Rss

  • twitter

The Idol of Success

How do you determine greatness or success? The world has a different definition than the word of God gives to us. American culture wants us to believe that it is all about how big our ministries are and how many attend on Sunday mornings. At a recent men’s prayer breakfast the pastor who spoke said, “The world judges greatness by how many people serve us. Jesus judges greatness by how many people we serve.” The drive to be great at something can cause us to lose sight of what really matters if we are not very careful!

We can allow the idol of success to slip in and dominate our thinking and our motives. Have you ever noticed how some can turn every conversation into a competition? If we have a had a major surgery and share about it’s difficulties invariably there is someone whose horror story is much worse than ours. Unfortunately, we want the conversation focused on us more than we are concerned about the other individual’s troubles. If the idol of success begins to control us then we will desire for every conversation to revolve around ourselves.

In Gaining by Losing, J. D. Greear says, “Ministry, you see, is a great place for guys with the idol of success to hide, because we can mask our selfish ambition in the cloak of doing great things for God.” Meditating on this statement has caused me to prayerfully consider if my prayer is truly that of John the Baptist, “He must increase and I must increase.” We must be willing to face the reality that it is not only athletes, movie stars, and other celebrities who can struggle with their egos. Are we using people to build our churches or are we using our churches to build up people?

All of us have seen individuals who blow their own horns a little too much. Have we not also been guilty of that a time or two? We enjoy pointing out that our church is better than your church because of the name we have chosen, the style of music we use, or the number of services and programs that we have. Or we simply imply that another Christian is not as spiritual as we are because of how we follow and serve Christ. We may not openly say it, but we feel like the Pharisee of old, “God, I thank you that I’m not like other people!”

The humble love serving the Lord and they do not do it to be noticed. They also do not care who gets the credit as long as Jesus is glorified. In Uncommon Life Daily Challenge, Tony Dungy says, “Have you caught yourself saying or doing something with an intentional ‘look at me’ attitude? It can happen to anyone. And so can falling flat on your face and eating humble pie. A sign of spiritual maturity of a person who is truly seeking God has always been and always will be humility. Isaiah 42:8, “I am Yahweh, that is my name; I will not give my glory to another.”

Could this be why we see other churches as our competition? We have to advertise and market ourselves for those interested in the way we approach ministry. Could this be why most church growth is by other church members changing churches and all we are doing is reshuffling those who already know Christ? With only 17% of the population in church on any given Sunday should we not be looking to reach the unchurched and those who are far from God? Matt. 23:12 says, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Here are some suggestions to defeat the idol of success that can raise its ugly head in our hearts. First, pray for your church to experience revival. Ask God to burden your hearts for the lost. Everyone who is a child of God has a grace story that needs to be shared with others. Tony Dungy says it this way, “God is the author of our platform, and He gives us the privilege of using it to influence others.” You may not have the platform of being a Super Bowl winning head coach but that doesn’t mean there is not someone who needs to hear your story of grace.

Second, ask God to send revival to the other churches in your city. Pray that every church will get right with Him and His book and obey His word completely. Ask God to raise up spiritual leaders in every congregation to call their members to holiness and convict the members of their unconfessed sin. It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people and if a church is preaching the truth we should be for them. Do not focus on getting more members but focus on what Jesus said, “I have come to seek and to save that which is lost.”

Third, be willing to love people until they get it. Jesus challenges us in John 13:34-35 to love others just as He has loved us. Think about people in your circle of influence who would benefit from you loving them the same way Jesus has loved you. Think about that person who is difficult to get along with at work. Think about that neighbor who has a way of pushing your button. Picture that person right now who honestly does not deserve your love. What would happen if you committed to love that person until they experienced the love of God in their own life?

Tony Dungy shares that his high school football coach said, “Talent is God- given—be thankful. Praise is man-given—be humble. Conceit is self-given—be careful.” Be careful of allowing “success” to become your idol. It can cause you to be more interested in “your” kingdom than His kingdom.

