We are a team of 9 – 4 couples, serving together as leaders in the church planting ministry in Moldova. As we abbreviated it LGCM. Maybe somebody would quickly reply: A little correction, the number is wrong. No, there is no mistake. This is a team of spiritual leaders, so Jesus is in the team too😊 – thus 9.
I don’t know if you liked math in school or if that was your nightmare. I liked math, ok till the 9th grade, and then I studied music. But Jesus seemed to be fond of counting. And His counting was always a bit different than ours…
In Jesus’ math 5 loaves and 2 fish made 12 baskets of leftover after feeding 5 000. Later, Jesus asked the disciples to remember exactly the number of bread and the number of baskets left. He wanted to teach them to count. To count well and to understand what they counted. How many? In different situations Jesus wanted them to see different things.
In ministry, to lead well, we count too. We call this counting: statistics. Often, when one must fill in the statistics, there is an inner deep sight. Week by week we are filling the data in the statistics form. Sometimes we write more numbers there, sometimes less. How many people heard the Gospel, how many spiritual conversations, how many follow-ups, how many disciples, etc. One can get lost or discouraged if the numbers are low. And we are tempted to go in the direction of what we could do to add more. But with the Iron on Iron tool introduction, I came to realization that there is a better direction.
The idea is that as iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens another man. In a group of trusting people, you share about your walk with the Lord, about your relationships and about your personal ministry. You learn to understand multiplication and analyze your ministry in terms of it. First there were the leaders who went through the Iron on Iron process, and in a year every team member came part of it. A great tool, like a mirror, are Generational Maps. They taught us the 9 elements we want to see in our home churches and communities: 1. Prayer 2. The Word of God 3. Worship 4. Fellowship 5. Prayer, Care, Share 6. The Lord’s Supper 7. Baptism 8. Giving 9. Caring Leaders. This is the perfect picture of a healthy church where all the elements are present in full bloom. I just like it how you can simply draw it yourself and be inspired.
Yet the main discovery was in understanding the multiplication perspective and power! You start with little, like the 5 loaves and 2 fish and God does the multiplication as you slowly build in the right elements. Once you know the direction, you go!
In our team meetings, we use the generational map of our country in order to assess better our situation: what God has already done, how many people are there in the movement, how many of them are Christians, how many are baptized, how many groups are led by lay believers, how many by disciples, how many by staff from Cru. We look at the present elements, we pray and think of our next strategic step in terms of what, where and when, in order to have all the elements present in all the groups and churches. We think about the key places and key people that need to be trained, about how to build and strengthen the flock. We pray and ask God to show us the key things we need to do in order to multiply. We think about the money we have and the money we need and how we can build parterships with others for sinergy. And we gather the stories. These are crucial in measurements. They reveal to us the supernatural work of God. The decisive value of ministry is that it changes lives.
Measuring outcomes takes us beyond counting numbers, keeping us true to our mission and passionate about making a lasting difference in the world. So we pray and think again.
Finally, however precise our measures, the results are merely a commentary on our efforts, not the measure of success. Success is measured with God’s yardstick. As J.I Packer puts it: “After all, the way of health and humility is for us to admit to ourselves that in the final analysis we do not and cannot know the measure of our success as God sees it.” So we ask Him to teach us His math and help us count and see.
It has been almost three weeks now since my dear friend Tamara went home to the Lord. It feels so strange, like a reality I push away as I do not want to accept that I will not see her again on this side of life. And then it is this ray of joy and peace knowing that she is with the Lord,her race has finished and she has entered into God’s rest, in the most secure and glorius place.
I do not remember when was the first time I met Tamara. She and Adam came to Albania back in 1993-1994, right after the fall of Communism. I was a young believer. I had started to go to the student movement, but believe me that at that time I had not realized or totally grasped the magnitude of accepting Christ. I heard more about her though after I joined staff. She had left a significant mark on the first two Albanian staff women, whom she trained, but not only.
One of them would describe her as someone who was very committed and passionate about evangelism. Another one as the brave woman who followed God to a country that was poor and did not have the comfort of her home, but still gave her such joy and happiness to be there, because she knew she was where God wanted her to be.
