How do you measure success?
In order to measure anything you’ve got to have a ruler, a yardstick, a measuring cup, or some form of tool designed to represent a standard and then evaluate and compare. So, for the sake of this analogy, let’s just stick with a ruler. Where do we get that ruler? Well, you just go down to the store and buy one, right? It’s the supply & demand principle, and our culture has obsessively demanded success to gratify our prideful hearts. So, naturally, there has been an endless and evolving supply of rulers to measure and evaluate what success looks like in our world today. It may be which celebrity you look like, or the speed of your car, or the brand on your clothes, or the image conveyed by your Facebook profile picture, or the friends you associate with, or the title you hold at work. We assign meaning to these descriptions of us, and we’re constantly glancing back and forth between ourselves and the image our world esteems as successful. And our culture becomes the ruler, and it rules over us. The more often we measure the more quickly we become possessed by the pursuit of success, significance and gratification. Or, to put it more bluntly, we become obsessed with ourselves. Unfortunately, we have a tendancy to buy what we’re being sold, and we as Christians are not always discerning. We too often wish to flirt and learn from society, and we become deceived and conformed to their image. Our culture is constantly putting out a new line of rulers that often look and sound downright biblical. There’s where it becomes dangerous, even deadly.
We often measure success as Christians or as a church with the same ruler(s) our culture is using.
It may be an ignorant mistake, and most often we mean well and even think it’s honoring to God. We hear spiritual leaders urging us on to “tackle great obstacles”, “go get our world for God”, “dream big dreams”, “cast a bigger vision”, and so on and so forth. It sounds inspiring, it sounds positive, and it sounds exactly like the faith we’re told we’re supposed to have. Shouldn’t we go all in and do great things for God? Shouldn’t we pray that God raises up a generation of devoted followers that will rock the world with the gospel? The leaders championing that cause wield a strong influence on Christianity in America (especially among young people). But what if some of these leaders unknowingly ripped a page out of the latest corporate leadership magazines because someone they trusted had substituted it for the Word of God?
I’m a part of this generation that grew up dreaming about accomplishing awesome things for the Lord. And I’ve also snubbed my nose at the “dead” spirituality of my parents’ generation. What made their spirituality “dead”? Well, it just wasn’t successful! I mean, look at the numbers, they don’t lie! Look at all the pastors who were simply content to stay at that little podunk church going nowhere. They’re not attracting new people, they’re outreach events are lame, and their current attempts at becoming more contemporary are embarrassing. No, I want to be a part of a great work of God! I want to be a part of church where the masses are swarming in and being touched with our message. I want to be able to brag…er, I mean share…well, no…I guess I do want to be able to brag about what God is doing in and through me and my church. I want to know that God is using me mightily and that we are successful!
But what if God doesn’t use me like that?
What if I’m a part of a church that’s not bringing them in by the hundreds and rocking the house and seeing dozens come to Christ each week? What if my week is spent mowing an old lady’s yard, and that lady is certainly not going to be someone influential in the community? What if our church’s worship service is attended by the same few each week? What if our old-school door-to-door methods of outreach don’t turn out any converts or baptisms? What if we keep spinning our wheels and end up stuck in the same place as a church for the next 20 years without seeing any noticeable growth other than a few of the kids growing up to replace the elderly?
Will I be OK with that?
Well, I guess I’d better stop asking my culture, because I know what answer they’d give me. But what would God say? That’s probably the better question we should have started with from the beginning:
How does God measure success?
It seems to come down to a simple characteristic He’s looking for: FAITHFULNESS. Sure, I know He counted the servants’ talents when He returned to see if they’d brought in an increase, but was it a certain number He was after? Or was He looking to see if they had been faithful? We are assured that true believers will produce fruit, but I’m afraid we may often project our own misconceptions about the nature of the fruit and judge an individual from the outside. Self-evaluation must boil down to that question: am I being faithful to God? And only the mirror of His Word will reflect an accurate answer.
Hey, if God allows you to be a part of a church that has the privilege and joy of being harvesters, then rejoice! Give the glory to the One who causes all things to grow. Stay faithful. And if God in His sovereign wisdom uses you for years to be a planter or one who waters but never sees much of the harvest, then rejoice! Give the glory to the One who causes all things to grow. Stay faithful.
I’m throwing out the ruler my culture sold me. It’s not about me looking successful, that is simply the ugly outworking of my pride. I’ve got a different Ruler, and I’m asking Him for strength today to walk in His Spirit, that someday I might hear Him say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”