There’s something that’s been on my heart for at least three years now – probably longer. With the exception of a few friends, I’ve mostly kept it to myself. There are just so many opinions in the world; social media has made it easy for us to vent ALL the opinions ALL the time! We have become white noise.
BUT….. I was given this blog assignment, and with a little smile on my face, I’m taking it as my green light to finally share what’s on my heart. You might want to get comfy; this will probably be long (three years and all…). I also have generations of preachers in my lineage, so pull out your steel-toed boots. I’m sure I’ll get preachy! Sorry in advance!
So here it is: Somehow, we have distorted the definition of success in our ministries: ministers, choir directors, choir members, composers, and believers alike. (Notice I’m including myself in these groups of people.) Somehow, we’ve started operating from a flawed human definition of success, rather than from the standpoint of true biblical success. In holding ourselves to this flawed standard, we’ve created a mess. Good people who love God are struggling with this. I know because I love God, and I’m constantly having to readjust my thinking. It has caused discouragement in people who have been given victory. It has caused division and pettiness in situations that have already been given abundant grace. We see things through a distorted lens, which makes us operate from a place of untruth.
Let’s start by defining the two versions of success:
DEFINITION: Success that is based on some kind of a number or prestige system: attendance, dollars, sales, preferred style (church, music, appearance), titles, positions, and visibility. There is nothing in Scripture that supports this version of success for our ministries. And to be honest, this definition of success puts a wrench in our ministries every time.
How does this trip us up? In two opposite ways. Both are wrong.
We see our church, event, or choir high attendance as proof that we are doing a good job for God. Our title, position, and visibility to others signify that we are important to the kingdom of God; that we are doing more for God than those with lesser numbers, lesser budgets, and fewer programs. We like to be the good example of how things are done. Even in our style of worship, we take pride that we are taking the better way, and that we can attract a certain type of people. We feel threatened when someone with our same gifting has better numbers or more visible success. We publicly encourage others in their calling until they get too close to our own human success; at which point, we judge and look for ways to find fault. We stop encouraging people in their gifts and ministries, and we begin to see them as competition.
As we use the human success model, we become easily discouraged by comparison. We feel less blessed with our smaller numbers. We wonder if our “lesser” talents are making any impact for the Kingdom of God. There is a very wise verse in Scripture (they’re all wise, if we’re going to be super theological here) that says comparison is foolish. The people who look at others and compare themselves lack understanding (2 Corinthians 10:12).
Why should we not compare? Because in God’s divine wisdom, He has given us all different callings, different gifts, and different ministries in different cultures. And why is that? Because God knew that one gift, one style, one culture, and one social status would not draw all people to Him. If we did it all my way (or your way), Kingdom work would be incomplete, and people would not be reached. God is far more concerned with connecting people’s hearts to Himself than He is with my style of music — or if your church will set an attendance record on a big Sunday.
DEFINITION: Obedience to what God has called you to do. Faithfulness in your calling. Humility in how you carry out your calling and interact with others.
Because we are so conditioned to the human success model, are minds might jump to the “yeah, but….” phrases. We might automatically assume that biblical success must mean small numbers/small talent/small impact. In reality, biblical success has absolutely no correlation to numbers, talent, or opportunities. This is counterculture to our eco-system, and I am constantly reminding myself to readjust my thinking.
Here’s the beauty in the biblical success model: I’ve never seen God NOT work and accomplish His plan when His people use this model. We are not settling; this formula is not for the faint of heart! The faith and maturity required to follow this formula will take you on a life-long journey of growth that will bring you to your knees. We obey in humble faithfulness so that when God gets ready to move, we have not created a mess in His path. Look at the great miracles in the Bible and you will see this formula repeated over and again: obedience, faithfulness, and humility. The result is always a miracle of divine beauty, and one in which only God can get the glory.
So, as we enter into this holiday season, may we not compare. Let our focus NOT be on attendance, sales, preferred worship style, or visibility in the community. Whether big church or small, large talent or small gifts, abundant resources or operating on a shoe-string — may our focus be on obedience to God; faithfulness to our calling; and humility before God and others. THIS is true biblical success!
Blessings, Merry Christmas, and thanks for reading my sermon!
Editor’s note: Please enjoy these selections from Heather Sorenson: