leadership in their homes. A general covenant community characteristic of service, giving, a charity that spans age, gender and social background, etc.

It is hard to imagine, but is possible in God's providence, an elder faithfully teaching the full counsel of God's Word and himself being changed by it, not affecting anyone else. But again, we do not perceive things the way our God does, and we do not know what God may do with it later.

This is not the world's way of viewing success. And it is more the eternal perspective.

If we wanted to look at the Apostle Paul's "fruit" we could selectively say he was run out of town, a group of his own people tried to saw him in half, they lashed him 40 minus 1 times, he (likely) had a loathsome eye disease, and died (likely) by execution after a long term in prison.

One of the amazing things is we don't see the Apostle lamenting, at all. Or considering changing his technique.
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
11 of the 12 apostles died martyrs deaths. The other was banished on an isolated island.

I wonder how modernists or New York Times bestseller list authors today would evaluate their effectiveness?

(Not to mention our Lord)
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Doctor
I was thinking something along the lines of 'It is a sin to make a idol of being a big congregation. It is a bigger sin to make an idol of being a small congregation.'

Actually, I like the way you put it. I think I've sometimes detected a tendency in smaller Reformed churches to take pride in the idea that the failure to attract many worshipers must mean their church is more faithful doctrinally or more pure in its worship than larger, more popular churches. That feels wrong. Where such pride exists, it seems like the arrogance itself is more likely the reason the church struggles to attract worshipers.

However, as a guy who's spent the last 25 years in churches that have grown numbers-wise, I want to be especially careful not to become prideful of that. Pride in numbers is terribly tempting. We mustn't give in to it and end up looking down on churches that don't grow that way. We all struggle against arrogance, and there are ways other than numerical growth to be fruitful. God does not give increase to all in the same fashion.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Doctor
11 of the 12 apostles died martyrs deaths. The other was banished on an isolated island.

I wonder how modernists or New York Times bestseller list authors today would evaluate their effectiveness?

(Not to mention our Lord)

Maybe. Yet we must not take this as a reason to despise numerical growth or dismiss it as a sure sign of unfaithfulness. The church grew rapidly after Christ came, and Acts takes this to be a sign of the Spirit's work and of faithful, fruitful ministry.
 

Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
(3) How can we encourage our churches to remain biblically and confessionally faithful and also seek to see fruit in our communities?

I don't think I can accept that question as drafted. If a church is being Biblically and Confessionally faithful, you will see fruit in the community. Now, depending on the community, that fruit may be more qualitative than quantitative, but there should be fruit evident both within and without the body. And if there isn't any evidence of fruit, the surface appearance of faithfulness might be but a Potemkin village.

(4) How can we advocate for ministerial competence and yet avoid a numbers game or a lack of dependence on the Spirit?
Sometimes you can tell if someone is running a fever just by looking at them. And an experienced medical practitioner could probably get useful information just by looking at the patient. But isn't it a bit more helpful to stick a thermometer under someone's tongue and get a number to provide a better picture? Does the congregation look like the community that it is in? If not, why not? Is a balance in the membership? Is ASA up, flat or down. Adult professions of faith up, flat or down. Giving year to year up, flat, or down. Are members bringing visitors?

Harder to measure is the qualitative element. Although you can count divorces, and couples in cohabitation, etc.
 

Unoriginalname

Puritan Board Junior
Of course generalizations aren't always completely fair, but I'm sure that my experience was not the only one to happen. What kinds of questions should a church be asking of itself to make sure that it's reaching out to the local community?

I know it is not a great question but, do we (the church members) know anyone who lives in the surrounding area? Do we know what churches they attend? What are the other churches in the area and what do they preach? And do people in the area know anything about our church? While you cannot force an increase in "numbers" you can strive for your church's faith and practice to be public so that those around you know who you are and what you stand for (and ideally that would be a love of the Lord and his people and a desire for the lost).
 

Covenant Joel

Puritan Board Sophomore
(3) How can we encourage our churches to remain biblically and confessionally faithful and also seek to see fruit in our communities?

I don't think I can accept that question as drafted. If a church is being Biblically and Confessionally faithful, you will see fruit in the community. Now, depending on the community, that fruit may be more qualitative than quantitative, but there should be fruit evident both within and without the body. And if there isn't any evidence of fruit, the surface appearance of faithfulness might be but a Potemkin village.

Sorry for the lack of clarity and accuracy in the question. I guess what I'm more getting at is this: Let's say we have a church that holds fast to Scripture and the Reformed faith. It's worship is glorifying to God, the people are learning more and more about Scripture, even sin is being repented of, mutual encouragement in that is happening. But there hasn't been an adult conversion from the community in a decade.

How do think through what's going on there? It's not a deficiency in doctrinal faithfulness. It could be that they have been out in the community proclaiming the gospel for a decade, but that it's a really hard place and God has not yet changed people's hearts.

Or, could it be something else? Could there be a middle area in there somewhere that may be missing? How do we help determine what that i, if there is something missing? In particular, how can we perhaps encourage (in such a church, or in our own churches) evaluation of the approach taken in that area without devaluing or supplanting the simple means of grace that God has given to build his church?

(4) How can we advocate for ministerial competence and yet avoid a numbers game or a lack of dependence on the Spirit?
Sometimes you can tell if someone is running a fever just by looking at them. And an experienced medical practitioner could probably get useful information just by looking at the patient. But isn't it a bit more helpful to stick a thermometer under someone's tongue and get a number to provide a better picture? Does the congregation look like the community that it is in? If not, why not? Is a balance in the membership? Is ASA up, flat or down. Adult professions of faith up, flat or down. Giving year to year up, flat, or down. Are members bringing visitors?

Harder to measure is the qualitative element. Although you can count divorces, and couples in cohabitation, etc.

