This is a story of one of those times.
It’s a story that might upset some people, because it airs some of our dirty laundry. (If the title hasn’t ticked you off already, that is.)
But it’s also a personal confession. It puts my dirty laundry out there, too.
This is how some good people in my church taught their pastor an important lesson about what the kingdom of God is really all about.
What Cooperation Can Do
Years ago, our church signed up to cooperate with a huge evangelistic event that came to a nearby baseball stadium. We put up their posters, invited our people and sent volunteers to be trained as prayer counselors.
One of the benefits of being a participating church was that we would be entrusted with following up on some of the new believers who would fill out decision cards.
Their system worked great. Two of our leaders went through their follow-up class, giving them a level of training on discipling new converts that our Small Church wasn’t equipped to offer on our own.
Those who had been trained for prayer and counseling (including me) were told how to be available near the stage when people responded to the salvation call. The volunteers who had been trained in long-term follow-up would be led to a back room as soon as the altar call started. The cards of those who made salvation commitments would be brought to that room to be distributed according to where the new converts lived. The churches closest to them would be the ones to do the follow-up.
When Competition Gets In the Way
Being in the crowd around the stage as people came forward to make commitments to Christ was wonderful. It was a thrill beyond description to be among hundreds of people as we prayed, cried and rejoiced with people being born into new life in Christ.
Afterwards, the small group of prayer volunteers from our church gathered in the parking lot. We excitedly shared our experiences with each other. We couldn’t wait to get our hands on cards from new converts who lived near our church, so we could call them and start discipling them.
Then our follow-up volunteers arrived. And they weren’t happy. They were angry.
Their experience in the back room hadn’t been like ours on the stadium field. When the decision cards started coming in, instead of working together and dividing the cards according to geographical location, the room became something that, according to one of the volunteers, “was worse than Walmart on Black Friday.”
Volunteers grabbed cards by the handful and wouldn’t let go. Some churches that had been there in previous years had stationed themselves strategically to get more cards than others. There were other stories, too. But telling them would just be hurtful.
The volunteers from my church were so disgusted with the entire display, they left the room without even trying to get any cards.
“What was the point?” they asked. “We didn’t come to compete with other churches, we came to cooperate with them. I wasn’t going to fight with another Christian to follow up on a new believer.”
A Bigger Vision Than My Church
When they first started telling us the stories of churches grabbing convert cards by the handful, I was upset. Part of me was upset at the poor way this critical aspect of this otherwise very effective event was handled.
But I’m ashamed to say I was also upset at my volunteers. I was angry that they hadn’t been more aggressive. I wanted them to grab handfuls of cards themselves.
There you go, I thought. Months of recruiting, training and fundraising, all over in few moments. And my guys didn’t even have the initiative to get in there and grab some cards for us.
I wanted our church’s fair share. We’d worked really hard to get into that room, only to have our volunteers lose hundreds of converts to those greedy churches. I wanted us to be one of those greedy churches!
But I learned something as I listened to the words and saw the hearts of my church members that day. They left disillusioned, but with their integrity intact. Since then, I’ve tried to follow their lead.
An Ego-Free Church is a Healthy Church
I’m not telling this story to put anyone down. That’s why I haven’t told you what evangelistic event it was. Or the names of the churches whose volunteers got so grabby. And I’m not against large evangelistic events. I know many people who have come to a lasting faith in Jesus through them.
But this story is a picture of how we can get our priorities out of whack when we emphasize the growth of our church over the growth of the church. When I want the credit that belongs to God alone, people can become nothing more than a stack of cards, and fellow Christians become obstacles to overcome.
I’ve matured since that day. Today, when someone comes to faith in Jesus, I truly don’t care what pastor they sit in front of on the following Sunday morning. As long as they’re in a bible-believing church, that’s all that matters.
As a Small Church pastor, I’ve actually led people to the Lord, then connected them to a church other than ours. And not because our church isn’t a great church – it is. But we don’t have a full menu of ministries. We’re not the best church for everyone. If someone needs something we can’t offer, why not send them to another good church that can serve them better than we can?
Imagine what the churches in any city or town could do if we truly laid aside our petty jealousies and competitiveness. If we really acted with cooperation, not competition. If we really didn’t care so much if our church grew, as long as the church grew.
Let’s share the burden of being co-laborers in the vineyard. And let’s leave all the credit – and the glory – to Jesus.
So what do you think? Have you ever found yourself struggling against you own ego in trying to build the church?
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