Faithful or effective?

As a Christian, I believe that God has a concern for what is happening in our world. I do not think that God sits idly by watching the world’s event unfold, but has/is/will be active in history. A common theological term that is once again growing in popularity is the notion of God’s “kingdom.” Howard Snyder defines kingdom simply as “the reign of God” and the goal for Christians is to grasp “how God’s saving work in the world may be understood and experienced.” Recently, I have been considering how I perceive God’s reign in our world. Is it represented by the church? Does humanity in general represent aspects of God’s kingdom? Perhaps political structures or even specific societies represent the reign of God? And what is the Christian responsibility in participating in God’s reign? What I do know, however, is that our finite understanding of what (if anything at all for some???) God is doing in the world is a difficult concept to comprehend.

In my wondering about this topic I have come across a concept that has been especially helpful to me. I have called it the “faithfulness principle.” When considering how we comprehend God’s reign in the world, the key is not to conceive of a detailed approach to exactly how, where, what, (etc…) the kingdom of God can be understood in the grand scheme of history and the world, but to be faithful in what we know God is doing. Faithfulness, not effectiveness, then becomes our measuring stick to participating in God’s kingdom. After all, it is God’s kingdom, not ours (Hence, “your kingdom come, your will be done”). This is especially refreshing in our present age where effectiveness in all areas of society, particularly the church often trumps faithfulness. The result is church practices and individual Christian expressions that simply emulate the surrounding culture. Many confuse effectiveness, church attendance perhaps, with faithfulness.

I am encouraged by this approach to understanding God’s reign in the world because while it ups the ante in terms of calling for truly faithful disciples, it also places the authority of the kingdom and the church back into proper hands; namely, God’s.

The implications for this type of church are hard to determine. The reality is that churches that place faithfulness before effectiveness may in fact decrease in size. What does this say about our contemporary concern for numbers and church growth? It may also mean that certain issues in society may lead to persecution of the church and limited freedoms that we have once taken for granted. It’s hard to know… But what I do know is that God is at work in our world and the fundamental Christian responsibility is faithfulness, even at the expense of what some consider effectiveness.

2 comments:

Peter Thurley said...

One piece of scripture that has been important to me lately is Matt 6:33. In the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, and directly after Jesus' discussion of worries, needs and provision, he instructs those who are listening to seek his kingdom first, and everything else will be added until them as well.

I've been forced to learn of what you speak, the hard way. Being in need is tough sometimes, but when the focus remain on God, when I remain faithful to the things that he has called me to do he will inevitably remain faithful to me in the things that he has promised to me. And, as you allude to, I can take the evidence of previous fulfilled promises and hold that as a guarantee that his promises to me will come true.

That said, it is important to note that even when we screw up on this faithfulness principle, God still remains faithful to us (2 Tim 2:13) and he remains faithful to what he wanted to do in the first place.

Might I suggest that when faithfulness and effectiveness do not meet, there is likely a lack of faithfulness that requires God to do things 'the hard way'? I suspect that should our faithfulness to God mesh perfectly with God's faithfulness to his world, the results would be the epitome of effective.

dwark said...

Thanks for your comments Peter! I agree that thankfully God's effectiveness is not always contingent upon our faithfulness.

I guess a necessary component to this discussion is to recognize that God's view of what's effective and ours are likely far apart a lot of the time.

Also, a question I wonder about is if God's faithfulness will always produce results, or if he somehow relies on our faithfulness to participate with his plan in order to produce what you refer to as the "epitome of effective?" So while I agree that God's plan continues regardless of our faithfulness, I don't want to run the risk of taking a free ride and not participating in God's plan because in the end he will carry it through anyway. I guess it's the whole sovereignty/free will discussion that has implications here.

Anyway, these are late night ramblings, so if anything is unclear, let me know:)

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