It seems like lately church leaders have started to define success in interesting ways. Everything possible is used as a definition of success – from numbers to square footage to the latest technology. It is even defined by our style of dress. (Who hasn’t seen a trendy pastor wearing an outfit that says, ‘I could dress up, but instead I’m wearing this to show how cool I am’?) Even repentance and brokenness has become a trendy way to prove how successful you are in your ministry.
To say I am frustrated by all of this, especially when I buy into it, is an understatement. Maybe there is just something broken in my pastor motor, but none of that impresses me. I have watched pastors show off all the gimmicks in the world – and I guess I am just burnt out with all of it.
What I want to know is not how cool you are or how successful you are but what is at the core of your being. I don’t want to know about your church’s vision statement because to be frank, corporations with bigger payrolls and ad agencies can write vision statements too. I don’t care about your light and sound show or your cool series on sex. What I want to know is what fire burns inside your inner being – that part of you that you mask in other words to make it sound good.
Today, I failed again. I failed not because I sinned but because I looked at who I am and what I am doing and compared it to the real deep, unspoken core of what Jesus is doing or trying to do in me and I found myself wanting. It has nothing to do with comparing myself to the Scriptures but to the Living Jesus and His Spirit who is at work in me.
With everything going on in our lives and in our churches, it is so easy to be consumed by the outward expectations or challenges. It is even easy to be consumed with demonstrating your own humility and spirituality. (Just ask the Pharisees. Heck, ask the DISCIPLES!) We take what Jesus is fueling in us and we wrap our own expectations and dreams around it, transforming the raw power of the Living God into manageable, humanized thinking.
How do you measure success?
To me, success is not about anything external. External success means nothing (ask Ezekiel or Jeremiah). Aligning who you are with what Jesus has built into the core of your being – that is success. Everything else – every expectation, every pressure, every weakness – should be crushed down, bagged up and thrown into the incinerator.
I don’t consider myself a success because I fail to live out that core passion and vision. I try; but I fail. And unlike those who embrace this simplistic BE HAPPY religion that often passes for Christianity and the social clubs that pass for church, I have no illusions that I have succeeded in any meaning of the word.
Tomorrow morning, I hope I stand in front of the congregation as a failure – because when I stand there as a successful clergyman, I have failed at the only task that matters – honoring and glorifying Jesus.