When One Step Forward and Ten Steps Back is Okay

When One Step Forward and Ten Steps Back is Okay

sower“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of few or the one,” said Mr. Spock in a legendary sci-fi moment from the Star Trek films as he was letting go of his life for the sake of his fellow crew members.

Although there are obvious overtones to this statement and ones like that have been applied to Christian studies, this principle is not automatically fitting for all circumstances. In fact, many times the Bible presents suggestions that Spock might call “quite illogical.” One such principle is what I call the ten-to-one principal. Jesus might have called it the ninety-nine-to-one principal [Matthew 18:12–13].

Have you ever heard someone say, “you’re taking one step forward and ten steps backwards”? We probably think that this is a thing that is never good to hear. I won’t presume to argue with ethics or mathematics, but I believe there is a time for accepting the circumstances reflected in Mr. Spock’s statement.

It entirely depends on the value of different steps. As a society, we are pretty obsessed with numbers. There is a whole series of advertisements for a cell phone company that is based on the premise that “more” is always “better.” However, there are times when the value of the one step outweighs ten, especially when we’re dealing with the things of God.

Let me explain. Sometimes what disappoints the group may save the individual, for sometimes saving the individual is the point—think of the entire plot of the Spielberg movie Saving Private Ryan! This is where the true beauty of God’s grace becomes all the more evident. That God would humble Himself and become a man, only to suffer and die [infinite “steps back”], for me [one step forward]. How can I expect to do anything less when I consider sharing this grace with others?

2 areas where this principle may apply: 

  • Defeat – sometimes we feel, while working to invest our lives in others with the hope of making disciples, that every turn is a dead end. In fact, it may even appear that we are making things worse. Is it time to bail out? Are we not in the will of God? I cannot answer with a blanket statement, however, I can say with certainty that there are times when God is working towards one victory, even at the cost of ten losses. Consider Paul’s analysis of this concept in his personal life [Philippians 3:4-11].
  • Opportunity – Sometimes we are given the opportunity to reach/teach/preach to masses of people. As an evangelist, I must confess that these opportunities, while not bad in themselves, can become the desire and even the goal. However, as we begin setting aside part of our lives for individual disciple-making, that mass-mentality will begin losing some of its luster. Regardless of how we may feel about it, making disciples was both the mission and charge of our Lord. Is it really taking ten steps back to remove ourselves from the large crowd in order to invest in the individual [or small group]? Consider Jesus’ actions in Mark 4:36.

Allow me to close with an illustration from my journal. Having begun to do ministry in some of the toughest gang controlled neighborhoods in our area, we have seen a lot of crime and poverty and violence. This entry comes after a year of investment in one of these locations. Following church one Sunday, my wife and I were returning a ten-year-old boy to his grandmother who lives in a government housing project controlled by a very large gang. [Names and location protected]

Today Mo and I took {10-year-old boy} home to {housing project} after church and lunch at Amigos. It is a beautiful chilly sunny Sunday afternoon. Yet despite the beauty of the day, I watched a brutal fight between teenagers in a crowd. It looked like a gang initiation. So discouraging. Earlier today I talked to {a volunteer} at our church about {an adult gang member} that she invested in for months and now he has apparently returned to gang-life in {this same housing project}. This is the toughest ministry. Its hard and hurtful and frustrating. Then to see these kids fighting was so hard. It was obviously planned, one teen casually took off his shirt and the other teen asked a guy to hold his coat, then suddenly they started to fight. The neighborhood playground was right beside them. None of the younger kids (especially the one I brought home) are allowed to go outside and play…ever. They cannot go to the playground. They cannot ride their bikes or skateboard or anything outside. So So aggravating. Its hard to keep fighting this spiritual fight. Makes you want to turn your back on it. After all this time, are we not even making a dent? Are things actually getting worse?

But then I remember this young boy. What if he is the one step forward? If the one step forward is worth the ten steps back, it is only because we are not reaching a goal, but reaching people.

Can you do me a favor? If these ideas resonate with you, would you:

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David Wiley is the Director of Community Outreach for Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN, and founder of Mission 12|24.