The Precarious Promise of PragmatismWednesday, January 30, 2013
One of the benefits of serving churches on both sides of the Atlantic is the ability to see a culture with fresh eyes, from the “outside-in.” For me, the biggest difference between serving churches in Romania and in the U.S. is in the area of “pragmatism.”
Church leaders in the U.S. tend to view numerical growth as success and then ask the question “What works?”
Church leaders in Romania, because of their Eastern orientation and past history under Communist persecution don’t find “What works?” a terribly important question at all. They are more likely to view church practices in light of other questions:
- How does this strengthen our identity?
- Does this build the church?
- Has this been done before?
Sometimes, I yearn for the simplicity of Eastern European ministry. Pastoral ministry is stressful anywhere, but the stress in Romanian contexts is almost always connected to shepherding, whereas the stress in American contexts is connected to growing. Pastor Paul Negrut describes the American mindset quite well:
“Numbers have become the fundamental criterion for evaluating success in ministry. But the truth is…fruit that does not remain is not true fruit and brings no glory to God.”
As a result of having served in both contexts, I confess a sense of frustration in both the overabundance of pragmatic thinking in American churches and the utter lack of pragmatic thinking in Romanian churches.
The following statement is a generalization, but there is truth to it. Romanians ponder and sometimes fail to act; Americans act and sometimes fail to think.
There’s got to be a better way, and I believe it can be found in the questions we ask.
It’s Good to Ask Good Questions
Church leaders should always be asking good questions, even pragmatic ones.
In Romania, Christians are used to being the beleagured minority. But sometimes, I wonder if my Romanian brothers and sisters are too satisfied with how things are. Their self-preservation in the midst of persecution can keep them from self-sacrifice for the mission.
That’s why I counsel Romanian pastors to ask some of the pragmatic questions they hear from their American friends. Every church ought to ask three:
- What does fruit look like?
- Are we seeing fruit?
- What would help us see fruit?
Americans fast forward to the “what brings fruit” question without having firmly established what true fruitfulness is. But if you skip the first question, you lose the emphasis on true discipleship and wind up with superficial churches filled with unregenerate people. (And don’t be surprised when lost people who think they’re saved don’t evangelize.)
Romanians, on the other hand, are often so focused on the nature of true faith and repentance that they fail to ask the difficult questions related to their effectiveness in missions and evangelism. Moving on to the second and third points (both of which are somewhat pragmatic in nature) can be helpful in evaluating the spiritual state of a congregation.
Don’t fall into the trap of making numerical growth the goal, but don’t fall into the other ditch of being satisfied with little to no fruit. Instead, examine what the Scripture teaches about fruitfulness. Then, think like a missionary. Find the best ways to share the gospel in your context. Ask tough questions. Trust God to work.
The supernatural work of a sovereign God in conversion is not a reason to sit satisfied with unfruitfulness, but a reminder to kneel before King Jesus and beg Him for wisdom and passion in bringing the harvest.