Standing in the small jewelry store downtown, it dawned on me. This small business represents the backbone of our economy. It will never be written up in Forbes, make the Fortune 500, or be offered as a public stock. It just continues serving its local community year in and year out.
Suppose this were a religious jewelry store. I can hear the president of the local Chamber. "Two-thirds of our businesses are plateaued or declining," he would say. Building to his climax, he would thunder, "They are just doing business as usual!"
It is refreshing, on the other hand, to hear from the President of the Kingdom: The kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability …. (Matthew 25:14-15)
Was the one-talent steward less valuable to the Kingdom than the two-talent steward? Was the two-talent steward less valuable than the five-talent steward?
Some apparently think so. A succession of five-talent leaders speaks at the conferences. Some might wrongly conclude that five-talent pastors have more to offer Jesus. "How to" books are prominently displayed. Emulate their techniques and you, too, can be a five-talent success for God!
But hold it a minute! Yes, the one-talent steward failed. But the two-talent steward was consciously obedient and conscientiously faithful. So was the five. On a growth graph, the two-talent steward only went from two to four while the five-talent steward went from five to eleven. But each was equally successful and fully faithful. Jesus said so. (Matthew 25:21 and 23)
Something else dawned on me. In that jewelry store, the owner had a motorized display case. As trays in that case moved upward, they tended to empty more quickly. Attrition took place. Just like at church. Key leaders get older. And die. Or move away.
Does this sound familiar? "Last year, we averaged ninety-three. When the factory shut down, we lost eight families. Plus, we had nine funerals. This year, we only averaged seventy-seven."
One measuring stick calls this pastor "plateaued or declining." But notice. Watching the trays in his display case depleted, he ordered new product. By witnessing. By reclaiming. By training others. By serving. At year's end, he had twenty-three new faces in his congregation, eleven by baptism. Plus, he ministered to a wide range of needs in his church family and in the community. At an average of almost sixty hours a week.
He could play the "if only" game. "If only we hadn't had so many deaths. If only we hadn't lost so many families. We would be averaging more than 100. Perhaps then the words wouldn't sting so much: 'Plateaued or declining!'"
Instead, if you're that pastor, the next time you hear those statistics, smile and remind yourself, "Ours isn't a two-thirds church, it's a two-talent church that is striving and growing — for Jesus."