John 3:30 is a Scripture I've quoted many times. He must increase, but I must decrease. But I have to be honest, I'm not sure that I've ever really taken that one sentence and meditated on it in the full context in which it was spoken. Let me explain.
Last week my family was blessed to attend what will probably be our final church planting retreat with the Northwest Baptist Convention. It is the only required event for church plants that receive Convention funding but they don't have to twist my arm to attend. By the grace of God we get to gather with a bunch of church planters and their families from all over the Northwest to be challenged, equipped and hopefully encouraged that we are not alone in the craziness of what God has called us to do. The location doesn't hurt either... Cannon Beach, OR!
For the sake of full disclosure, although I was looking forward to the idea of this final retreat (we will no longer receive NWBC funding after this year), I was going into it feeling pretty embarrassed, very discouraged and in large part like a failure. I don't say this to get you to feel sorry for me. I'm guessing these feelings are things that you all battle in various ways and at various points in your life. I was listening to a sermon by Matt Chandler this morning and he quoted Augustine of Hippo, and I'm paraphrasing, that because we are finite, we look at life as if our faces are squished up against a stained glass window. All we can see is the jagged mess of glass right in front of our eyes. It seems to make no sense. It appears to be just a mess. But God, who is infinite, sees the big picture of how all those jagged pieces of glass come together to make a beautiful masterpiece of stained glass. Perfect. Majestic even. My feelings of failure correlate directly to my lack of perspective and my finite view of the world.
When I'm able to step back and look at the big picture of what God is doing in Tacoma and through The Pathway, I'm genuinely amazed. To see all that he has done in my life and the life of my family is pretty incredible. Then to think of all the lives he's changed, disciples he's made, hope he's provided, it's absolutely awesome. But most of the time I have my face smashed up against the stained glass. That means I just see the reality that we have been funded by the NWBC (if you include our time as apprentices in Snoqualmie, WA) for over 7 years now. 7 years! We've been USC-2 missionaries, Nehemiah Church Planting Missionaries and... for lack of a cool title... regular old Northwest Baptist Convention Church planters.
The fact that we still rely so heavily on funding from outside sources makes me feel like a failure. The fact that we have hit a wall in salvations and baptisms over the last year (please pray for that wall to be broken by the way) makes me feel like a failure. The fact that I envisioned us having planted multiple churches by now when in reality we haven't even "successfully" planted this one makes me feel like a failure. The fact that I envisioned us having 10 strong Intentional Communities before we ever even launched a worship gathering and we have currently been gathering for worship for 5 years and we have 7 Intentional Communities makes me feel like a failure. The fact that we had dreams of being elder led (and still do) but we've struggled to raise up strong male leadership makes me feel like a failure. And on and on the pity party could go.
But here's the point. All of that... every bit of it... is about me. It's about my skill. My ability. My success and my failure.
Yet, I constantly pray and speak John 3:30... He must increase, but I must decrease.
I have to admit, in the midst of my pity party going into the retreat last week, I began to tune out the speaker pretty quickly. He was introduced as "one of us." A church planter just like us. But then they went on to say that in 7 years (the amount of time I've been going at this) he has planted a church that has 4 congregations meeting in 4 locations with an average weekly attendance of over 1200 people! Ha! One of us. I tell you what, I was praising Jesus last month when we finally were averaging over 100 people (and then this month we're back down in the 80's). I was praising Jesus when we finally launched our 6th and 7th Intentional Communities without seeing 1 die at the same time (because over the years we've launched many while seeing others not make it). These are my praises and this guy planted a church that was averaging hundreds within a year. He's not one of us! Or so my sinful, self-consumed mind and heart was telling me.
And then God finally woke me up to my selfishness and hypocrisy during the last session of the retreat. He preached on John the Baptist and it culminated with John 3:30... He must increase, but I must decrease. I realized that I have been increasing in this process for a long time. Motivated by the ticking time bomb every church planter feels with their partners (despite our partners being so faithful for 5 years). We live with constant fear of them saying enough is enough... fail... and moving on to the next potential success. I realized I've been increasing ever time I feel jealousy in my heart that another planter's church is growing faster than mine (mine? ha! It's not my church. It's not their church. It's Jesus' church.) I realized I've been increasing every time my fear of failure and my lack of faith causes me to live defeated when Jesus Christ has already won the victory.
John the Baptist played a prominent role in the Kingdom of God breaking into the world. But he didn't choose his role... and he knew it. He also didn't determine how he would be used or how long he would be used... and he was more than ok with that. John the Baptist wanted more than anything for people to know Jesus and for the Kingdom of God to burst into the world and grow. But in the midst of that desire, he was incredibly comfortable with his role. In John 3:27 John the Baptist said this... A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.
This one sentence really shook me awake and I realized... I've been saying this is not about me, but I haven't been living it. I've been finding my worth and my value in how quickly and how large MY church grows instead of finding my worth and my value in Christ and being excited and thankful for whatever role I get to play in HIS church growing.
Let me be clear. Everything I've been writing is mostly about my heart. My actions will probably not change too much. I will continue to go hard after the gospel, hard after seeing the lost found in Tacoma, and hard after disciple-making and church planting. What will change however, by the grace of God, is my JOY. I will find my JOY in the role Christ has called me to play, whatever that may be. I will find my JOY in Jesus increasing in fame, in stature and in prominence in this world. I will find my JOY in God's glory rather than my success or failure.
He must increase, but I must decrease.
I am not the source of success. I am not defined by my failure.
By God's grace I am in Christ... and that is enough.