A Successful Church

My congregation has begun an ongoing discussion about our Vision and Mission as a Church, and how we can better minister the gospel of Jesus Christ in our community.  In preparation for another meeting tonight, I came across some notes from a message I heard by Kent Hughes, pastor and author of many books, one of which is particularly relevant called, “Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome.”  I found his book to be incredibly encouraging, as was his lecture.
As we prepare to come together tonight for our conversation on how our Church can continue to move toward our vision and mission, I thought I would share the notes from Hughes’ message.  This message was geared more for Pastors, but much of what is said applies to the church as a whole.  I took the notes in outline form, so you may have to fill in some gaps.

How do you evaluate success from a biblical point of view?

  1. There is no calling to success, but a call to faithfulness. In 1 Cor 4:2 we are taught that  stewards are to be faithful.
    1. How does that work?  Look to Moses.  Numbers 20, Moses is told to speak to the rock, but Moses got angry and struck the rock.  He failed, he disregarded Gods command.  He failed to execute God’s word, so he could not enter the promised land.
    2. You can be hugely successful in ministry, and be an abysmal failure.  You can give the people exactly what they need, and be a failure.  It is possible to be a great success as a pastor and be a failure in God’s eyes because you are not faithful to God’s word.
    3. Success is found in knowing God’s Word and doing God’s Word.
    4. We cannot be influenced by that which we do not know.
    5. Success is faithfulness which manifests itself in hard working obedience to God.  There is no success apart from faithfulness.
  2. There can be no success apart from serving with a foot-washing heart
    1. If this is true of the greater (Christ), how much more for the lesser (his disciples).
  3. There is no success apart from loving God.
    1. We must love the Lord with all our heart.  This is from Christ, nothing is of greater importance.  This must be the north-star, the point of reproach and correction.
    2. It is possible to pastor a large church and not love God.
    3. It is possible to preach Christ exalting sermons and not love God.
    4. Love God above all things regardless of what is to come.  “Do you love me?”
  4. Hebrew 11:6 clearly teaches us that without faith you cannot please God.
    1. Believe that God exists.
    2. Believe that God rewards his people because he is equitable to his people.  There is no success apart from the smile of God
  5. You cannot be successful without dependent prayer
    1. You can do more than pray after you pray, but you cannot do more than pray if you haven’t prayed.
    2. Jesus could not carry on his ministry apart from dependent prayer.
  6. No unholy life can be considered a success
    1. God calls his people to be holy.
    2. Sexual purity is essential – When lust takes control, God loses all reality, satan does not fill us with hatefulness of god but forgetfulness.  When a man falls into sexual sin, he doesn’t fall very far, because that’s where he’s been in his soul.
  7. Attitude that cannot be successful
    1. Negativism – Having a positive attitude.  Attitude is more important that circumstances.  We have choices regarding our attitude.
    2. Jealousy – Strive to elevate others.
At our first discussion meeting, the Elders and Deacons composed their own list of what a successful church looks like, and it is very similar to what Hughes says.  They noted,

A Successful Church is one that is committed:

  • To raise spiritual champions
  • To be a people who love the Lord and loves and welcomes one another
  • To be a people who are faithful to the Word of God
  • To be a people of wisdom – applying the knowledge of Scripture to all of life.
  • To be a people who are immersed in the community, active in transforming the community, and speaking the Gospel to the community.

I am blessed to be called to serve a congregation that is committed to God’s Word, and to proclaiming the Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ.  Because of this commitment, I look forward to where these conversations will lead, and pray that God will give His Church success!

Grace and Peace!

The Anxiety of Spiritual Forgetfulness

Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?
And do you not remember?

(Mark 8:18)

Why do we get so anxious about things?

Seriously, we stress, we panic, we fuss, we fret, over everything. We act as though the rising of the sun and the setting of the same depend upon our ability to get things done in a timely and orderly manner. When one thing starts to get out of our grasp, we freak out like the world is going to end. (And by “we,” I mean ME.) The Psalmist said it this way, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me” (Psalm 43:5).

I think the reason why we get this way, the reason I get this way, is forgetfulness.  It’s not that I forget that there is a God, I just forget that God’s promises, God’s power, God’s grace applies to every situation.  The rest of that verse from the Psalms says, “Why are you cast down… Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”  Being reminded of God’s salvation, of our hope in Him – there is no better cure for anxiety, stress, and panic.  “Be still and know that I am God” – that’s what God says to the panicky, the anxious, the worried.  Perhaps today we could write it:

Keep Calm
Carry On
God’s in Control

We need to be reminded of this. Frequently.

Let me illustrate this briefly.  As you all know I have accepted a new pastoral call, and will be moving to South Dakota soon.  Knowing that selling a house in a small town can sometimes take months, we put our house on the market in mid-February, hoping that we’d be able to sell it just before we needed to move.

We just sold our house in 1 week. We put a sign in the yard on a Monday, by Sunday we had a contract. We live in a small community in NW Iowa, so selling a house that quickly and for the price we wanted is pretty much unheard of, one might say, miraculous.  We were ecstatic.

But how did I respond?  I immediately began to worry that I wouldn’t be able to find a house to move into in our new community.  The market there doesn’t have too many listings, especially for a family of 6, within our price range.  I panicked.  What if we don’t find a house? How far will I have to commute? Will my family be homeless?

Wow!  Didn’t God just do something amazing? Did He not just show us His mighty hand? Won’t God, cannot God, do it again?

The Good News is, I’m not alone in this spiritual forgetfulness.

The Israelites, less than a week after walking through the Red Sea, complained that they couldn’t find water, and worried that God would let them die (Ex. 15:22-25).  Elijah, having just conquered 450 prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, immediately ran into the wilderness and asked to die when Jezebel threatened to kill him (1 Kings 18-19). The disciples, having just witnessed Christ feeding 4000 people, started arguing amongst themselves because they forgot to bring along any bread (Mark 8:14-21).  They were in the boat with the One who had just fed 4,000 people; and yet they were worried because they forgot to bring along any bread!

I think that this is the fundamental reason why we stress, fret, and worry. We forget what God has done. We think that our problems are greater that God’s vision, our troubles are too much for Him to bear. We worry that God might just not be watching, might just not be able…

Oh weary heart, full of care, has God not shown His grace to be sufficient to meet your every need?  Has God not proven His faithfulness, time and again?  Has God not promised that “though weeping may tarry for the night, joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5)? Has God not promised to be your salvation, and that for those who love God all things work together for good (Rom. 8:28).

We need to remember, we need to be reminded, we need to keep this before us at all times.  Maybe that’s why Paul, in his encouragement to Timothy said, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead” (2 Tim 2:8). We need to constantly remember that He is risen, He is alive, He rules and reigns over us and for us, He holds all things in His hands.  All our anxious cares subside in the strength of His everlasting arms.

Why are you anxious, oh my soul? Why so disturbed? Hope in God, for He is your salvation.  He is your God!

Soli Deo Gloria