Vitality vs Vulnerability

Encouragement + Accountability + Intentionality = Spiritual Vitality

We must be on our guard against the attacks of the devil. Temptation is everywhere and we must realize that anyone can stumble or fall if not properly prepared. Paul told the Galatians, “watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted.” Solomon gave the warning that we need to guard our hearts. The challenge is to protect our eyes, our ears, and our thoughts in order to keep our hearts right before God. Here is a great question to consider, “Are you living with good intentions or are you living intentionally?”

The reality is that you can dry up on the inside long before it shows on the outside. We have been programmed to act like we are walking with the Lord when we are not. We know what “churchianity” looks like and while we are drying up and needing a fresh wind from the Lord, we can easily be guilty of going through the motions. Do not think that this is not possible because in Revelation 3 Jesus told a church, “Because you say, ‘I’m rich; I have become wealthy and have need of nothing,’ and you don’t know that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.”

There are three elements that make you very susceptible to temptation. Time + Hardship + Deprivation = Vulnerability (Bill Hull in The Complete Book of Discipleship). The devil is always looking for just the right time to push our buttons. Remember that the devil is working overtime all the time. You cannot afford to ever let your guard down because at our most inopportune time the devil will see it as his golden opportunity. Peter makes this very clear when he says, “Be serious! Be alert! Your adversary the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour.”

The second element is Hardship. Trials and difficult times can be guaranteed. It is easy to stand for the Lord in church when everyone is saying amen but it is another story in the real world. We commit to follow Jesus and think we have a “let’s do this” mentality but we will be tested greatly when hardships come into our lives. You must expect trials and hardships and you must be prepared for them when they come. We are told in God’s word to on our watch and to be ready to “stand against the attacks of the enemy.”

The third element is the most important in not becoming vulnerable. That element is deprivation. If you are not walking with the Lord you have no foundation to stand on and no inner strength from which to draw. Are you abiding in Christ? Are you allowing His fullness to work in you and through you? If we do our job, getting daily into His presence, then He will do His job of providing us with His power and guidance. David makes this declaration, “I have treasured your word in my heart so that I might not sin against you.”

Vitality is a choice we make by pursuing God. We develop the daily habits of prayer and being in His word so that we will be have spiritual vitality. Hebrews 3:13 says this, “But encourage each other daily, while it is called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception.” Here we are given a simple Biblical formula of three important elements. Encouragement + Accountability + Intentionality = Vitality. While we are 100% responsible for our spiritual walk, here is a clear pathway of how we can help one another on a regular basis.

The first element of vitality is encouragement! All of us need encouragement and all of us need to encourage others. There are enough people around who drain the energy out of us and this makes encouragement of paramount importance. The idea of exhortation is being a cheerleader to others. Do you have someone like that in your life? Are you being that cheerleader to someone else? We all need that individual in our life who believes in us, believes in what God is doing in our life. They encourage you to not listen to the naysayers.

The second element of vitality is accountability! We are told to encourage “each other.” We not only need the word of God and the Holy Spirit of God, but we also need the people of God speaking into our lives. Yes, we need a body to belong to and to grow with but all too often the missing ingredient is that individual to whom we voluntarily make ourselves accountable. Do you have someone you can vent to and know that they will then speak the truth in love back to you? There are many times you need that trusted confidant to bare your soul to and be 100% transparent.

The third element is intentionality! We are to encourage each other “daily.” Do you have an intentional plan in place to keep you on the right track spiritually? You cannot afford to be haphazard in this area. Tony Dungy says one of the keys to life is “to discipline ourselves to do what we need to do so that at a later time we can do what we want to do!” If you want to run a marathon you must begin the physical training today and increase your workouts along the way. If you want to finish the race Christ has placed you in you must also increase your spiritual workouts.

Healthy churches and healthy Christians build an environment and a culture of spiritual vitality. They strive to ensure that there is a system of discipleship and mentoring that facilitates these three elements of encouragement, accountability, and intentionality. Who are you encouraging and who is encouraging you? Who have you agreed with to hold one another accountable? Are you communicating regularly and have you developed a good rhythm? Remember, “so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception.”

