How do we judge success?

            I am a 29 year old seminary student and pastor. 

At Seminary a fellow student asked, “How do you measure your success?”  Now, the reality is that every pastor hates this question.  Mostly because every pastor knows that we are judged on the basis of numbers, to some extent.  The people who are in the church, understandably, want to see others in the church as well.  So we think of getting people in as the dominant form of success, and thereby judge the effectiveness of our pastors on this yard stick.  If you ever want to see an interesting response, ask a pastor this question.  When asked the question we immediately feel the need to explain ourselves (as if we have to explain a malady and give an account for every member that we have not seen for a while).  We feel like we ought to say something incredibly wise and profound, but what usually comes out is a stammering blubbering nothing, usually sounds like this, “well, we have a good, you know…  the real measure is…  well, I guess our people are, its not about numbers, we need to provide some.”  There is no good answer to that question.  Precisely because if we have great numbers, we often feel like we are performing for the crowd, if we have low numbers we feel like people must not like us.  (Never mind the fact that people hated Jesus, and crucified Him) 

            The truth is that Jesus measured success in a far different manner.  Constantly, when crowds get to be large, Jesus says or teaches something that turns them away.  In fact one of my favorite stories is John 6 when Jesus goes across the lake at night (seemingly to avoid the crowd and get away from them) and they chase him down and Our Lord’s response is “You’re only following me because you had a good meal!”  In verses 66-67 we see that Jesus teaches something that turns them away.  On another occasion in John 10, Jesus has the opportunity to make friends with the Pharisees by saying something like “turn to the LORD and be saved, let us go to the temple and worship!”  Instead, He intentionally tells them that they are thieves and robbers and that He is God.  This enrages them and they try to stone Him and then they try to arrest Him. 

            So how did Jesus measure success?  It seems like one criterion is love.  How much do we love each other, how much do we love the lost, and how much do we love the work of the LORD?  Check out John 13:34-35, 15:10, and the Lord’s conversation with Peter in John 21:15-24.  Seems like Jesus measured success by love and the way that love poured out on others. 

            Yet another criterion seemed to be obedience.  In fact the first measure is observed by this, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)  And in another place, speaking of salvation, we see Jesus saying: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:36) This verse intrinsically links belief and obedience.  Thus, the validity of belief is measured by obedience.    

            Now the reality is that we are not so good at these two measuring sticks, and I don’t really want to be judged on them either.  How much do I love those who hate me?  How much do I love the poor, lowly, and despised of this world?  These are not questions I enjoy.  They are hard to answer and I cannot easily see the results.  You see to answer these I actually have to know the people in my congregation.  To answer these I actually have to desire for my life to intertwine with the people I teach.  To answer that question I have to care about the heart and not just the outward actions of my people.  I have to bleed with them, I have to struggle with them, and I actually have to get into their business with them.  It’s much easier to count them and ask them to check off the boxes.  If I can say, “we had 50 who checked off that they brought their bible to church, did their daily devotionals, and tithed and we had 200 who didn’t do those things.”  Then I have a measurable target.  But if I ask these questions, I have to say, “We have 25 who clearly love other people and obey the Word of God in real and tangible ways, which I know of because I am actively a part of their lives and am involved in their work, and 300 who are just too darn busy to love or who I don’t know.”  The whole conception of measurement gets muddled and nebulous!  After all, how does one measure loving other people?  And when do you know if you’re obeying the Word of God correctly?  We must learn to do this.

            So as we strive to learn to measure success, we can keep the easy model of numbers or we can dig into lives and measure love and obedience.

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