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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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