Those things help get at the previous question some. In (4), I was really meaning more the competence of folks like me, the ordained crowd in our churches and ministries. T. David Gordon, in Why Johnny Can't Preach, advocated strongly for something akin to a "minister's review" by the elders every year. While that's not exactly what I'm getting at, a couple of things make me wonder about the "competence" idea:

(1) I've met a lot of people (not from Reformed circles, as there aren't many out here) who simply don't seem to take very seriously the things we must be competent in to live out in my part of the world. E.g., people training to serve (or who have already served for many years) here who aren't or didn't take language-learning very seriously. One example comes to mind of a guy who's been here 12 years and when asked to pray in church could barely stammer out something intelligible in the language. I pray that people sent out from Reformed churches aren't in that boat. But language proficiency is a key aspect of being competent out here. Other skills for me would be learning to explain things using illustrations from the culture here rather than just from my own culture.

(2) Having grown up in the Reformed world, I have spent a decent amount of time in a variety of Reformed churches. And I've heard my fair share of barely intelligible sermons. I've seen a lot of ministers who don't seem to "do the work of an evangelist." As with people like me overseas, being stateside in Reformed churches requires a lot of competency areas. It seems like we focus on doctrinal competency a lot (and we should), but there are a lot of other skills that seem important.

How can/should we advocate for ministerial competency? What are areas outside of just doctrinal faithfulness, leading in worship? Should ministers be examining themselves to see if there are competency areas being missed if there is no fruit in the community?

And a clarification in light of Scott's comments above: Of course, I'm not talking about people in martyrdom-type situations wondering about fruitful. Though, generally speaking, it seems like martyrs often get martyred because they're being fruitful, and people don't always like that.

I'm really more talking about, in general, should we just take the idea that Keller describes, "Well we're faithful, but no people are being saved, so that's just all there is to it," or should we seek to evaluate other areas? Like how we are connecting our doctrine and our worship to the people we want to reach?
 

Covenant Joel

Puritan Board Sophomore
Of course generalizations aren't always completely fair, but I'm sure that my experience was not the only one to happen. What kinds of questions should a church be asking of itself to make sure that it's reaching out to the local community?

I know it is not a great question but, do we (the church members) know anyone who lives in the surrounding area? Do we know what churches they attend? What are the other churches in the area and what do they preach? And do people in the area know anything about our church? While you cannot force an increase in "numbers" you can strive for your church's faith and practice to be public so that those around you know who you are and what you stand for (and ideally that would be a love of the Lord and his people and a desire for the lost).

Thanks for those thoughts. I think they're helpful. One thing I've seen in the Middle East, and have read about a lot in the history of the church in this region, is that there can get to be an "edifice complex," both with big and small churches, which means that people are concerned about having their little stake in the ground, usually including a building, that is their territory, and they can be mostly preoccupied with making sure that stays there.

What you're describing is a fundamentally different attitude: we are here to worship the Lord in this community, for the sake of his glory in this community. Perhaps that attitude shift is a key component here.
 

Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
But there hasn't been an adult conversion from the community in a decade.

That probably should give rise to questions, but depending on the demographics of the community, might not reflect any shortcomings by the congregation. But it certainly isn't something that should give rise to pride.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
(4) How can we advocate for ministerial competence and yet avoid a numbers game or a lack of dependence on the Spirit?

We must be concerned with fruitfulness, but let it be the planting of the Lord that He may be glorified.

Stephen's martyrdom should have much to teach us about the true means of fruitfulness.

Some sow; others reap, and enter into their labours.

Growing an organisation or a parachurch ministry is not "church growth."

A particular church is but a member of the catholic church. If a particular church grows at the expense of the catholic church it is ill growth.

The Lord adds to the church such as should be saved.

One sinner that repenteth is cause of rejoicing in heaven and in a heavenly-minded believer.

Despise not the day of small things.

Let us not be weary in well doing; for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.

Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come.
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
And a clarification in light of Scott's comments above: Of course, I'm not talking about people in martyrdom-type situations wondering about fruitful. Though, generally speaking, it seems like martyrs often get martyred because they're being fruitful, and people don't always like that.

There are broader reasons why the unregenerate do not like the church.

John 3

16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.

21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.
 

Covenant Joel

Puritan Board Sophomore
Thanks for all of your thoughts. Perhaps to extend this discussion in a slightly different, though related, direction:

Do you think that a church ought to do studies of the community in which it finds itself in order to best reach it? I.e., studying the demographics of the community around the church, the types of people, jobs, community relationships, other organizations, etc? If so, should that impact how the church does ministry? In what way?

And again, related, though slightly different: Should a church develop a plan for how it will reach its community based on those studies? Why or why not?
 

THE W

Puritan Board Freshman
No "focus grouping" necessary,

Our commanded charity toward our neighbor, sharing of the gospel, and faithful preaching of the word will suffice.

The Holy Spirit will do the rest.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Doctor
Study the community? Sure. It's good to work on effectively communicating the gospel to the culture in which you are ministering. Knowing one's audience is part of good ministry. This might not require formal research, but in some cases it could.

Plan how to reach the community? Of course. Planning is good in any ministry endeavor.

But there are dangers in all of this. Any study could easily feed a mindset where the emphasis becomes giving the surrounding community "what they want" rather than giving them the gospel. That's always a concern, and a reason to be cautious with such research. Do it in moderation. Check your conclusions against biblical ministry practice. Never let the research results become the driving force in ministry. They must only be information that comes alongside the driving force, which is the gospel of Jesus.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
It is difficult to think that some form of reflection on the community is not taking place. If so, it is just a question of whether the reflection is impartial or partial, good or bad, spiritual or carnal, ministerial or dominical, biblical or humanistic, for edification or self-glorification.
 
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