Tamara also was known for her discipline and punctuality. I had heard about her famous saying: “Don’t be sorry, just be on time”
We Albanians are very relaxed when it comes to time, we are not oriented toward the clock, and that makes it difficult for us to be punctual. I will explain you why. We are very relational, and while I leave home to go somewhere believe me I will stop and talk at least to 10 people on the way. We share this common understanding between us, but we can be a pain in the nerve for other cultures. And yet, Tamara demonstrated to me that she was a learner, since the first “official” meeting we set together, in 2012 or 2013 when she came to Albania.
I was in a hurry and worried to be on time. I do not remember if I made it on time. But she was there smiling, very relaxed and peaceful and said: “Ah Rudi, don’t worry. You know, I lived in Albania. It is totally fine for me if you would be 20 minutes late”. That caught me by surprise. But I learned that while in Albania, she had decided to love the people and the country she was called to, and to embrace the cultural difference as part of her mission to bring the good news of God’s unconditional love to us.
And later that week as we invited Adam and Tamara at our place, I saw how easy it was to connect with her. She had this beautiful smile that reflected her soft spirit. We laughed a lot during that dinner.
When Kejdis and I joined their team, I asked Tamara to mentor me. That was a huge step for me. Why? Because I knew from the begining that Tamara was disciplined and she would not throw a pity party for me, but would not let me comfortable in my zone, she would challenge me to do what I would say I would do. And that was what I liked about her. She was committed, faithful, disciplined, wise and truthful. And during the three years of our mentoring relationship, I learned more about her soft side and her ability to understand, extand grace, love and sympathy with someone when they were hurting.
I felt comfortable to open my heart with her, to share my struggles. I remember one of our skype calls. I was struggling. I was not coping well with some of the changes that entered our life, when Kejdis accepted the new role. I was very tired because I was struggling with a cronic health condition and I had not adjusted to this new health reality in my life. So, I was not seeing clearly. I was scared. For the first time in our skype calls, I broke into tears. I will never forget that day, because I found in her a faithful friend who knew how to come down to where I was and lift me up in the Lord. She would faithfully walk with me in the journey of discovering and redefining my new reality through God’s eyes and not mine.
Today, on Thanksgiving, I want to thank God for Tamara, for her life and the many ways He used her. She was not a person that liked to do things outloud or wanted to be noticed, thus I was not surprised when I heard that at her funeral many people learned things that they did not know about her. She would listen more and speak less, but she had a sharp thinking, and she did her work with joy. She was a brave woman. She joined staff when the ministry in Poland was underground. She was brave to come to Albania right after Communism, when the country was still in chaos and very poor. She was brave to embrace her share of sacrifice during the years that Adam served as the Area GCM teamleader and he had to travel a lot and they lived in between two countries. She did not complain. And she was brave to follow God into the unknown, when they resigned from our team.
Because I believe that she took her strength by following the Lord. For her it was important to follow God’s leading. Doing God’s assigment for her, gave her joy!
I will miss my friend a lot. I can not imagine not seeing her again on this side of life. But I grieve with the hope that one day we will meet again, as those who have been forever redeemed by the blood of our Savior for a glorious enternity with Him!
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you many not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope.
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.
For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not proceed those who have fallen asleep.
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall raise first.
Then those who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord.
Therefore comfort one another with these words” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
I grew up under Communist Albania, where children believed they were the happiest in the world, but had never seen the world.
To be honest, I was happy. Even though we did not have many toys or clothes, we had a lot of friends as we played most of the times outdoors, in the nature.
I developed a love for arts, probably because we were forbidden to watch Hollywood, thus we were served with opera, ballet, classical music and classic films like “Le miserable” or ” Mozart”
I liked to read. I liked to paint. We did not have the fancy coloring that our kids have now. I would draw with white chokes, outside or with a stick in a ground. My friends told me that I was talented. I think I did well. At least I really enjoyed it.