LEADERSHIP LADDER

Much has been written and said about leadership development. How do you move people up toward more and more leadership capacity? Several churches use a leadership ladder to show a clear path of how any church member can get involved and as they grow accept more responsibility. First, there has to be a way to connect them to ministries. These have been referred to as a “First Serve” where they can kick the tires of a particular ministry and decide whether or not it is a fit for them and their gifts.

Whatever you decide to call it, you must have a ministry placement system in place. When people come into a church they need to find a role, a place of service, where they can contribute. Here are a couple of values to have in place that will help you in this process. First, no one should lead who does not first serve. This is handled by exposing them to different ministries, allowing them to participate as a member of a particular team, becoming an apprentice to a team leader, and then eventually developing into a team leader themselves.

The second value is to not give anyone a position or title until they have been given a particular project and completed it. In Ephesians 4:1 we are told to “walk worthy of the calling you have received.” The word worthy there refers to balancing the scales. An example of this value would be getting paid because you earned the salary you made. We live in a society where far too many people want a paycheck but do not want a job. Be very careful of elevating people in leadership too quickly who appear more interested in a title than they do a job.

The different levels could be first serve, team member, team leader, coach, director, and then staff. For example, if you follow the Pareto Principle, 20% of the people do 80% of the work, you need to think of whom the 20% are to oversee your ministry. If you have 200 members then you would need at least 40 team leaders, 10 coaches who pour into the leaders, 2 directors who help and equip the coaches, and then staff to oversee the directors. This would fit the model that Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, gave to him.

Here is another important value. If you want more out of your team then you will have to put more into them. How are you equipping them and resourcing them? Who is making sure that the leaders are being mentored, nurtured, and developed? If we are not careful, they are left to take of themselves spiritually and practically. The coaches help to check in on them and find out what they need to help them be successful. This could be calling a small group leader, Sunday School teacher, and asking a couple of questions. How did it go? Is there anything I can help you with or get for you? And then ask them how you can pray for them.

Everyone needs to know that they are being thought of, cared for, and held accountable. Even in the area of pastoral care, the pastor must remember that it is not his responsibility to care for every member himself. However, it is the pastor’s responsibility to make sure everyone is cared for. The best way for this to be accomplished is with a team concept. This is why small groups are so important to make sure that everyone is being cared for. The small group leader is the “first responder” to those in his group and the coach is the “first responder” to the needs of the small group leader.

This can also be seen in church planting where an individual has the gift of evangelism. They are excellent at drawing people to themselves and begin building critical mass as people are drawn to them and want to be a part of their vision. But this passion can energize the new group only so long until people begin to wonder what the game plan is supposed to be. The evangelist, if not careful, will have a great pep rally but be without a game plan of how to move forward as a team in the future. The evangelism gift is needed and necessary but other team members are required also.

The second level is the one who has entrepreneurial abilities. They can come along side of the evangelist with a plan and systems that will better enable them to sustain the relational capital they have gained. The entrepreneur has a plan and knows what to do when someone says “yes” to the gospel. They also have a plan for the next steps of spiritual growth in every stage of the disciple’s journey. They are vision casters who also know how to carry the vision forward if everyone shows up who has been invited to be a part.

The next level is the equipper who has an eye on training more leaders and has a plan for leadership development. They have an eye out for the overachievers who are always looking for the next step and asking for more. The equippers focus on releasing leaders – not keeping them, investing in leaders – not saving them, and sending out leaders – not holding onto them. The equipper is looking for those motivated not only to be learning but who also have a desire to teach and train others. Always be looking for those who are receptive and hungry for more. They just cannot be satisfied with the status quo.

Level four is the one who empowers others. They see themselves as facilitators of those who have a passion and purpose that is driving them. Their heart is to see others accomplish more than they ever did or could. They focus on movement and helping others to multiply. Their heart is to give away everything they have and know while not desiring any recognition or credit. They love mentoring, coaching, and discipling equippers. Their role won’t make them famous but that is not their motivation anyway. They can visualize a two to three year process that gives them the tools needed while building their character simultaneously!

Leadership ladders are designed to multiply disciples, leaders, and churches!

