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Faithfulness + Patience = Fruitfulness

By Aaron KauffmanAaron M. Kauffman

In some things in life, success is easy to define and measure. One of my lifelong goals was to run the Boston Marathon. Before being able to participate, I had to run a qualifying time. After multiple failed attempts, I finally managed to qualify for and compete in the 126th running of the Boston Marathon in April of this year. I even ran a personal best time and qualified for next year’s event at the same time. For me, that was “success” several times over!

Success in global missions can be a bit harder to wrap our minds around. Some define the goal based on the Great Commission Jesus himself gave to the church (Matt. 28:19): to make disciples of all nations (or people groups). That’s no small task. Even after 2000 years of Christian witness, about one-third of the world’s population still has little or no access to a Bible, a believer or a local body of Christ. Thankfully, research initiatives like the Joshua Project help us track which cultural groups still lack access to the gospel. We are seeking to give increased attention to those groups in our own work at VMMissions.

Others would define the goal differently. In the second half of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:20), Jesus commands us to teach these new disciples to obey everything he has commanded. From that vantage point, success is living in accordance with the principles of God’s kingdom, particularly those upside-down kingdom principles Jesus lays out in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7): humility, purity of heart, marital fidelity, reconciliation, truth-telling, loving neighbors and even enemies, and sharing generously with those in need, to name a few.

I wonder what it would look like to hold together both the breadth of the Great Commission (every nation) with the depth of the call to discipleship (every commandment of Christ). I expect it would include counting the number of disciples and churches emerging in a particular cultural group. It might also mean finding ways to measure the degree to which those disciples and churches obey the commands of Christ. Ideally, we would also assess the tangible social and spiritual impact they are having on the surrounding community.

I confess I feel some discomfort with measuring “success” in missions. Depth of transformation is not an easy thing to quantify, nor do we often see immediate results. Like seed in the soil, it may lie dormant for quite some time before springing to life, maturing and bearing fruit. But like good farmers, we should be willing to calculate the yield of our efforts.

Perhaps the key to long-term fruitfulness in Christian mission is faithful witness combined with patient trust in the Lord of the harvest. As Paul reminds us, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Cor. 3:6, NRSV). We measure our results—however long they may take to be evident—not to congratulate ourselves, but to give glory to the God who slowly but surely is making all things new.