The measure of “success” in ministry

J R Briggs in his book Fail lays out our current matrix for success. I have found that no matter how much leaders try NOT to make this the measure… and SAY from the platform it isn’t the measure… it IS the measure. It’s what it all comes down to.

Buildings. Bodies. Budgets.

How many? How often? How much?

Then we have added in a new measure into that equation: efficiency. The more efficiently we can address issues, tackle problems, or generate numbers, the more “successful” we are. We are more product-oriented.

The more efficiently we operate in ministry, the less intimacy we experience in our relationships.

Jesus was incredibly inefficient. He spent time with people. He wasted time with people. He build the rule and reign of God in the lives of people. He didn’t lead one building project. He actually predicted a building destruction project which tore down the finest construction project of the time period.

…we have swapped faithfulness and fruitfulness for progress and efficiency. We run our churches efficiently, yet we are left with an ineffective movement.

We are really called to be active participants in the kingdom of God, not build bigger buildings. Where is the kingdom of God in our culture?

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Shopkeeper or pastor?

The claim Eugene Peterson made years ago is that pastors have morphed from being pastors into being shopkeepers.

“They are preoccupied with shopkeeper’s concerns — how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that customers will lay out more money.”

We have become very good at shopkeeping. We’ve become really good at market strategies.

And it may be ruining future pastors. They think because their numbers don’t “pop” fast enough, they may not be good pastors. The first few years at my church, the numbers were definitely not “popping.” They only “popped” in the fact that everything staying shockingly “small.” (Numbers still don’t “pop” for me.)

I remember a couple of board meetings where I wept and told the board members they should re-evaluate my “services.” Maybe I wasn’t the guy for them.

We need this reminder from Peterson (by way of JR Briggs in his book Fail):

The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them.

The duty of the pastor in all this? Keep the community attentive to God.

Dear friends, please do not abandon that duty!

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Gaining perspective on failure

We chase methods. If we want “successful ministries” we chase methods. We often forget to watch over people and simply chase methods that will put more people in the building. Yet, we often ignore the very people we may be bringing in.

We chase methods because more people is better. It’s simple. That’s success.

Briggs brings us a reminder, a perspective, of “numbers” in his book Fail.

The median church in the US: 75 regular attendees on Sunday morning.

Some studies show an average weekly attendance as low as 58 and almost 180,000 churches in America (9 million worshipers) have fewer than 100 each Sunday. Almost 60 percent of churches in North America.

We elevate the few large churches as “norm.”

There are approximately 1500 megachurches in the US, making that less than one half of one percent of churches in the US.

A few years ago I sat in on a denomination sponsored event (my own denomination) where the speaker (NOT from our denomination) made the flat declaration that churches under 200 simply won’t exist in 10 years. That was 5 years ago.

He may need a calculator.

Our problem may not be our “size” as blue chip pastors. Our problem is our insecurity. We keep comparing ourselves to a model that is simply… well… small. 

Yet, we still feel inadequate.

We have, in some sense, failed. 

This is our challenge.

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Big fat FAILURE

I am beginning the book Fail by J.R. Briggs. (Clearly, I’m going to need to shorten my name to initials.)

This book is refreshing, at least at its beginning. It is a journey of a pastor who had the big church models thrust in front of him, who lived in that world, and then experienced what happens too often: “failure.” Not moral failure. Numerical failure. He just didn’t “cut it.”

Numerically, I continue to be a big fat FAILURE. In my church. On this blog. The numbers aren’t there. No one is paying attention.

But it comes down to more than that. Am I doing what God asked of me? Am I working toward something that is Kingdom? The question needs to be, “What does HE think of me?”

We have all kinds of measures flying at us as pastors. If we are not “measuring up” there is a lot of shame and embarrassment to deal with at times.

For Briggs, the key was moving from thinking like an orphan to thinking like an heir. It wasn’t a matter of what anyone else thought about him. What did God think about him?

Ministry can be brutal. We are in need of some recalibrating in our lives. What DOES matter in ministry? What DOES matter in the eyes of God? Can we move past the other measures thrown at us and simply settle in to what God has for us?

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The power of pastoring and LEADING in spiritual transformation

Some key thoughts:

“Sermons should shape hearers by bringing the transforming Word to nurture the development of their character in the pattern of Christ.” — Marva Dawn

“It is a long-acknowledged truth that teachers teach the lessons they most need to learn and writers write about the very things they are most in need of understanding.” — Ruth Haley Barton

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The book I’ll never get to write

“The Secret Pains of Pastoring.”

1. No one would believe it.

2. No one would care.

3. I’d have to wait until I’m dead anyway.

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What you can really do as a blue chip pastor

Regardless of size, we can pray the prayers God asks of us.

God has asked us, as a “small” church, to “own” a country. I’ve prayed that prayer for two years.

I just returned from a two week trip to Ethiopia as a result of praying that prayer. I will be back in Ethiopia over time. So will my church.

What if all “small” churches were BLUE CHIP churches, and simply asked God for ONE country? What kind of impact would that have on the people of the church… AND what about the impact on that country?

We need to have a bigger vision. Vision that goes beyond the statement of what we DON’T have… to what is God ASKING OF US?

Own a country.

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Filed under Leadership, Ministry, Prayer