ACTIVITY VERSUS ACTION

We stand at a time in the history of Christianity and the church where we must return to the basics. Have we lost our passion to pursue people who are far from God? Are we so focused on our programs, plans, and people that we have taken our eyes off of the harvest? We will leave it to others to decide whether the methods of evangelism have changed or not but the truth is that evangelism should never be an “option” for any church or Christian. It is a command, our mandate, and will we obey or not?

My friend Hal Seed in his pastormentor.com training gives a 90-day prayer challenge. He asked his church and challenges every person to pray, “Lord, I don’t ask for much today. I just ask that you give me your heart for lost people.” That is a prayer that God wants to answer. It is not a prayer to better our circumstances or make our lives easier but instead to align our priorities with His. The main priority of prayer is to be in His presence in order to change us. He wants to mold us into who His image.

Dr John David Smith in his report to our BMA churches, check out bmamissions.org if you want to watch it yourself, reminds us that we are to make disciples and to make disciple-makers. We need to reevaluate what we measure and how we see success. What would you consider success at your church 2-3 years from now? Most people’s answers would revolve around being larger and having more people. That is not wrong in and of itself but there are other Biblical metrics to be considered.

First, are you making disciples? When is the last time someone was born again because of your people sharing their faith with them? When was the last time someone was baptized at your church? How many are even attempting to share their faith? The bigger problem is if that does not even burden us, break our hearts, nor drive us to cry out to God in repentance. Jesus wept over Jerusalem and Paul said he did not cease to labor in tears for people to know Christ. We seem to have become far to comfortable with only fellowshipping with those who already know Him.

Second, what are you willing to do to reach people for Christ? Are you willing to do whatever it takes, short of sin, to build relationships with people far from God in order to share Christ with them? One pastor when asked what had been his greatest sacrifice as a pastor responded, “I think it’s clearly the discipline to treat people better than they deserve to be treated.” Is that not the essence of the gospel? Is that not the very heart of Jesus and the very definition of what true love is?

Third, are you willing to love people who are far from God until they “get it?” That is exactly what Jesus is asking us to do (check out John 13:34-35). This lifts evangelism to a whole new level. It is more than the golden rule, turning the other cheek, or blessing those who curse you. It demands that our commitment must be to love the lost even when they do not deserve it because neither do we. Who do you know that would benefit from that kind of love? Who has God placed in your life that pushes your buttons and makes your blood pressure go up?

In Dr Smith’s report he asks if we measure activity without measuring action? The difference can be between being busy and making a kingdom impact. With activity you are expending energy but there is not a clear purpose or goal in mind. The vision should be to help people find and follow Jesus. Many churches have a lot of frenetic activity going on and they are busy with church stuff but, once again, are disciples being made? We have the resources, programs, facilities, and missions statements but very few are coming to know Christ. Here are a few other metrics we should consider:

We need to measure multiplication not just addition! We know how many people we have added, and we should, but have we multiplied in the area of disciples, leaders, and more churches. We are told that 85% of all churches have plateaued or they are in decline. The 15% who are growing are experiencing this growth through transfer growth. These are people who know Jesus already but decide to attend a different church. Only 1% of the growth churches are seeing is by conversion growth. Making disciples implies you make them from scratch, just like homemade cookies.

We need to measure out-going not just in-gathering! We track who is coming and we focus most of our efforts on being attractional. Remember, addition is good and being attractional is not bad but are we tracking how many are being sent out. Not only how many disciples are we making, how many disciple-makers are we making, and how many leaders are we developing but also how many churches have we helped to start? Discipleship is pouring into others in order to equip them that we may one day release them to multiply. Our sending capacity is far more catalytic than our seating capacity!

We need to measure our functions not just our forms. Forms have to do with all the things we keep track of in church life. Form describes how we look at buildings, programs, salaries, worship styles, and programs. These things are important but they are not the most important. We have determined what is normal for our churches when we need Jesus to redefine for us what His normal is. Function describes what Jesus has called us to do, “Go and make disciples!” How are we doing at making disciples, disciple-makers, leaders, and multiplying churches?

The place to begin could be with this simple prayer challenge, “Lord, I don’t ask for much today. I just ask that you give me your heart for lost people.”