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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Redefining Success for the Church and the Pastor

I have read that 85% of the churches in America are shrinking or are showing no growth. 98% of those who are growing are doing so by taking members from dying churches. This means that only .3% of the churches are growing because they are reaching the unchurched. Are these the only ones who are being successful?

Let's ask the questions that need to be asked. Should we count those churches who are growing at the expense of other churches as successful? Their pastors are often reaching people who were attending dying churches. They are often baptizing those whose traditions didn't include immersion as a means of baptism. Their baptism numbers are up and their churches are growing. Is that success?

If not, are we saying that only .3% of churches and pastors are truly successful in seeing the majority of their church growth through new believers? That seems like a slim number and it also declares that nearly all churches are disobedient to their Lord. Is this really the case?

Jesus had many people leave Him because of His hard words. They didn't like His ideas of full commitment. There was a small handful of His believers who hung around during His trial and execution. Even His most devoted followers doubted who He was before the resurrection. Was Jesus a failure as a human being and only successful as God?

No, success cannot be determined by numbers. It must be determined by faithfulness. Obedience is the heart of success as a believer. Jesus never defined it otherwise nor can we find any other definition no matter how hard we try to make the American church into the corporate model. A business defines success by its profits. A church must define its success by her listening to her Lord and obeying.

Does that mean that God is not concerned about church growth? No, absolutely not. His concern is in reaching people for eternity but there are those who will never give their hearts to Him. This was seen when Jesus physically walked this earth and has never changed. Why would it be easier to hear the stories of Jesus and believe when you could see Jesus perform miracles as a basis for belief? His miracles were dismissed as much in the first century as they are today. In other words, God sent Jesus to save the world but there are always those who will never believe. Our obedience is found in sharing the gospel; not in the saving of souls. That is His work. We are merely the message carriers; we did not write the message.

This is why it is so important for believers and their pastors to arise each day and spend time with their Lord for instructions for the day. Each is taught, inspired, corrected and trained through God's words. Each is given the task of obedience.

Too often we all look at those who seem to have more success than us and ask why we can't have what that other person has. We ask, "Lord, why don't you put my name in lights, have me do conferences for others and be well know and revered among others because of what I have done?" Most pastors would like to be those who have written books because they have seen success in church growth. They would like to be seen as the sage who can give all instruction to others and who can "spiritually" look down on others who have noe had their success. We simply can't be content with obedience, we want fame and fortune!

The true test of faithfulness is continuing to be content in obedience even if the Lord should have you minister in a church which never sees growth. It may be that this pastor has one great task to win and disciple an individual who will raise his family to be strong believers. It may be that they will pass this faith down for generations but never gain notoriety for the pastor or this family.

The world has so influenced the Church that most pastors can't be content with this. They beat themselves for not having those churches which are mentioned on the nightly news. They consider themselves failures.

I am not saying that we should give up trying to see our churches grow. I am not saying that we shouldn't continue to share the gospel whenever and however we get the opportunity. But I am also saying that our obedience may not make us superstars. It will just make us successful to our Lord.

And that should be enough.

(Read the scripture below carefully. It defines success as not looking at what others have or have done. Success is following Jesus.)

John 21:20-22 (ESV)
20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who had been reclining at table close to him and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” 21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” 


Anthony Chia said...

To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams (1 Sam 15:22b).

Now, it is supposed to mean a lot when it was said that obedience is better than sacrifice in the eyes of God. Sacrifice is already an expensive thing. Sacrifice is NOT our loose-change. Sacrifice is what we need but we defer it to satisfy what God wants. Well, that is a strong way of putting it; even if we put it a shade lower, still it has to amount to deferring what we really, really want (instead of need) to satisfy what God wants. For example, you have wanted to change your old notebook to a new one, but the Lord is impressing upon you to give the money (for the purchase of the new notebook) to a brother who needs it to go on a mission trip, are you willing to obey? Or are you going to say to God, “Surely, you can supply that bit of money to the brother, for the trip?” So, when obedience is better than sacrifice, it really means that, in God’s eyes, He values your obedience more than any sacrifice; that is point no. 1 we need to glean from the verse.

Then, there are those who like to imply that God does NOT want our sacrifices; purportedly saying God is omnipotent; He can have whatever He wants, and He can do whatever He wants; He does NOT want anything from us! Wrong. There is a place for obedience and there is a place for sacrifice. Yes, obedience comes first; without obedience whatever you do are NOT likely to be unto God; you can sacrifice all you want or you think you are sacrificing but to God, He will say this to you, “I did not ask for this. Actually, I have wanted you to do that!” For example, God could say this to you, “I have wanted you to give your packet of lunch to that starving man over there. I have NOT indicated to you to give your $100K to that education establishment around the corner; whatever that your motive was, it was NOT a giving or doing as unto Me.” You see, obedience is a must. Point no. 2 we are to note is that sacrifice is no sacrifice if it is NOT given in obedience.

A believer is gauged by his obedience and love (and obedience is part of love) for the Lord, and collectively, the church is gauged on the same basis. What is your heart condition? What is the heart condition of the church?

In our obedience, God may or may NOT ask for a sacrifice. If a case of obedience requires sacrifice, then you have to sacrifice. And so, generally you cannot say I will obey, but I will NOT sacrifice. Whether or NOT you need to sacrifice depends on the Lord. In the above example, giving the lunch pack away was NOT sacrifice, but that was what the Lord had wanted; that would have pleased the Lord, NOT the $100K given to the endowment fund of an educational establishment (but I am NOT saying that God cannot be desiring one to give to endowment fund; what I am saying is that you need to know if that is what the Lord wants you to do). So, the 3rd point is that in obedience, you may have to sacrifice, and you must be willing.

Anthony Chia said...

Continue from preceding comment page

Indeed what is your heart condition? What is the heart condition of the church? Big thing, small thing, big flock, small flock, big crowd, small crowd in meetings, Ps Prentis rightly quoted John 21:20-22, “…….What is that to you? You follow me!”

The story below from Scripture, tells us how God gauges:

But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:42-44).

What big church? What great numbers you brought into the Kingdom? “this poor widow has put more into …than all the others.” The poor widow did NOT say in her heart, “You (God) only blessed me with 2 copper coins; it is NOT even enough for me to live on, do you still expect me to give! They (the other people) were blessed more, let them give!” Do not murmur against God, rather godliness with contentment is great gain, said the Apostle Paul (1 Tim 6:6). Its application is wider, NOT just about money; it covers fame, pride, sense of accomplishment, etc.

Faithfulness, of course, is the other important pillar. It is NOT how much you are given; it is what do you do with the little that God has entrusted to you? Read the Parable of Talents (Matt 25:14-30) for understanding.

As regard to church and church growth, always remember, as a pastor of a church you are the under-shepherd; the Lord is the Shepherd; the church is NOT yours, it belongs to the Lord, but you are in-charge, for Him.

Superstar or NOT in the eyes of men, should NOT be relevant for us; correctly, we exist to please God.