According to Paul, ministry is measured not just by size but by the quality of our building materials.
Paul compares himself to a master builder in 1 Corinthians 3. The real test of what we build, he writes, is the material we use to build on the foundation of Jesus Christ.
Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw – each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. (1 Corinthians 3:12-13)
We measure by size. One of the first questions we ask about a church is how many people attend. Size, though, isn’t what’s most important. We won’t be measured by the size of our work one day, but by the building materials we used. Some materials will endure; others will be consumed.
“It is possible to ‘build the church’ with such shoddy materials that at the last day you have nothing to show for your labor,” cautions D.A. Carson.
To add to the seriousness, we’re not good judges of our own ministries. “I do not even judge myself,” Paul says. “It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time” (1 Corinthians 4:3-5). God judges, not us. And the judgment date has not yet come. The building may be complete, but the building inspection is yet to come.
What does this mean for us?
- We cannot judge the success of a ministry by the size of the ministry. Size is not equal to success.
- We must be very cautious about building our ministries through our own efforts and wisdom. Ministry that matters is cross-centered and Spirit-empowered.
- The commendation that matters will come from God on that Day. Build with that in mind.
Let’s stop focusing on size. Let’s focus instead on building with God’s wisdom and God’s power with an eye to God’s judgment. Our ministries may look less impressive in the short term, but they will matter and last for eternity.