For many years, success in church ministry was defined by the three B’s—Buildings (How big is your building? Are you in a building program?); Butts (How many people attend your worship service?); and Budgets (How much money do you take in? How much money do you give to missions?) The church growth and seeker movements added a fourth B—Baptisms (How many people have you led to Christ? How many have you baptized?) In recent years, the really successful pastors have added three more B’s to the list—Books (How many books have your written? What rank and how long on the best seller list?); Blogs (How many people subscribe to your blog?); and Broadcasts (Are you on the radio? TV? Podcast? How many listeners/viewers?)
By these standards, I am a mediocre pastor at best and an abject failure at worst:
- Buildings—Our church sits on less than an acre with a grand total of 16 parking spots. Our worship center can hold 240 people, if we all hold their breath. Being land-locked, we can’t expand and develop a mega-church campus.
- Butts—For the past four years, our attendance has fluctuated between 164 and 179. We gain a few, lose a few, but the net stays the same. We’re closer to a small church (under 100) than a mega-church (2000+). Needless to say, I’m not invited to speak at church growth conferences.
- Budgets—For a church our size, our people are faithful, generous givers. They take care of the staff well and almost 17% of the budget goes to missions. That certainly goes into the success column.
- Baptisms—We have baptized 10 people in four years, none of whom were new believers.
- Books—I’ve written one manuscript, but no one wanted to publish it. No success story here.
- Blogs—I have nine subscribers to my blog. Not a huge following, but a few like to read it.
- Broadcasts—Nothing to report in media-land.
Measuring myself by the Big 7 of Church Success, it’s no wonder I doubt my abilities and feel I don’t measure up to the big boys.
It’s for this reason Mike Schafer of SonScape gave me the task of redefining what it means to be successful. “Does your definition come from your personality, culture, or Scripture?” he asked me to consider.
In wrestling with Mike’s question, I thought about Isaiah and Jeremiah, men whose task was to preach to people who would never respond (Isaiah 6:8-13; Jeremiah 1:18-19). I considered the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) where three men were given abilities to use in service. Two achieved different levels of success, but both received the same reward, indicating the rewards were given for faithfulness, not fruitfulness. I was reminded of John 15:1-11 where Jesus taught that God produces fruit as we abide in him. The Book of Acts records the numerical growth of the early church. However, the numbers were an incidental byproduct, not the focus or goal. With the increase came greater challenges and in some cases problems.
I came away reminded that my task is to abide in Christ, faithfully use what he has given me to serve him, and trust him to produce the fruit he desires. My task is to abide and serve faithfully. God’s task is to produce the fruit. In wanting to be “successful,” I have assumed a responsibility and burden that was not given to me.
If I stay faithful to what God has called me to do, I will receive the greatest measure of success there is, the words of my Savior and Lord–“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21, 23).