We found out something new on our church mission to San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua this past week. Not all success is equal to productivity.
You see, we Americans, have a twisted view of success. Success in our country means productivity, bigger buildings, more people in attendance, greater resourcing, greater access to better “things”, so that life will be easier to live. This couldn’t be further from the term success in other countries; at least spiritually speaking.
We went on our first church mission with Crossroads Church of Greeley. At least, it was the first mission our church has done in 5 years, since I have been the lead pastor. I grew up on the mission field as my father was an aviation pilot for Mission Aviation Fellowship, and my mother was a public school teacher. I received Jesus Christ into my life when I was 5 years old, while my family lived in Nate Saint’s home in Shell, Ecuador back in the 1970’s. I have missions in my blood, some would say. Our Crossroads Church wanted to serve on mission this year, so we partnered with the Evangelical Covenant Church denomination and Merge Ministries to travel to Nicaragua. We have missionaries on the ground in San Juan del Sur, Esau & Heather Vega, who are serving in this community where Esau was born and raised. They are serving in a church community and surf community with Christian Surfers. Esau was a sponsored pro surfer with Bilabong years ago, and decided to end his sponsorship to work with surfers from his home town who didn’t know Jesus. Now he is forming Christian community with them and teaching them to live the Christian lifestyle while influencing the surfing community.
One day on our mission we partnered with Alpha y Omega Church, where the Vega’s serve. Our team was assigned to help with the construction of a new Christian School addition to the church building. Our men took on the task of chipping away at the cinderblock walls to install electrical conduit for the rooms, which would hold electricity and lighting. One of our guys, Ryan, didn’t feel especially productive that day. That evening when sharing a debrief as a team, Ryan said, “I wished I were more productive, because as a drywall installer back in the US I can get a lot done in a day. I didn’t do much of anything today.” And before he could take another breath, or before another team member could chime in to console his comment, Ryan finished with, “But I don’t feel like productivity is the goal of success in this country.” He was finding his success in the relational building time along side the locals who were patient enough to let us gringos tag along for a week.
Another day on the trip, we took some leaders with us to a nearby community, almost 30 kilometers away, where some 2,000 people live in the jungle. They ride on dirt roads, which are washed out with mud from nearly 6 months of monsoon rainy season. We approached a building that looked like nothing more than a lean-to shack. The four of us got out of the truck, walked through the mud to the log-stairs pounded into a hillside and up to a metal gate secured by a barbed-wire twist around the head post. My heart was full. I heard that 50 some people have been meeting in this church plant for almost 20 years now and they’d like to grow. They’d like to reach more people in their community.
We walked around the site and talked about productivity vs. success. You see, in our mind’s eye, people from the US think that success equals productivity. The first thing out of the mouths of us from Colorado was, “Hey, this is great, we could come back and build some cement stairs, secure a better gate, bring in a dozer and level the ground for a cement floor and make a better building…” We went on and on about how “we could do things better” and make this a great church for the local here.
In a single breath, Esau said, “The people here don’t want that. They don’t want your North American style, they want relationships.”
He continued, “Do you know that this church has been here for 20 years? When I was 11 years old, I dug some of the first trenches to make a foundation. These people don’t want better stairs, it rains too much. They don’t want better stuff, or nicer things, they might get stolen. The people here want to know that you love them, and want to know that you pray for them, and encourage them in their way of life here.”
I asked if we could pray together for the church. When we grabbed the metal gate for a door, I held onto the lock… and began to weep. I felt the Spirit of God move in my soul. I couldn’t stop crying, for about 2 minutes, I didn’t have words. I just cried.
My tears weren’t for the people in this poor an impoverished area. My tears weren’t for their “plight”, as I saw it.
My tears were from the heart of God, reminding me that I have the wrong focus on mission. I have a mindset of productivity to equal success, not relational encouragement to bless another. I had tears because God was convicting me of my inner drive as a resident of the US to be productive and successful, which isn’t the heart of God.
Acts 2:42ff reads …. 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
I get too caught up on the end of vs. 47, where the Lord was adding to their number daily those who were being saved. I think about numbers, and success, productivity and product. Discipleship, for me, means more people doing more things for God. What a mistake. Sure, God wants His Kingdom to grow, and people need to share the Love of God with the world so they might come to know Jesus and have the Holy Spirit. I don’t discount that for a second. But I think we evangelicals have a lot to learn when it comes to sitting down for a while and just being with people, just resting in the loving Grace of God, just blessing others, and being an encouragement in prayer.
We all walk this path together, don’t miss the success of relationships because we put productivity first. Let’s learn to be people who love people, not strive after things & stuff. I’d like to invite you to pray this prayer:
“Father, forgive me for trying to do more things for you. Forgive me for my need for productivity and success. Remind me to honor the work you have done in the millennia before me and for the centuries to come. Teach me to be still and know that you are God. Teach me to love people and not things. I want to be successful in loving God and loving your people, not successful by being productive.” Amen