Third Servant Baptist Church
It’s one of those things that every follower of Jesus wants to hear. It comes from Jesus’ parable of the talents and we know it well. A man goes on a journey and leaves his servants with money to invest while he is gone. One servant is given five talents, the second is given two, and the third is given one. When the man returns, he finds the first and second servants have doubled their investments. “Well done good and faithful servant,” he says to each of them. But the third servant did nothing but bury his talent. The man condemns him. “You wicked servant,” he says.
This story has led me to question how I think about faithfulness and wickedness. Traditionally, faithfulness has been used to describe the capacity to hang in there for the long haul. We think of the people who have taught Sunday School for 25 years or the Pastors who preach week after week. On the other hand, we connect wickedness with sinful activities such as sexual immorality, lying and stealing.
This parable challenges those ideas. In this context, what is praised as good and faithful has little to do with length of tenure and everything to do with risk and outcome. The first two servants were faithful: they were fruitful investors of what had been entrusted to them. But the third servant was wicked and it had nothing to do with immoral behaviour. He was driven by fear, he didn’t take initiative and he didn’t make use what had been given to him.
No one wants to be like the third servant. No church wants to be a third servant church full of third servant Christians. So what do we do? Inasmuch as I want to hear God say to me “Well done,” I need to be thoughtful about the fruit that comes from the investment of what God has entrusted to me. Churches need to think through this issue too.
Business people talk about Key Performance Indicators or KPIs: a performance standard against which they measure their success. Some years ago, when I began to use this sort of language in the Church I was serving, KPIs were met with resistance. It frustrated me that people didn’t welcome the idea of being accountable for outcomes. I said to a staff member, “What is wrong with these people. Don’t they think that God has desired outcomes for the Church?” She responded, “That’s it! You should call them God’s Desired Outcomes.” So we called them GDOs. And I have used this language ever since without any hint of resistance.
The Church has a mission: to reach out to people who do not yet know Jesus and make disciples. So how do we measure our progress along the way?
I believe that Churches tend to concentrate too much on numbers and not enough on outcomes. We take comfort from what I call pool data, for instance how many people attend our services, rather than the strength of each individual’s faith and commitment to Christ, to community, to service and to the world. I call the measure of these commitments stream data. And I believe they more accurately reflect the Church’s faithfulness to its mission than how many people show up on the weekend. Leaders need to measure the increasing commitment of their flock through meaningful outcomes, yet I rarely come across churches or pastors who exercise this level of accountability.
Recently I spoke with a female staff member who was organising a women’s breakfast. As the new guy on the block, I asked why we ran such an event. She told me she expected to have 150 women attend (a classic pool data response). “Is that why we do this?” I asked. She was no dummy and quickly realised that I was not impressed with her response. “We do it so that Christian women can invite their friends and be encouraged,” she stated. I repeated that back to her and added, “So that is why we do this event.” She then took it a step further, “I want women from the community to sign up to do Alpha.”
Finally she had come to the point of clarity in her own mind as to why this breakfast was happening. All of the other things were good but there was one clear objective in her mind as to why she was expending the energy around this event. As it turned out 137 women attended (pool data) and 12 women signed up to do Alpha (stream data). The bigger numbers are always more impressive but in reality it made no difference whether 40 or 200 women attended the event. The GDO was the number of women who signed up to do Alpha, in this case 12 women. The clarity of purpose provided by the GDO enables clarity of preparation. Everybody knows what the most important thing is. The results may appear less impressive, 12 women as opposed to 137, but it gives a better indication as to how effectively we are making disciples.
Pool data can be very misleading. Any Church can increase service attendance simply because another nearby Church enters hard times, but housing displaced Christians is not our mission. I looked up some data on NSW Baptist Churches for a recent speaking engagement. I found that 95% of the Baptist Churches of NSW averaged 1.04 baptisms per year. This shocking result is paralleled in Victoria and I expect that any state across the nation will profile similarly. In a tradition that tends to baptise their converts, this stream data highlights that we are paralysed on the missional front. Focusing solely on the pool data can hide the fact that very few people are putting their trust in Christ for the first time.
Every follower of Christ wants to hear, “Well done good and faithful servant.” Let’s be clear that Jesus will say this to those who have been faithful to fruitfulness. Let’s not allow ourselves to become a Third Servant Baptist Church. Better to demonstrate the entrepreneurial spirit of the first two servants, who took a risk with what the Master entrusted to them, than be paralysed by fear of a potential failure and not return anything at all.
Dale Stephenson is the Senior Pastor of Crossway Baptist Church in Melbourne, Victoria. He has a passion to see people become followers of Jesus, and for the church to be effective in making disciples.