My cousin, who lived right on the next building, loved to draw too. She started to go to the city painting club. One day I decided to join her with the purpose to join the club. The Pioneer’s House, this is how we called them in Communism, was cold and grey, kind of ugly. The painting class was in a big, not so nice room. There were about 20 students there and me. The teacher, a man at his 40’s, who looked like life had beaten him, with fuzzy curly hair, put in front of us two objects, told the students that they had 2 hours to work on them, and then left to enjoy his cigarette.
Nice start. The object was a white clay Hellenic ornament. As soon as the teacher left, I started my work. And after 20 minutes I was done. I looked around the classroom and everybody else but me, was still working. To my surprise they were not even close to finishing. I felt so proud of myself! To my greater surprise they had made a big rectangle and divided it in parts. I saw them stretching their arms, with their pencil up, eye blinking, measuring something and then drawing on their rectangle.
My cousin had a look on me and gave me that cheating smile. I gathered myself, stretched my arm, pencil up and tight in my hand, eye blinking, and then.. What do I do with that?
Later on, I realized that they were measuring the object in order to draw a faithful model of it. I was drawing a shadow model, something that looked very similar, at least to my opinion the shape looked the same, but the teacher and all of them would say that was not faithful to the model, it was not the exact thing. My other new friends had learned special techniques to achieve with excellence what was asked of them.
That day I learned that painting was science, and painting was hard work. It needed commitment and discipline. You could not ignore certain techniques if you wanted to succeed. And measurements were highly important. That day I decided to quit without starting! I considered myself as a free spirit artist, who could not be bound in rules less more in measuring techniques like arm stretched, pencil up and tight in the fist and eyes blinked! You know now that I never became a professional painter.
But that was my first experience or introduction with measurements.
I could go on with examples of how Communism helped me to hate measurements and what a struggle was for me as a young staff to fill stats. God is not bound in statistics. We could not measure His work. His Spirit worked according to His will, like the wind that Jesus mentioned to Nicodemus. I never forget that passage, as I came to Christ through the first 3 chapters of John. Another reasons I did not like statistics was that deep inside I was hurt. Because of my misunderstanding about the importance of measurements I felt like my leaders did not care about me, but numbers, results. Thus I would fill stats for them, not for myself. And I never liked that even though it made me feel good when I had high numbers to report.
One thing that I love about our walk with God is how he transforms us. He transforms our thinking and equip us with skills, so that we can faithfully accomplish the task that He has called us to do. In this process, to my surprise, I have come to love and appreciate measurements. Yes, it is true 🙂
They tell me the condition of my sheep. The bible tells us to know the condition of our sheep.
“Know well the condition of your flocks, and pay attention to your herds” Proverbs 27:23
They help me analyze the situation better and help me get a clear picture and understanding of where my time and efforts are spent and if they are giving results.
If I pay close attention to numbers, they tell me which tool is more effective in reaching others.
As a career consultant, when I read a client’s report, numbers are very important to me. I just cannot ignore numbers and metrics. And they make a difference in how to read the report and the kind of advice you give to your client. You can light his path or totally build up a big confusion and mislead him in another direction.
And I believe measurements are biblical. God gave clear measurements to Moses to build the temple, and He equipped him and the workers He called, through His Holy Spirit with the knowledge and skills they needed to accomplish what was required of them. Moses built the temple exactly as it was asked him. Why? Because he built by respecting those measurements. He didn’t just build a tent, a table, an ark according etc. He measured all the time and consulted the model that God gave him and accomplished everything with the exact given measures. He indeed succeeded and the Bible records that.
“Moses inspected the work and saw that they had done it just as the Lord had commanded. So Moses blessed them” Eksodus 39:43
We too, like Moses, are called to God’s work in building His body, which is not a physical building but a spiritual one. We believe that our specific task that He has entrusted us is building churches that will multiply. Do we have to measure and can we measure what we are building? How do we measure it? If so, what do we need to measure in order to make sure that we are building the right thing and are not wasting our time, money and energy?
What do we need to do today in order to make sure that we are on the right track and are not wasting time, energy, human and financial resources in the wrong direction?
