By Randall Wright
Success often can be hard to gauge or even recognize, especially as it pertains to outreach. Successful outreach in ministry often brings to mind images of large events and measurable results—record attendance at our services, stadiums filled to capacity, altars filled with people making decisions to follow Christ. Certainly, all these things are great, and we want to experience them in ministry. When these characteristics are lacking, a pastor can often question whether his ministry is successful or significant.
As a church planters; we do many types of outreach and spend a great deal of time trying to measure the effectiveness of each type. We ask questions and make comments that reveal our desire to be effective. Questions such as:
How many bottles of water did we give away today?
How many people registered at the block party yesterday?
The couple on the back row is visiting as a result of the mailer we sent out at Easter.
We hung 2,000 door hangers last week.
That one lady seemed really interested.
Two families told me they might visit our service tomorrow.
We had 11 first-time visitors as a result of connecting with the city event.
The list could go on and on. We are continually gauging the effectiveness and importance of our outreach. Always trying to see if we are making an impact. Determining which efforts have significance and which do not.
Recently, I was reminded of the reality that success in ministry and outreach is not always measurable…or even recognizable. In Matthew 24:31-46, Jesus described the end of the age for His listeners, the moment when all of mankind will stand before God to account for their lives, and will be rewarded or punished. Everyone will be divided into two categories—saved and lost, sheep and goats; those who did something significant for Christ, and those who did not; those who were glad they did and those who wished they had.
One of the fascinating things in the story is that both groups were surprised at what Jesus pointed out. He revealed several truths every Christian needs to realize, truths that provide encouragement and perspective to those who seek significance for Christ. In his description of the judgment, Jesus revealed several little secrets that help us see the big picture of significant ministry:
Secret #1: There is more to significance than meets the eye.
I would contend that when Jesus commends us for doing something, it becomes significant, regardless of what it is. In this passage, it is fascinating why Jesus commended these people. It wasn’t a powerful sermon, a compelling article, argument, or book they had formulated. He didn’t remind them of a large financial contribution or hint at an exhaustive list of verses they memorized. Nor does He mention the many years they taught a class, or the attendance awards they had received. Surprisingly, although everyone in history is gathered in this group, He does not mention a “significant” discovery or invention that revolutionized humanity’s plight. While all of these things are commendable, they are not the things Jesus commended here. Sadly, the things commended here often are seen as insignificant in some people’s eyes.
Secret #2: Significance comes from helping people.
Surprisingly, every scenario Jesus described involved one person connecting with another person. Interaction! To go a step further, Jesus commended the sacrifice of personal resources to help other people. He commended those who gave their food, home, clothing, time, and effort. Their actions certainly required financial resources but went beyond a simple donation. They got involved personally. And Jesus makes it clear that it was more than busy work. Those He commended had transitioned from sympathy to empathy as caregivers. I recently heard the story of a Jew named Yankel, who survived the Nazi concentration camps. He said:
“You know why I’m alive today? I was a kid, just a teenager at the time. We were on the train, in a boxcar, being taken to Auschwitz. Night came, and it was freezing—deathly cold—in that boxcar. Sitting next to me was a beloved elderly Jew from my hometown. He was shivering from head to toe and looked terrible. So, I wrapped my arms around him and began rubbing him to warm him up. I rubbed his arms, his legs, his face, and his neck. I begged him to hang on. All night long, I kept the man warm this way. I was tired; I was cold myself. My fingers were numb, but I didn’t stop rubbing heat to this man’s body. Hours and hours went by this way. Finally, night passed, morning came, and the sun began to shine. Nobody else in the cabin made it through the night. They died from the frost. Only two people survived—the old man and me. The old man survived because somebody kept him warm; I survived because I was warming somebody else.”
Secret #3: We all have the same opportunities to do something significant.
Variety. That would be the word to describe the two groups of people in this passage. After all, Jesus was referring to all of humanity through all of time. They were divided into two groups, saved and lost. This likely means they were different from one another in many areas of their lives. Sure, they were different in height, age, weight, and looks. But what about the way they lived? Different morals. Different beliefs. Different priorities. Different goals. Different use of time and talent. Different financial resources. But all of them had one thing in common. They all had an opportunity to help someone, to make a difference. It appears they all met the same people in the same situations. They all had the same opportunity to do something significant.
Secret #4: We won’t know the significance of our ministry until eternity.
The irony in this story is that neither group realized what they had done. They were surprised when Jesus described the kindness directed toward Him, or not. “When did we do all of these things?” they asked. The point is clear. We never know how our lives and actions affect people…and not just people, but how our actions add to the Kingdom of God and minister to Christ personally. It is nice to be reminded from time to time how our lives or actions accomplish something positive. But we won’t really know the significance of our lives until we stand on the “right side” of eternity.
Secret #5: Our most insignificant action may be our most significant ministry.
This story and truth should not surprise us. It seems the Bible often highlights the importance of the little things. From Paul’s teaching that a little yeast effects the whole batch (Galatians 5:9) to Jesus pointing out the widow who gave more than anyone else with her mites (Mark 12:43). Once again, Jesus commended actions that were not large or noticeable. But Jesus noticed!
In the Matthew 24 account, the significant ministry these people offered Christ was a small act of kindness, likely unplanned and unnoticed. So it is with us; our most significant ministry usually takes place in the mundane moments of life, and our most insignificant act may, in reality, become our most significant.
I can’t help but recall the words of Kittie Suffield from her familiar gospel song, Little Is Much When God Is in It: “When the conflict here is ended, and our race on earth is run, He will say, if we are faithful, ‘Welcome home, my child—well done!’”
Now THAT is significant!
About the Writer: Randall Wright is planting Clearview FWB Church in McKinney, Texas. Learn more: www.clearviewfwb.com.