Spelling “Success” for the Church

Tuesday Re-mix –

“Looking at his disciples, he said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when men hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man…

“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when all men speak well of you,
for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.

Luke 6:20-22, 24-26

Even before He started the revolution he called “the church”, Jesus established clearly and often that God would not measure its success in any ways we would like.  According to Jesus, here are some ways NOT to measure success as a church:

1.  Amount of resources. This is not just about financial wealth (though there is that too).  Riches include other resources as well, such as human resources (i.e., gifts, talents, innovation, leadership, etc.).  Be honest, even for the most Spiritual among us, when we see a beautiful young, talented, dynamic family join the church, doesn’t our heart skip a beat or two, thinking about how much “better” our church just became?  But when the homeless person walks in off the street and joins (if we will even permit that to happen), do we feel the same way?  Jesus spoke to this so often, yet we still get trapped by the way the world tends to see things.

2.  Amount of physical needs. Even though my local church may or may not have “riches”, we can at least say we have very few real needs, right?  We have a place to meet, we have God’s Word freely available to us, we live in a country where we have freedom to gather as a church, etc.  We have so few obstacles, so few genuine physical needs.  In America, we have created a veritable “religious utopia”, where the church can flourish, unfettered by oppression.  That’s a good thing, right?  That’s success, right?  Wrong.  I am not so sure Jesus ever really valued a church who “never missed a meal”.

3.  Happiness. There is a great lie being told to Christians young and old these days…it is that the church exists to make them happy, that their comfort and entertainment are the goals of the church.  Churches whose people are happy have, in the eyes of the world, achieved an extra level of success.  Those are the churches the world “wants” to see and to be a part of.  Pastors and church leaders are trained up to believe that the people’s happiness is their responsibility, that without it, they are not leading well.  But we never saw Jesus making decisions based on what would make his disciples the most happy.  In fact, that doesn’t seem to have even been on his radar screen as a leader.

4.  The praise of men. I am particularly sensitive to this one, because it is an area of great struggle for me personally.  I just want to be liked.  And I want my church to be liked.  Whenever I read an article in the local newspaper about another church doing some amazing thing, my first reaction is often to wish the press would come and look at my church and write good things about my church.  On a personal level, this attitude leads to vanity and can be blinding.  For a church, seeking the praise of men may help build a flashier organization, one with “pizazz”…but eventually it leads to spiritual blindness.  We wake up one morning years down the road and we realize it has been a very long time since we really needed God in order to do what we’ve been doing.

I know you see the problem, particularly in the Western church.  I don’t believe the problem demands that we scratch it all and start all over again (although some would say that is essentially what many “emerging” Christians are attempting to do), but I do think the problem demands that we reexamine how we define success in the church.

I know the American church lives in the wealthiest country in the world.  I know that we have been blessed with a grotesque amount of resources, both materially and humanly.  And I know that we do a lot of good things with those resources.  But I have always believed this about stewardship: good stewardship isn’t measured so much in how much you give away…good stewardship is measured more in how much you choose to keep for yourself.  I think our understanding of success causes the church to keep an awful lot of its resources for itself.  I think we should rethink how we spell success.  It would make Jesus proud.

© Blake Coffee
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5 responses to “Spelling “Success” for the Church”

  1. Great post, Blake. Here are some random thoughts I had as I read through your post. I feel the same pain and frailties that you address. 1. We are trapped by the face value of things, and fail to go deeper until we are forced to. 2. Not only do we never miss a meal, we never miss a beat when we know about people who ARE missing meals, and homes, etc. 3. The cold hard truth, especially of the scripture, rarelymakes people happy. People go to churches that make them feel comfortable, or suing the misic they like; somewhere you don’t have to work too hard to “live out the Gospel.” 4. We can be easily nlonded when we only seek the praise of men, and do not surround ourselves with at least a few who will tell us the truth. You are correct, success eludes us because we don’t really know what it means. We have trouble with being salt and light and not getting caught up in the world we are trying to serve.
    Thanks for making me think and go a little deeper this morning.

  2. I am thrilled and grateful that God has given us the ministry of reaching out to folks in recovery, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Gamblers Anonymous. For the world these folks are looked down on as the down and outers, but God has been showing us that they are the VIPs.

    The church has been so deceived into running after those who seemingly have it together, I write seemingly because no one has it together in God’s eyes. Jesus walked with what society would call the dregs and, still today, there is a Pharisee mentality towards the less fortunate.

    Ask yourself how many homeless folks full of stench walk into your fellowship and feel Christ’s love from the members.

    I also love working with those who have “bottomed” because they have a real need for God and are willing to look inside and see the sinners that they are. Too many times in church folks are pursuing the mirage of perfectionism and self righteousness.

    Folks that have hit rock bottom have a certain humility that comes from admitting their short comings and seem more willing to surrender to God. They certainly are the VIPs of God. They do not come without baggage but that is part of the work. They challenge us to learn how to really love and not just in word.

    Our work has taken us to places unimaginable. We have bailed people out of jail, provided housing and food.

    Blessed are the meek.

    Matthew 9:12 NIV
    On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.

    Church is too much about talk and not enough action.

    Everyone seems to be waiting for a light bulb to go on. Once they know the Bible fully then they will get busy.

    We have made Christianity a philosophy and an intellectual exercise, when Christianity is about God’s power and Holy Spirit guiding us to affect other lives.

  3. […] you have already read many, many articles and posts on measuring success in ministry (if not, look here for one of my own).  But will you allow me this one simple reminder, straight from the apostle Paul […]

  4. […] you have already read many, many articles and posts on measuring success in ministry (if not, look here for one of my own).  But will you allow me this one simple reminder, straight from the apostle Paul […]

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