Originally posted Sept. 18, 2012, at the altar ego. Republished with permission of the author.
Every time I mention that wonderful biblical quote from Jesus, “Where two or three are gathered in my name ,” I usually see people struggling to stop rolling their eyes.
It normally comes at the beginning of a (seemingly) embarrassingly low-attended group, or meeting, or brand-new ministry that I was absolutely sure was going to rock God’s own socks off. Months of planning, PR’ing the heck out of it and two people show up.
Plus me, and that’s three! As Jesus said, “Where two or three are ”
Yeah, that’s all fine and good, but where are the numbers? I can hear people thinking. (Or are those just the voices in my head?) We see the evangelical church down the road running their multitude of ministries with standing-room-only crowds. Where’s our success?
Now, before I allow myself to fall into that negative black hole that sucks everyone in the 100-foot vicinity down into that other old, old story — the one usually beginning with, “Back in the day, churches were overflowing ” and ending with, “ nowadays, people are just too selfish/secular/lazy/busy to do anything ” — I want to take a second and invite us, as the body of Christ, to embrace holy failings.
When did the kingdom of God become all about success and numbers? I know it’s hard to see through the veil of our modern worship-of-Western-capitalism, winner-take-all, young-man-go-west, self-made society — but our Christian story originated from the margins of an oppressed, exiled community. Before we were ever sanctified with power through Constantine, our ancestors in the faith lived on the edge.
And they didn’t do this in spite of the biblical witness, but because of it.
I challenge successful modern-day peddlers of the health-and-wealth gospel to show me a person used by God who was a model of success and numbers. As David Lose wisely points out, if we “read the Bible even for a little while, (we’ll) soon realize that most of the major characters are, shall we say, less than ideal.” Ruth was, in the eyes of her society, a failure. Joseph tried to dismiss Mary quietly to avoid a Jerry Springer-like scandal. Just last week we heard Jesus himself embarrassingly call a Gentile woman a dog, and that’s just the start of this miss list.
When I read about these holy failings, I’m inspired to try crazy, off-the-wall, outside-the-box things myself, regardless of the numbers or the success rate. Why do we want to play it so safe in the kingdom of God?
Jesus has a response to this — he reminds his disciples that following him isn’t going to be easy — it wasn’t automatic success along with impressive numbers to send in with that annual congregational report. It was totally the opposite, actually. ”Those who lose their life ”
Are we afraid of what might happen if we fail? Jesus has a response to that, too. I’ll paraphrase him: “Don’t be afraid.” He says that a lot.
I think we’re called to stop being so concerned about numbers and success rates. Let’s be open to failure. God knows what might come out of it. Literally.
Find a link to Jason Chesnut’s the altar ego at Lutheran Blogs.