How Do You Spell Success?

September 29, 2018

When it comes to ministry, how do you spell success? In many occupations, the marks of success are clearer: promotions, position on the corporate ladder, or size of your bank account. When it comes to full-time labors for a church, what are the marks of success? Kent and Barbara Hughes in their book, Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome, tell their own struggles. Kent reached a point of depression. Ministry was filled with frustrations and few visible rewards. How do you go on year after year? In their search for answers, one of the passages that struck home was 1 Corinthians 4:1-2.

This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. (ESV)

How do you spell success? F–A–I–T–H–F–U–L. After their study of the Scriptures, the Hughes decided that it was not success as the world views it, but faithfulness that was the “success” ingredient for ministry. From this liberating discovery they began to strive for:

  1. To be faithful (obedient to God’s Word and hardworking)
  2. To serve God and others
  3. To love God
  4. To believe he is (to believe what we believe)
  5. To pray
  6. To pursue holiness
  7. To develop a positive attitude

Their emphasis on faithfulness helped them pursue ministry without frustration and disappointment. This emphasis on faithfulness in ministry is a help to full-time ministry, but I think it is also applicable to those very active in the ministry of the church. Ministry is often done quietly and without notice. The emphasis on faithfulness puts matters in perspective. But we can also be assured that God will not forget our ministry even if others never notice it.

So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden. (1 Timothy 5:25, ESV)

Freeing ourselves from the success syndrome is not always easy. Some who try to serve become broken tools in the Master’s hand because they have desired the limelight. Others are tempered by the trials: the lesson of faithfulness is learned, and lives are blessed. Success for servants is spelled F-A-I-T-H-F-U-L.

Not by Compromise

February 3, 2017

David Haskell notes that the mainline, liberal denominations in the US are shrinking by one million members per year. Twenty years ago, John Shelby Spong had attempted to address this decline in a book entitled Why Christianity Must Change. Spong is a bishop in the Episcopal Church. His title reflects the argument of his book. Spong no longer believes in theism, virgin birth, the resurrection of Jesus or that there is any external objective standard to govern behavior for all times. He argued that Christianity must change its beliefs. His book was praised by liberal clergy at the time of publication, but twenty years later the decline continues.

Haskell himself was involved in a five-year study of churches in Canada. The results of this study concluded that liberal churches are declining and conservative churches are growing. And more importantly they found: “Conservative Protestant theology, with its more literal view of the Bible, is a significant predictor of church growth, while liberal theology leads to decline.”

To help us understand the difference between conservative and liberal beliefs found in this study, Haskell gives examples.

Believe in a bodily resurrection of Jesus and an empty tomb.
93% of conservative ministers
83% of conservative worshipers

56% of liberal ministers
67% of liberal worshipers

In addition, conservatives took seriously Jesus’ command to make disciples, while liberals tended to think it was culturally insensitive to share their faith outside their own faith group.1

Admittedly there is concern when we see those in the atheist, agnostic or disconnected category grow from 16.1 percent in 2007 to 22.8 percent in 2014 in the US according to a Pew Research Center poll. Much hand wringing is going to occur and ill-advised solutions proposed. I am convinced that the path to growth will always involve going back to the Bible and teaching what it says with faithfulness.

We are going to face a situation much closer to what the first century church faced. The Christian message must go into the marketplace of competing worldviews and effectively communicate our message. I believe Christianity is rational, has sufficient evidence, and provides the best explanation for human existence. But we may not be able to begin our conversations with people assuming a common background in the Bible as Christians did in the 1950s. Communicating the faith may be more difficult, but it still can be done. The first century church proves it can be done.

Growth will not come by changing our message. The growth we seek is not by compromise.