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!

Live What You Believe

“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.
Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
(John 11:25–26)

Dear Friends,

If you’ve ever shaken a bottle of soda then felt the pressure building up inside, that’s a little like what my life had become lately.  Since the Memorial Day floods here in Cherokee this spring, I feel like I’ve gone from one crisis to the next, from one major event to another.  Without any time to breathe or even think, all of this busyness was taking its toll.  My sermon preparation had become mechanical, my prayer life was withering, and I dreaded writing this weekly update because it required me to sit and think.

Last week I was blessed to be able to take some time for reading and spiritual refreshment and renewal.  This wasn’t a vacation, it was dedicated time away from the needs of the church (preaching, teaching, visitation, administration), and focusing on my relationship with God.  I had a stack of books on Pastoral Ministry that I wanted to read, and I got through those; but more importantly, I needed the time to examine my heart, time to come under God’s hand of correction and consolation.

One of the things that this week showed me was that I was having a hard time actually trusting God.  My God had become too small.

I saw this primarily as I reflected on the time leading up to our mission trip to Haiti.  I knew God could provide, that God could open the doors for the mission to be a great success, that God could guard and guide our team.  But I had a hard time trusting that God would.  I had to have everything planned down to the last detail.  I felt, in my moments of heightened self-importance, that I was the one responsible, I was the one in charge, and that the success of the mission rested entirely upon my shoulders.  I knew God could do it, but why bother Him when I can take care of it myself?

Friends, that’s not a good place for anyone, let alone a pastor, to be in.

One of the books I read during my Sabbatical Week was Kent Hughes’ “Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome.”  It is an excellent book, one that I would recommend for every pastor, and every church member to read (it’s got a great chapter on how the congregation can really help their pastor).  In the book, I came across this:

What you believe about Christ is everything.  If you believe that he is Creator of everything, every cosmic speck across trillions of light years of trackless space, the Creator of the textures and shapes and colors which dazzle our eyes; if you believe that he is the Sustainer of all creation, the force presently holding the atoms of your body and this universe together, and that without him all would dissolve; if you believe that he is the Goal of everything, that all creation is moving toward him; if you further believe that his God is the Lover of your soul – then you believe in the God that “is,”  you believe that the God of the Holy Scriptures exists!

Hughes, Kent & Barbara, Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome. (Crossway: Wheaton, Ill; 2008) Pg 68.

The hard question that we must ask then is this: “Do you believe what you believe?”  So often what we believe gets stuck up in our heads so that it becomes nothing more than just a block of knowledge that has no real impact on our lives.  The faith of the church is reduced to mere doctrine that has little bearing on how we live.  For many of us, the reality of the things we believe about God fades, the implications of His existence are overshadowed by the fears of our anxious hearts.

I had the opportunity to take a long hard look at my life and ask myself some important questions, questions I think are helpful for each of us to ask:

  • Do I believe that God can take care of me?
  • Do I believe that He loves me?
  • Do I believing that He rewards, that He is morally active on the part of those who seek Him?

Ask yourself these questions, and answer them honestly.

Whatever crisis you are facing this week, whatever trials (at work or at home); Isn’t your God big enough to handle it?  Has He not shown you in the cross of Christ how much He loves you?  Has He not promised that if you seek Him first in your life, all these other things will be given unto you?

Through all of this I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes from the Heidelberg Catechism which says,

I trust in God so completely that I have no doubt that he will provide me with all things necessary for body and soul. Moreover, whatever evil he sends upon me in this troubled life he will turn to my good, for he is able to do it, being almighty God, and is determined to do it, being a faithful Father.

God is able and willing to provide your every need.  Live like you believe it.

SDG