Like many areas of professional experience, Christian churches have utilized standardized methods to determine effectiveness and decision-making. Pastors are inundated with record-keeping designed to help leadership determine the success or failure of programs and ministries. Pastors fill out reports that ask specifics such as, attendance records, offering totals, membership enrollment statistics, how many pastoral home or office visits, how many baptisms, infant dedications, or special events, or how many people went to the altar. This information is charted and graphed and compared to previous reports.
Numbers … numbers … numbers.
And we wonder if the numbers are any indicator that our ministry has made any significant difference in those God has called us to serve. Don’t we want the efforts of our work for the Lord to change lives? To bring those we minister to into a closer walk with God?
Being human, some pastors have tried to determine their success by how many praised a sermon or made positive remarks during the after-service handshake fest. Or perhaps they may be uncertain when someone they’ve prayed for skirts past and out the door as quickly as possible or has been absent for several weeks in a row when they are not on vacation or there is no known family issue.
“Where is the fruit,” they ask themselves?
Perhaps some help can be gained by re-reading 1 Thessalonians. We can identify with Paul’s concern for this church. So much so he sent Timothy to evaluate how the church was doing. Initially, Paul defends his work and shares his past worry that his efforts might have been in vain. He reminds his parish how he planted the church in boldness, in spite of much conflict.
Paul’s exhortations reflected his desire for fruit among a people, and he was thankful for their reception and immediate response to the truth of the gospel for which Paul suffered a great deal. He reminds them how he witnessed the Thessalonians struggle in the early formation of the church. Yet, seeds were planted and a work had begun. Because circumstances called him away, he worried for the sake of the Thessalonian’s fledgling faith, especially in view of their affliction. Would everything he had suffered for come to naught?
*“For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I sent (Timothy) to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor might be in vain.”
I wonder how many sleepless nights Paul endured before Timothy returned with his favorable report. “But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always have good remembrance of us … therefore, brethren, in all our affliction and distress we were comforted concerning you by your faith. For now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord.”
Paul was given his reassurance. His work had not been in vain.
Pastor, I encourage you not to evaluate your influence by graphs and statistics. Rather look to God, who will send you a Timothy Report. Thessalonica was, in all probability, not the only church that became a source of concern for Paul. In all his epistles, Paul continues to exhort or encourage Christians and bemoans the circumstances that caused him to leave the work behind.
There is much comfort and reassurance in this reminder found in Paul’s second letter to Timothy, 1:12-13): For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.
*All Scripture references are from the New King James Bible
Linda Wood Rondeau is a retired social work and resides in Hagerstown, Md. Readers may visit her blog Snark and Sensibility found on her website www.lindarondeau.com. The author may be found on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Goodreads. Her latest book, I Prayed for Patience God Gave Me Children is both a study and devotional and explores the meaning of being God’s child. The author is available to speak to groups on this or other topics as listed on her website.