Success: What Does It Really Mean?



I wish we would consider being a bit slower to trust our culture’s methods of evaluating “success.”

In our terminally shallow society, absolutely the only thing you have to possess in order to be considered “successful” is—this will not surprise you—a big pile of money.

In our culture, if your bank balance is almost as vast as your ego, very few will pause to notice how many vows and hearts you’ve broken, how many times you’ve stabbed colleagues in the back, and what your word is truly worth. Your name may be listed as the first example under the dictionary definition of “hubris,” meaning “extreme pride and arrogance” (the kind that leads ultimately to disaster), but our society will be too impressed by what you possess to care much about what you are.

Why, then, should we be surprised at all if even Christians buy into a similar lie with regard to the “success” of churches, believing that absolutely the only thing a church has to be in order to be successful is BIG?

If it’s “mega,” by which most statisticians mean over 2,000 in membership, most folks will figure a church simply must be mega-successful. (Maybe some of those churches really are, and in ways that God values.) But many of the folks who buy this particular lie “hook, line, and sinker” are themselves “pastors,” if you use the term very loosely, who like the idea of a big flock a lot better than the messy reality of walking through life alongside individual sheep. So they rush to embrace every temptation of Satan that Jesus eschewed in the wilderness—temptations to glory and glamor and glitz.

I’m thankful whenever Christ and his cross are truly being preached. But I’m suspicious when the church uses Fortune 500 methods of determining value.

I’ve been enjoying Brandon J. O’Brien’s book The Strategically Small Church. He says that “mega-churches” make up “less than one half of one percent of churches in America.” The vast majority of churches are small, and yet ministers allow “the ministry experience of 6 percent of pastors to become the standard by which the remaining 94 percent of us judge ourselves.”

Hmm. I wonder if, at the very least, churches might not be wise to consider enlarging our view of “success” to accommodate more factors than just our numerical size? I wonder if we might not be wise to ask, once ever blue moon or so, what factors might be most important not just to a modern consumer but to a crucified Lord?

We might find that churches don’t have to be enormous to beautifully and genuinely touch lives. Small churches, often feeling beaten down as failures, might learn that the Lord of the universe, beaten down, derided as worthless, and hung on a cross, has a special place in his heart for small and seemingly powerless little groups of his people who love him and his little ones with a love that is large.



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Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

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