March 29, 2011
Why we refuse to believe that God is eternal but our ministries are not.
How do you define success? It goes without saying that those committed to Jesus Christ and his purposes in the world ought to define success differently than other people. After all, Jesus himself refused his culture’s narrow view of success; in fact he regularly clashed with his own disciples about it. While they were excited by growing crowds and political power, Jesus reminded them that “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34). Faithfulness to the Father led Jesus to defy the crowds and accept the cross.
A lot has been said about the danger of putting church growth and effectiveness ahead of all else. Gordon MacDonald calls this temptation missionalism and powerfully explains how younger pastors are drawn into it’s grip. But I’ve started to notice another lure emerging even among those of us who have rejected church growth and the “bigger is better” mantra. It is the danger of defining success by perpetuity.
Many in ministry have come to believe that if something lasts, if it continues even after we have stepped away, then it can be considered a success. A church plant that grows, finds a property, builds a facility, hires a staff, and still exists 20 years later is deemed a success. The same might be said of a network of "organic" churches. If it's still going years later then we've built something successful. In each case the ministry is not assessed by how faithful God’s people were or even by the fruit exhibited, but by its ability to continue.
But linking success to perpetuity bring two problems. First, it can make us deaf to God’s calling. We tend to assume that just because God has used a ministry or method in the past that he must desire for it to continue indefinitely. But this assumption means we may miss a new work that he has in store. Was this not exactly why the Pharisees could not embrace Jesus or his ministry as divine? He did not fit with their expectation. Their minds were so mired in the past that they could not imagine God doing something new.