by Jasmin M. Smith
According to our world today, a successful person is one who has reached maximum achievement in their workplace and is financially prosperous. A church is deemed successful by onlookers if its seats are full, its building boasts of the latest amenities and technology, and its programming is abundant and well attended.
In his book Realign: God-called Leaders and Their Purpose, Dr. Eugene Wilson alerts us that the world’s view of success is steadily creeping into the church:
Most church leaders have defined success by the size of the congregation. We tend to gauge the effectiveness of the various ministries in our churches by looking at numbers. We even size each other up by determining who is successful and who is not based on the number of people we lead. If we were to use the same criteria, one that centers on numbers, in judging the earthly ministry of Jesus, we would deem it as unsuccessful.
As the church, we must remember that we are called to be separate from this world, and thus must be careful not to fall prey to its expectations. As the body of Christ, we must define success not based on numbers (financial or physical increase), but instead we must define success as Jesus did: based on doing the will of our Father. As true believers of the gospel, we know that true success is reaching Heaven and hearing our heavenly Father say, “Well done thou good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).
In order to achieve this ultimate success and enter into the Kingdom, the Bible is clear about what we must do: serve the Lord and others, obey and accomplish His will to preach the gospel, and remain faithful even over the small things (Matthew 7:21; 25:21 28:19). This then should remind us that our success as a church body is not based on the number of people in our services or in our youth groups, but rather their connection to Christ. If we are focused more on gaining members than on nourishing individuals in whom we have planted the seed of the gospel, then it is likely that we will not maintain those individuals in the first place.
A wise man of God once defined success simply as being a disciple and making a disciple. Jesus spent the majority of His time ministering to individuals because He understood the impact of a true disciple. The goal was always to make disciples, not fill rooms or buildings. By making disciples, we ensure the propagation of the gospel of Christ, fulfilling the Great Commission: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). By simply filling seats and not focusing on the individuals, we put ourselves at extreme risk of tickling the listening ears rather than preaching the sound doctrine people truly need to hear (II Timothy 4:3). We must become more relationally minded, focused on nurturing and discipling new converts, feeding and strengthening them with the Word in personal Bible studies, and encouraging fellowship while discouraging cliques.
No, our youth groups and our churches may not be bursting at the seams the day we open our doors, but that does not mean we are failing. The Bible tells us that people will know we are Jesus’ disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35) and that if we are faithful over the small things He will be able to trust us with much more (Luke 16:10). If we are faithful in our love toward the few that do come when we first open our doors and make disciples of them, then others will be reached through them as well as the preaching from our pulpits, and eventually we will see increase according to His will. It is our responsibility simply to remain faithful to the will of God, serving others in love and in doing so fulfilling the Great Commission to preach the gospel and make disciples. Then and only then will be able to we consider ourselves truly successful.