Over the next six months, every congregation will begin tracking weekly the number of worshipers who self-select that they have been a salty servant during the previous week. This will be something new for just about every congregation in our Florida connection. A lot of people are wondering why we are doing this. And it is a fair question deserving an honest answer.
Imagine going to the doctor for your annual physical and never having your blood pressure taken. Everyone knows that blood pressure is one of the key indicators of our health or of when we are developing a health problem. We would have a seriously inaccurate indication of our body’s health if this metric were habitually omitted from our medical checkups. In a way, that is exactly what we have been doing for decades in measuring the Body of Christ’s health in local congregations. We have ignored an aspect critical to the missional health of Christ’s disciples: their lives should overflow into the world in Kingdom impact. “You are the salt of the world,” Jesus said in Matthew 5:13 and then warns us not to lose the saltiness of our influence in the world.
In Matthew 25, Jesus tells the parable of the last judgment when the sheep are separated from the goats. Jesus made it clear that the criterion would be whether people had cared for him in his times of need. The sheep, he said, will be surprised when told that they had compassionately taken care of Jesus: “‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ And he will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.’”
Jesus was clear that his followers are to serve others: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant . . . just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26-28) Service flows naturally and inescapably from the teachings and example of Jesus. "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24)
Jesus does not see serving others as optional for those who claim to follow him. So, isn’t it odd that historically, we have measured each of the five practices of fruitful disciple making -- except Salty Service? Not surprisingly the number one factor distinguishing healthy congregations from declining congregations is that declining congregations have increasing lost missional focus on their local community and have become increasingly self-preoccupied with continuing their beloved traditions, caring for their members and maintaining their facilities. If a doctor never measures her patients’ blood pressure, would it be surprising that many of them had unrecognized and untreated blood pressure problems? Likewise, if a connection of congregations never measures whether they are encouraging their disciples to join Jesus in having a salty impact in the world, should we be surprised if the most common missional problem in congregations is the loss of salty impact in their community?
Scripture and history reveal that we humans are naturally self-centered. Add to this the fact that we live in a consumerist society where we are encouraged daily to believe, “It’s all about me!” ‘It’s all about my hopes, my dreams, my desires, my needs, my preferences, my comfort. And if you don’t agree, then I will take my business down the street.’ When we add consumerism to selfishness, “normal” in our culture is a very long way from Jesus calling his followers to deny themselves, pick up their crosses and follow him in sacrificial service to others. How can congregations cultivate such Christ-like and counter-cultural values in the people we are discipling . . . unless we are intentional enough about discipling to track whether people really are learning to step outside of themselves and serve in ways that make a salty difference to others less fortunate in the world?
Dr. Jeff Stiggins