Today, I suggest we kill a sacred cow. The sacred cow is,
“bigger is better.”
I planted the first church I pastored, and I did it as a church growth disciple. I began with what I took to be a foundational tenet of the church growth movement; “Your church will succeed or fail based on your leadership”. And success is defined by nickels and noses – the size of the budget and the number of members. So, the success of the church is up to me. And that sounds very sensible – almost a truism. It sounds sensible because this is how it works in the “real world” – the world of business, politics, etc. As well, it reflects the truth of human potential – follow highly gifted leaders and you will succeed.
All this may be true in the world of human potential and human affairs but, as Christians, this is not the world in which we are called to succeed. We are called to succeed in the world of God – in the Kingdom of God. Here the pattern for success is different and so is the definition of success. In God’s world He is not glorified by what we, in our human ability can do for Him. He is glorified by displaying what He can do through human weakness.
The truth is, human ability and human wisdom often must be overcome before He can display His power and His wisdom. Moses is a great example and so is Paul. The bible is the story of God intervening into human affairs by choosing the least qualified people to accomplish what only God can do – such that there is no mistake as to where the glory resides.
Am I saying that good human leadership is irrelevant? No. A lack of good leadership has the ability to derail a good work of God. History is full of examples of just this truth. Names come to mind, lots of names. Good leadership can either further God’s work or hamper it, but it cannot create it.
This brings us to the matter of defining “success”.
In the world of man success is easy to define – size. Size of the government, military, corporations, etc. Even in the world of charitable organizations we measure success in terms of the annual budget and the number of projects funded.
But what is “success” in God’s world? “Narrow is the road that leads to life and few there are who travel upon it”. Jesus healed 10 lepers and only 1 came back to worship Him. At the end of His ministry He only had 11 disciples. All but one of them died poor and violently.
Size never factored into Jesus’ thinking or His life. Nor did it factor into the lives of the disciples. When the church grew large and prospered in Jerusalem God scattered it. God’s ways are mysterious and so is His definition of success. Arguably, none of us will know our true success or failure until we hear it from Him in heaven.
In the meantime, the best we can do is remain faithful in our intimacy with Him and in our obedience to Him. The results are up to Him.
The one thing we must not do is allow the world’s definition of success to rob us of the simple joy of knowing Him.