While it is clearly not wrong to share our faith, it is wrong to think we had anything to do with someone coming to faith. Like a physician who knows and administers the cure for a disease, there’s no guarantee it will work in every patient’s case. Even with all their education and training, factors exist outside a doctor’s control. How much less are Christians in charge of whether someone suffering in sin will tolerate the cure? Physicians become arrogant, playing “god”, when they begin to believe they have the power of life and death. Many Christians and churches seem arrogant to non-believers, conducting themselves in ways that make it appear they believe the power of life and death rests in their hands.
Our Father wrote the play and His Son is the main character – it is not about you and me. Each Christ-follower has the privilege of playing minor roles on His grand stage – and should be humbled by the fact the Lord chose to give us a small part in His plan for restoration and reconciliation. Yes, as we read the script (Scripture) we may get nervous seeing how important the lines are we need to memorize and perform (GC3), but that pressure is alleviated by understanding we’re not responsible for the outcomes…
- Great Commandment – God loved us before we loved Him (1 John 4:19)
- Great Commission – God causes discipleship growth (1 Corinthians 3:6-8)
- Great Calling – God’s blessing is the source of our productivity and authority (Genesis 1:28)
In a society that values and flaunts achievement, it’s wildly countercultural to deflect credit for success to where it is truly due. Even when it comes to evangelism and discipleship, it’s tempting to track numbers and reflect on “accomplishments”. Giving God all the glory for any results from our efforts seems like a poor performance incentive plan – we’re accustomed to being recognized and compensated for our work. However, the Lord’s economy defies logic and human nature – what we do doesn’t accrue to our account, at least not in this life. Yet it stands to reason we shouldn’t take credit for anything over which we ultimately have no control – like someone’s salvation and relationship with Jesus.
That fact that the Lord is fully responsible for the harvest doesn’t excuse us from planting and cultivating. Christ-followers who diligently undertake Gospel-sharing and disciple-making must do so without a shred of pride or praise for whatever Jesus does through them. A consolation for taking none of the credit for “success” is removing all the guilt when our faithful obedience doesn’t end the way we would have liked. What God demands and smiles on is our love and perseverance even if non-believers we’ve poured into for years don’t accept Christ or if a fellow believer deconstructs, leaving the faith. It hurts badly when people we care about decide not to follow Jesus, but we cannot take it personally. That’s not easy when close family or friends relapse and suddenly stop calling and responding to emails, avoiding exposure of their darkness to the light.
Our job starts and ends at living Prayer, Care, Share lifestyles within our circles of influence. Yet no matter how well we prepare, how much love we show, or how eloquently we communicate, there are those who simply will not respond – and we have no power to overcome their resistance. We’ve all walked away from what we thought was a brilliant Gospel presentation or an incredibly kind-hearted gesture, only to learn soon thereafter it had no discernable impact. We can lead people toward Christ, but not into a personal relationship with Him. So God gets all the glory and we’re freed of the (perceived) burden of responsibility for saving anyone.
Usurping God’s Responsibilities
The ramifications of thinking or acting like we play a larger role than we actually do are being felt today in America. The cultural tides have shifted dramatically because churches and Christians have overstepped their bounds – pursuing impact, influence, notoriety, and growth…and consequently achieved none of them. Leaving the impression that we think it’s all up to us when it’s really all up to God has only bred resentment. The intended scope of our tasks is GC3 – and then watching God have the impact, exert the influence, gain the notoriety, and cause the growth.
The Pharisees tried to convince the Israelites that interpreting Scripture and defining salvation criteria were their tasks AND their responsibilities, predicated on following their rules. Jesus was a direct threat to that construct, undermining the power and prestige they desperately wanted to preserve. All religions except Christianity elevate humans into God’s position of determining (eternal or earthly) outcomes by their “works” or “spirituality”. Raising man up or bringing God down invites His wrath, essentially saying they didn’t need Jesus to suffer and die on their behalf. Rather than accepting God’s “free” gift (i.e. His goodness), followers of other religions are told how to earn a “fair” wage (i.e. their “goodness”).
No Christian or church should borrow conventions from religions that overstate man’s capabilities and responsibilities. Yet that’s what pastors and churchgoers do when they…
- Centralize around a place and pastors, usurping evangelism and discipleship rather than delegating (and equipping for) those tasks
- Treat megachurch leaders like celebrities, as if they have a more direct line to God
- Measure and tout church success in terms of “butts”, “bucks”, and buildings
- View members as “customers”, not as employees (i.e. the embodiment of church) trained to pursue the real “customer” (those who don’t know Jesus)
- Give credit and kudos for GC3 tasks we should be performing without accolades
- Evaluate “maturity” by the degree of engagement in church activities and “chores”, not discipleship depth and multiplication
- Emphasize how God will make our lives better and get us through trials, the theme of most songs on Christian radio
- Fight for victory rather than confidently loving from a position of victory
- Act like provision is dependent on our efforts rather than trusting in God’s provision
- Believe political affiliations and candidates will restore or advance the Kingdom
- Teach generosity is an obligation and not a response to our Father’s generosity
- Imply or promise God will grant (earthly) rewards for serving or giving to a church
- Outsource the Great Commission to church leaders, who long ago outsourced compassion to parachurch ministries
- Practice transactional poverty alleviation, not ongoing relational compassion
Churches rebuild the veil of the temple Jesus tore when they insert leaders between mankind and God by presuming to have responsibilities far beyond their pay grades.
Relegating believers to the practice of GC3 – love, discipleship, and diligence – and relinquishing control over outcomes is the proper perspective. Frankly, we never had control in the first place. All we can do is trust the Lord will do what’s best and keep our noses to the grindstone, relying on the power of the Holy Spirit to…
- Disintermediate, equipping and sending instead of attracting and retaining
- Simply obey, taking no credit when good things happen
- Die to self, realizing we are nothing without Jesus
- Humbly celebrate what God did when a friend repents and comes to Christ
- Realize we’re absolved of guilt when people we invest in reject Jesus
- Refuse to believe not being responsible for outcomes obviates our need for action
- Be sure our Father, not a church or spiritual “father, is the hero of “His-story”
- Understand restoration is being done through us, not because of us
- Replace the “air war”, dropping verbal bombs, with a ground war of compassion
- Teach all of Scripture, not just the parts conforming to today’s intolerant culture
- Prepare (to share) and respond to common non-believer questions and objections
Even in making those recommendations, we must keep in mind that implementing them is our task but God’s responsibility. Pastors courageous enough to revert to biblical definitions of “church” and its intended “customer” – no longer catering to “consumers” but challenging “workers” to live out GC3 – face tremendous headwinds. Unless the Lord builds the house, our labor will be in vain. At this point, returning spiritual disciplines and discipleship to those who entrusted those tasks to “professionals” is only possible with God.
It’s Your Turn
Are you more relieved knowing we’re not responsible for our evangelistic ”failures” or disappointed knowing we don’t deserve credit for any “successes”?