Success is Measured in Obedience
by Rebecca Burtram
In low moments, I have cried out to God in frustration and discouragement, asking why our plant has not seen the rate of growth we expected. We have implemented all the recommendations and best practices, and we have genuinely tried to hear from God and follow his leading.
All the feedback we have received has been great. The preaching is relevant, biblical, and engaging. The children’s area is fun, safe, and clean. The kids are learning how to build solid relationships with Christ. Guests feel welcome, the worship team sounds amazing, the branding is sleek, and the mailers being sent follow the suggested templates. We consistently pray and seek God’s direction and guidance. Yet we have not seen much growth.
Why, God?! Why? Why isn’t our plant thriving?
Recently, I was walking with my mom through her gardens. In one garden, her peony bush was in full bloom. The flowers were huge and vibrant. As we walked across the property, we came to another bush that was not blooming. I’m not a gardener myself, but I was fairly certain that I was looking at another peony bush.
“Isn’t this a peony bush? Why is the one in the other garden full of gorgeous flowers while this one is just budding?”
“The one that is blooming is in full sunlight, and this one is often in the shade. It will bloom eventually.”
The same woman planted both bushes, the plants were in the same soil, and she used the same techniques and strategies to promote growth, yet the results were different.
The conversation with my mother in her garden was bizarrely comforting. I immediately thought of our church. I was reminded of the stories of pastors who planted more than once and struggled in one location but thrived in another.
The same pastors planted the churches, they used the same techniques and strategies to promote growth, yet the results were different.
It is so easy to see low or slow growing numbers as a failure. However, that isn’t the paradigm in which God works. God has not called us to measure our worth based on what we can do. He has simply called us to be His. The work we do is an outpouring of our relationship with Christ. In John 21:15-19, Jesus repeatedly asks Peter if he loves him and instructs him to “feed my sheep.” He also ends the conversation with, “follow me.”
When we plant our churches, we do it as an act of obedience. We are demonstrating our love, not trying to earn His. He has already called us his own, and the size of our churches is not the measure of our success. Jesus said, “follow me,” and this command may lead us to do things that look like failure to some.
In his article “Learning to Fail,” Robert Elkin points out that Jesus, in his act of ultimate obedience to God, was viewed as a failure at the moment of his crucifixion:
The cross was a failure. Jesus was a failure in the eyes of EVERY SINGLE PERSON in his society. As he hung on the cross, literally no one thought he was a success. Even after he resurrected from the dead, the cross was still considered “foolishness” whether measured by religion (Jews) or philosophy (Greeks). Every single educated person in the first century thought the cross made no sense. Yet the cross is our salvation. And the salvation of the world. And the singular picture of Divine Love.
Society believed Jesus was a failure because they had expectations of a triumphant uprising, but that isn’t what he was called to do. He was called to be obedient, even to the point of death. It is in looking back that we are able to see the results of what Jesus did. What seemed like a failure to everyone around was a turning point for all of history. We do not know all of God’s plans or the purpose for all he asks of us.
Don’t stress if your plant isn’t blooming the way you thought it would. If you are faithfully pursuing God’s call to be his and obediently following his leading above all else, you are succeeding- no matter what the world may say.
Rebecca Burtram and her husband, Jonathan, planted Redemption Church Charlottesville on Easter of 2016. Rebecca is the author of Our Broken Hallelujahs and blogs about grace and imperfection at rebeccaburtram.com. She is passionate about helping others know that they are not alone in their struggles or their triumphs. If you have a church planting story to share with other CMN women, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.