There is only one measurement of recognized success in a capitalist, Western, American society: big numbers that translate to more money.
Our culture doesn’t believe in any other measurement of success. Acceptable growth in an organization is measured in revenue increases, especially income over projections. More subtle indicators of progress are noted in terms of expanding customer base, increasing production, and dominance over competition.
Popularity or power, of themselves are considered of little value, unless they can be cashed in. All numbers must relate to growth in wealth, or they are a waste of resources. Even for non-profit and religious groups, the temptation is to measure success in terms of material growth.
A recent job ad by a Christian non-profit stated that they were looking for someone who could make them grow larger so that they could help more people. Sounds reasonable, but no other references were made about other measures of success, like solving problems, impacting needs for the better, healing, being faithful, accomplishing their stated mission, honoring God, or the like. Only, get big so we can do more.
I am reminded of a response, from the late missionary known as Mother Theresa, who refused the advice of her board of directors to adjust her operation, so they could be even more successful. She believed that God looks for obedience and faithfulness in the little things. Spreading our efforts further does not equate to doing better in what we have been given.
Many churches who have found a way to resist the tendency toward eventual decline, have assumed the role of savior-of-all and lost touch with the truth that each person and group are only a part of the larger “C” Church, that needs the other parts (that they don’t control) in order to do what God expects of them. Training members to share the gospel, or even to live Christlike, is often less emphasized than “bring your neighbors to church”, fill the seats, support our programs, build bigger buildings, make a bigger and more measurable impact.
The Bible does encourage Christians to “grow more and more”. However, each time it speaks of this, it is referencing individual development and not numbers expansion. You can tell the difference by how the growth is being measured. More love, does not mean the same thing as more activity or benefit. More character development, does not mean bigger or popular. More righteous, does not mean more revenue. More obedient, does not mean fancier facilities.
Godly measurement of success emphasizes what Jesus has already won on the Cross. It promotes doing what the Lord did, including leaving the crowds, walking away from others still looking for benefits, spending time in lonely places training those who actually listen, rebuking fans who are more interested in getting free meals, bearing the cross, and even dying.
Jesus pursued a church-growth model that is very different than anything found in this world. He said, “If you hold to my teachings, then you are truly my disciples”. He wasn’t interested in bigger numbers, greater followers, larger budgets, or being able to do more good to more people.
Our Lord made his life’s mission very clear: “I came not to do my own will, but the will of the One who sent me, and to finish his work.”
How are you measuring your success in the Lord? The world’s methods breed illegitimacy, and lots of it. Seeking to do the will of Jesus, breeds what is unseen, spiritual, and immeasurable. The way we measure is how we will be measured, so consider carefully the type of measuring tool you use.
Remember, “everything will be tested with fire”. Only what survives for eternity deserves to be called success.
Be faithful in him. Resist the temptation to measure by numbers. Live successful for Life.