Working for a church is a unique situation to say the least. Ministers don’t have any semblance of regular office hours (especially at Alum Creek), it is very difficult to have friends outside of our church setting, our friends are also our bosses, and success in ministry is variously defined by all those involved. I had a recent exchange with a “big shot” in youth ministry circles in Churches of Christ. I questioned the idealogical approach of one of the events he led and my profesional remarks were questioned on account of “how many teens do you have coming to your youth program?”

The email that I sent probably wasn’t the best way to communicate, but it was the best means I knew of. With that aside, I’ve been pondering his rationale. It is definitely not unique to him. It, again, is one of the unique aspects of ministry. How do you define success? On one level I feel churches too often settle for too little and call it “a success.” On the other hand, I feel as though we often are barking up the wrong tree in defining it.

We automatically look to numbers. How is our budget? How is our attendance? Small group attendance? How many people came to this event or that event? It seems as though those are the questions that I ponder more than anything else.

On the other hand, I often hear people make excuses for why the budget isn’t being met, our attendance isn’t strong, or our small groups are sparsely attended. “Maybe we’re just not called to be a big church.” “God often uses the minority to achieve great things.” yada yada yada and on we go excusing ourselves for not being what God wants us to be. It seems to me we need a balance.

Here’s the balance we must find ourselves: On one level, the Judaic-people of the Old Testament were a failure. They turned their backs on God. They worshiped foreign gods. They griped. They moaned. They complained. They sold out. By the end of the Old Testament, they were given over to Babylon, Assyria, and other foriegn nations because of their unfaithfulness.

Yet there was a remnant. Through the messianic remnant came the Messiah. The Annionted One. The Deliverer. God Among Us. Don’t the people who brought Jesus Christ to the world deserve to be called a success? Could it be that millions and millions of Jews existed (and still exist?) to bring about one man. What if your youth group had one person? Wonder what that guy would say about that?

We focus on numbers because our view of God is too small. We make excuses and exceptions for our stagnation because our view of God is too small. Both falacies stem from the same heresy: The God of the Box.

My suggestion: Take God out of the box. Let him do what he is capable of doing. Let him do what he wants to do. Be content in that. Perhaps he is using your (or my) church to raise up one leader who will change the world in 50 years. Maybe he is using your (or my) church to riase up one family, who will parent one child, who will parent another child who will change the world. Would all that money . . . all that time . . . all that energy . . . all those ministries . . . everything we know our church to be, be worth one person, one leader? That’s a tough question to ask. Would we still be as excited about giving our money? Would we still be excited about feeding the poor? Would we still be as excited about potlucks if we knew that it was about something else?

I suppose that is the beginning of overcoming what C.S. Lewis describes as the Great Sin – pride. Assume for one minute that your life isn’t about you, it’s about somenoe else. It’s about God. Surrender it to him and see where he leads – now that is a scary aspiration.


One thought on “Success

  1. This is pretty much a shameless plug from a fellow (fellowess?)minister, but it sounds like you would resonate with my book, Blowing The Lid Off The God-Box: Opening Up To A Limitelss Faith (Morehouse, 2005).Letting God out of the box and Jesus out of the tomb is much too scary for most churches.Keep on plugging!

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