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SGtoDC: Part Three

April 13, 2010

Doesn’t sound familiar to me. I don’t remember anyone giving out rewards or stickers or taking you to Pizza Hut for F’s. I remember our 5th Grade teacher Mr. Hazen did something special for all the students who had straight A’s. One nine weeks I was the only student who did and so I went over to his house for a special dinner with his family. I still remember it vividly to this day.

I believe that the way we measure success in school actually permeates our expectation for success in everything. We honor straight A students and we understand the breakdown. 90 to 100 is an A, 80 to 89 a B, 70 to 79 in my day was considered average and was a C and so on. And in my experience not only was C called average but most people, or at least in the circles I traveled in, considered a B to be truly average. In my day a C student was looked down upon.

A little refresher course there. Your thinking about it aren’t you. All those recesses back at elementary school. The teachers. Had a mental picture of the classrooms didn’t you?

So if I live in a culture where 80% or 90% is success what do I do with church? How do I measure evangelism in an A world? What do I consider average? Below average? I never brought a D home on a report card. I certainly never wanted anything to do with the letter F. That was bad news. NO one was going to be happy with that. Getting a D or F on a paper was bad enough. An entire nine weeks? There was no way that was ever going to happen.

We begin the third section of our Sicilian Guide to Doing Church with this because if we are going to move forward as a church today and as Christians and as ministers of the Gospel we really should begin with a healthy understanding of success. I mean isn’t that why we fall pray to so many Sicilian choices? It isn’t usually for bad reasons or selfish reasons or because we don’t care. No it is driven for a desire to here “well done good and faithful servant.”

So we have to start by thinking about how we measure success. For our culture it is with straight A’s but should it be that way in church? Is that a reasonable way to measure? I don’t think so.

When I was working on my masters at Lubbock Christian I took a class on Church Conflict. It was a great class and I learned a lot but a couple of facts really stuck with me. One was the percentage given for success in church conflict. 10%. Success for those dealing with church conflict was 10%. That is how those who deal with conflict on a regular business go about measuring success. Come on, think about it. If you came home as a kid and handed a report card where everything was 10% what would your parents have done? “Mom, Dad, I got straight F’s.”

I don’t know about your house but in mine no one would have been happy. The only number that they would have liked is the 90% part but since that means the conflict resulted in something bad, well I think you get the point.

What is our fist inclination? Working to raise the percentage. Making that our priority and goal. Understandable but is it wise or advisable? This really is the key to the last part of our look at the Sicilians Guide to Doing Church. If you don’t get this you don’t get anything.

In fact, it is so big and important it is coming at you in tow parts. So the first thing I want to establish is this little fact I am hitting on, causes more problems and issues in the church today and yet I’m not sure it is a biblical method of measurement.

Anyone out there watch Dr. Drew? He has his own website you know. He does Celebrity Rehab. In my defense I’m not a regular viewer but I do catch it from time to time. On one of the episodes Dr. Drew explained how he measured success. You may know that in rehab the majority of people relapse. He was talking about how he keeps going when this is the reality. He said he focused on those that succeed. Again, think about it. From a percentage point rehab gets an F. The numbers are not good and yet we send our golfers and bike builders to them the first sign of trouble, well or second, third, fourth, fifth but that was probably uncalled for.

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear.” Matthew 13:1-9

25%. That’s right, the farmer had a 25% success rate. Did better than 10% but he is not even close to hitting a D. I know. It produced which is even more reason to think about how we think about success. Even though he only had 25% that 25% was incredibly productive. We can learn a lot from this parable.

Several years ago I was teaching this parable and guess what everyone focused on? The discussion was totally focused on farm ground upkeep and maintenance. What can we do to make better soil. Why do we think that way? Well we want to get the numbers up to a respectable level.

Jesus never says improve the soil. He never says 25% isn’t good enough. He actually says 25% will impact the world in such a way that it will blow your mind. How much time in church today is spent trying to keep the thorn filled ground happy? How many elders meetings are consumed by their wants and desires? Have we ever stopped to think we may actually be hindering our work with the good soil because of this?

Jesus doesn’t blame the farmer for the problem. There is no place where Jesus says the sower didn’t throw it right or pick the correct seed or hold his mouth just right. No, Jesus puts the responsibility on the soil that received the message. Just as with before. How many times do we run into bad soil but instead of saying that soil was a hard road we tweak our message or work with our medium or do any number of other changes in hopes that we will get a different outcome? I fear that bad soil does great damage to the church and how we see success today.

Do you know what else we do? We call thorn infested soil good. We feel obligated to because it raises the percentage and guess what, we spend our time weeding the thorn filled soil trying to motivate them to become good soil. Why are we surprised when they never do? How much good soil gets neglected while we do this work? How many sermons are preached that don’t encourage the good soil because we are so busy trying to teach and motivate what is bad?

In the end the parable actually shows that we should focus on good soil because it is what really produces. What would you change if you stopped seeking 90%? 80%? 70% Okay just a passing grade? What would happen if you understood that focusing on your 25% is the best thing you can do? How would your staff and elders meetings change?

The second installment will look at the theology behind the 25%.

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