Do whatever he tells you

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An image of Chris Lane Chris Lane
6th June 2024 4 minute read
An image of Chris Lane

‘Well, if success isn’t just defined by numbers, then how do we define it?’ I was teaching for a gap year programme on urban ministry, and I had been trying to challenge people’s ideas about the relationship of growth in numbers to ‘success’ in Christian ministry. I had acknowledged the truth in the old adage ‘healthy things grow’, but also pointed out that some really unhealthy things grow too, like bacteria or cancer. The frustrated question from the student was exactly what I was hoping for.

My answer was this:

Success in the kingdom of God is nothing more – and nothing less – than faithful obedience to Jesus Christ. 

This is the conclusion I had come to after many years of ministry in one place – Langworthy in Salford. It was an answer borne out of a lot of lengthy reflection on the Scriptures, lots of reading about urban ministry, and many years of joy, pain, frustration, excitement and disappointment in our estate. Moving into Langworthy with the Eden Salford team in 1999, we fully expected a massive revival in the first two or three weeks, maybe a month at a push. We prayed with all our hearts for thousands of young people to come to Jesus. We believed for huge church growth in our fledgling church plant. We had faith for the transformation of a whole estate. 

Over the past 25 years we have seen God do many amazing things. We have seen lives transformed by the power of God. We have seen miraculous healings and incredible financial provision. Thousands of people have heard the gospel again and again over many years. Countless hungry people have been fed and found friendships and community. We have seen an estate change radically for the better in all kinds of ways. And a whole bunch of us are still here, loving this place and the people who live here. 

But what we haven’t seen are huge numbers of people coming to faith. Our church remains small in number. There hasn’t been a revival like the ones we read about and prayed for (and still pray for). Some people who came to faith in Jesus have fallen away, and others still really struggle to live the way of Jesus. There is a real sadness to this. 

When I started to write my first book, Ordinary Miracles, telling some of our stories, I seriously considered calling it Success and How to Avoid it: A Story of Church Planting in the Inner City. Then I realised probably no one would buy a book with that title! What I did produce in the end though was a rough-around-the-edges compilation of stories and reflections on failure, transformation, beauty, hope, miracles, meals, disappointment but most of all, about Jesus and how he works in our weakness. It was only after I had put it all together, thinking no one but my mum would read it, that I realised that I had been defining success all wrong. It was never about what my team and I could achieve. It was never about our good ideas or our heroism or holiness. It was always about Jesus – his mission, his love for us, and the absolute privilege that we get to join in with what he is up to in our communities. 

Success is always about following Jesus. For some this path will lead to big crowds and incredible growth of churches and ministries. But for most of us, it’s just about loving the next person Jesus brings into our path. It’s just about getting up each morning and saying to Jesus ‘what have you got for me today?’ And then doing just what he says. It is taking the advice of Jesus’ mum when she told the servants in John 2:5 ‘do whatever he tells you’. Those 5 simple words are the absolute key to success in the Christian life – do whatever he tells you. In that story in John’s gospel, the next thing that happens is water is turned into wine. What we have found on so many occasions is that obedience to Jesus so often leads to miracles. But whether a miracle happens or not, our job is simply to ‘do whatever he tells you’. 

Written by

Chris Lane

Chris Lane is a church planter at Langworthy Community Church in Salford. He works as Tutor for Pioneering and Church Planting at Emmanuel Theological College and at St Mellitus College. Chris is the author of two books, both published in the UK by Instant Apostle: Ordinary Miracles: Mess, Meals and Meeting Jesus in Unexpected Places (2017) and a sequel called Not Forgotten: Walking With Jesus Through the Wilderness (2023).

An image of Chris Lane
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