What does success look like to you? It has always been a pet peeve of mine when I am asked how large our congregation is. Membership has never been the standard by which any church should judge its success; most churches only get 25% attendance of their membership on any given Sunday. Does that sound like success to you? Success is a purely ego-driven concept in the church; and let me remind you that the largest church in America is led by one of the shallowest (theologically speaking) people know of – Joel Osteen. If that is the measure of success, I want nothing to do with it. That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t thrill me to see our pews more full and have thousands of views of our online services – please make that come true! Secular success is a false god – an idol based on greed.
What does success look like to you? For me, if we (my congregation and yours) can help every person who comes to us, that is success. If we can fill our building with groups doing good work, including other congregations, that is success. If I can get our members and friends to do new ministries, that is success. Our people doing God’s work in this community and making life better for everyone – that is success. No – it actually isn’t – that is faithfulness. This is where too many followers of Jesus get confused; success and faithfulness are not usually the same thing.
We have seen a lot of churches in our area close in recent years; they weren’t successful by human standards, but they were faithful. I have seen good people stand up for what is right, even in the face of family and friends disconnecting with them; they weren’t successful, but they were faithful. Success isn’t the goal of the church; faithfulness is. Doing what is right in God’s eyes; standing with those who others treat with disrespect and disdain; telling the truth even when a small lie might save the day; all examples of faithfulness, but usually not of success.
What does success look like to God? I have no answer for that, for I do not know the mind of God, no matter how hard I try to discern it. We can only guess – like Paul telling us in 1 Corinthians 13 that “now, we look through a mirror dimly; then, we will see face to face.” Paul understood better than anyone else what it meant to fail; Jesus did too. Paul went around preaching and teaching, starting congregations and trying to keep the new followers of Jesus on track, and what did they often do? They rejected him when he told them to behave better. Jesus brought the Good News of the renewing Kingdom of God. He healed people and did miracles. And what did people do? They murdered Him. If Jesus and Paul were successful, they would have retired to Malibu and sipped lemonade as they watched the sunset. They were faithful, and they paid the price.
By cultural standards, I am successful, and I feel really lucky in that. By God’s standards? The fact that I drive a nice pickup truck or have a nice house means nothing. While I don’t know the mind of God, I do know this; believing God loves you or me because we have done well is a lie. I think God wants us to do good. If we do well on the journey, that’s fine; but if it comes at the cost of not doing good, that’s not fine. It may be the Devil’s temptation for our time; convincing us that success is what matters. It never has, at least to God, and it never will. Be faithful. That’s what God cares about.
Prayer – Assist us this day, God of mercy, to be faithful. Amen.
Today’s art is called “Leap of Faith” by Art Enrico.