“You have to clean the vase from these Rudina, the soil needs to breath” my friend explained to me, while visiting with us. She was a student of environment engineering and as an expert I needed her opinion on how to take care for some of the plants in our terrace, that were not doing well. We have tried to water them as we were told when we bought them, but yet they were withering and loosing leafs every day.
“Really, I thought these would fertilize the soil?” I mumbled as I was looking at the dry leaves that I had put on the vases
“No, she smiled- these do not help them to breath. Also you need to remove these”
Those were tiny new branches here and there. “Should I remove those too?!” I could not believe my ears. Are not those a sign of a healthy shoot?
“These are temporary branches, they do not live more than a year, thus they take the sap from the main branches, for this reason you have to remove them” And she started to show me the main and important branches that needed to be helped to grow.
My friend started to prune the orange, showing me step by step which branch to prune and exactly how. All of a sudden I felt as a new world had been opened to me, a world full of simple secrets for which I was not aware at all, and have done them in the wrong way. For example, that little cute tiny snail, which I wanted to help to live and have made the apple tree its new home, was the reason why the apple tree was withering. Also, I had noticed other small plants and flowers sprouting from the soil of another plant, and I thought it was cute- two plants could be grown in the same pot. Wrong! I learned that I had to uproot the secondary plants and plant them in a different vase, as the soil in the vase was not enough for two plants to grow healthy. The next day I uprooted the fig young plant from the Lilly’s vase and planted it in another vase, without success. The following day, the green fig plant had withered completely. My friend would explain to me later that you could not uproot plants in that way, but you have to carefully shake them off the vase and then carefully dust all the soil so the roots would not be damaged. I had uprooted them by force. Another important lesson.
For a moment I felt as I was in my life’s grove. What was growing in my life? Were there weeds, secondary plants, snails that had invaded my territory and were taking away the sap from my life? Which were those temporary branches, focuses and activities, which should be pruned so that the main branches would grow and produce fruit? Was the soil of my life fertile? Plants and trees need a constant fertilization. How about me, how was I fertilizing the soil of my life? How was I taking care in order to grow healthy?
We are in ministry, we know these elementary truths so well, we teach it to others. But had I been wise and attentive to inspect my life and take the needed actions in order to be fruitful?
We all are familiar with the parable of soils. The good soil is the one that yields much fruit. When we think about the good soil, somehow we are tempted to think that that kind of soil happens to be, kind of you’re lucky if you find that soil. But as my friend was teaching me about gardening, I started to see the good soil from another angle.
The good soil does not happen to be; it does not appear overnight. The good soil has been cleaned from rocks, weeds and thorns and all other kind of plants that are not the focus of the harvest you want to take from that soil. This soil has been worked, plowed, prepared, fertilized, watered in a regular way according to the needs. It has not left unattended, but the owner has been intentional and committed to create the necessary conditions depended on him, to make sure that he will have a good harvest. Jesus’ audience, coming from an agriculture background, knew very well what that meant.
If we want our lives and ministries to be fruitful like the good soil, then we have to be seriously proactive and shake the passive mode. Yes, God makes it to grow, but He has called us to partner with Him in this endeavor. We need to take care for the seed of the Gospel planted in us and in others we are discipling, not allowing it to become fruitless. Those simple steps that we teach to young believers, are those simple truths who are the secret of fruitfulness. Feeding ourselves from the Word, cultivating godly character and habits, spiritual discipline, keeping our lives free and clean from sin- walking in repentance and humbleness, pruning our priorities and activities in order to rederict our energy and strength toward the main vision and call in our lives. Asking God to give us wisdom and discernment how to do pruning.
Today, if you do an inspection of your life and ministry, what would you say about them? What do you see growing in your personal and ministry fields? How strong and healthy it is what you have planted? Can you say that you will receive a plentiful harvest out of it?
If not, what do you need to change today to make sure you will ripe a good harvest in its season?
I would love to leave us with this vision from the Psalms that has always been an encouragement to me:
“The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,
they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
13planted in the house of the Lord,
they will flourish in the courts of our God.
14They will still bear fruit in old age,
they will stay fresh and green,
15proclaiming, “The Lord is upright;
he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”” Psalmi 92:13-15