Surrendering Outcomes

Steve Horswill-Johnson writes of spending two days with Rob Bell.

Of all the topics covered in the two-day event, the one that perhaps garnered the most attention was Mr. Bell’s idea of “surrendering outcomes.”
“Pastors and lay leaders have little or no power over the reaction to their work,” Mr. Bell pointed out. “We cannot control how people accept or reject us. Instead, our job is to extend a vision of the church’s ministry to the whole congregation that is provocative and based on the life of Jesus. And then we give it over.
“In the end, we must surrender outcomes,” Mr. Bell continued. “By giving up outcomes you are free, and you free your congregation. This freedom allows you not to be tied to an outcome but instead tied to the congregation.”

Surrendering outcomes – I like the sound of that phrase, and its meaning. Pastors and churches are often about outcomes. “Here is what you do, here is what we do and in the end the church will be thus and so.” And, of course, somewhere along the road to who knows where the formula gets mucked up and someone has to pay. Maybe the church has to pay and the Pastor walks away in a huff to some congregation that will be more faithful to the vision. Or maybe the Pastor has to pay and the church sends the signals that its time for a change to some one else who is a bit more charismatic, more administrative, more available, more likable, more whatever.

But no matter what happens to the Pastor, it is the congregation that loses in this deal. Outcomes have become the bottom line and relationships have become expendable for their sake. Once that happens in a church, no one is safe. And no one is ever really happy. It is now all about nickels and noses – how much money in the place and how many bodies in the pews. Statistics. Data. Empirical proof that we are valuable, that we matter, that we are successful.

The church does have a mission and it does have to do with numbers. God wants his house to be full. The harvest is white and it is gathering time. As Rick Warren says, there are only two questions: What’s your business? How’s business? Churches will do their best to avoid that bottom line. So will Pastors. I ought to know.

But there is a point where the church and the Pastor have crossed a line and the ministry is no longer about obedience, faithfulness, and gladness in the work. It’s about how many and how much – now. A dark and rather burdensome pall drapes the congregation as the speed on the treadmill ratchets up. A lot of people get used, a lot of people are very tired and numbers don’t fill the gap.

We must surrender outcomes to keep fresh before God. Doing and loving the will of God for its own sake. Joy working in the vineyard for its own sake. People mattering because they are people. God mattering because he is God. No one gets used. No one is expendable. No group is in and no group is out. How it all ends up and where it all leads finally becomes something bigger than we can manage anyway.

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