What makes a church successful? Is it the number of those who attend the weekly gathering, the assortment of programs the church offers, the influence the church has on culture, the maturity and transformation of the members, or some other mark?
The way a pastor answers this question will guide a vast array of decisions. Church planters, in particular, are building from the ground up—for this reasons it is vital that they know what they working toward.
There is no shortage of voices questioning the typical metrics that are thought to make the church successful. After all, the church is more than buildings, attendance, money and programs, they say. This post is not designed to question the guiding motives or evaluative tools of church leaders, but to remind pastors that success is determined by how effectively the church makes the gospel center to its life and mission. All other measures of success are insufficient if Jesus is not esteemed, the cross is not preached and people are not called to faith and repentance.
In his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul discusses many facets of church life—relationships, disunity, leadership, sexual immorality, communion to mention a few. Yet, he closes his letter by stating that the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus are of first importance in the life of the church (1 Cor 15:1–11).
All other measures of success are insufficient if Jesus is not esteemed, the cross is not preached and people are not called to faith and repentance.
The church, its leaders and the members of the family must work tirelessly to ensure that all they do is indicative of the priority they place on the gospel. This may seem like a needless reminder. Of course, success for a church is dependent its focus on Christ. Sadly, the pressures of ministry, comparison to other churches and our sinfulness or negligence may cause us to miss the simple truth. In the final analysis we plant churches, revitalize dying churches and encourage established churches in order that all might know of the glory of God seen through the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.
How does this happen?
WE MUST LIVE IN BIBLICAL COMMUNITY.
A few years back a very popular Christian writer wrote an article that went viral through the Christian blogosphere. His traced his personal journey away from the church. His rationale was that he had “graduated” from church and had found other ways to connect with God. Specifically, he said that it was through his work that he found his deepest God-connection. This sentiment fails to appreciate the God-ordained priority of the local church community. Individually we are all prone to neglect the gospel, distort its truth, or grow apathetic to its power. We need one another to point us back to what is of first importance.
WE MUST USE OUR GIFTS TO BUILD UP THE BODY.
Throughout the New Testament, particularly in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, we see that Christ-followers are all given different gifts (serving, teaching, exhortation, etc.) to exercise within biblical community. The outcome of this gifts is not personal fulfillment or fame, but the building up of the body of Christ (Eph 4:11–16). This means that the church is designed to be interdependent, working together toward one uniting mission. Since we’ve established that this mission focuses on the person and work of Jesus, then the individual work of the members of the body propels the church towards this goal. God has organized his church such that it has all that it needs to be successful through the meaningful investment of all those who call each local church “home”.
Individually we are all prone to neglect the gospel, distort its truth, or grow apathetic to its power. We need one another to point us back to what is of first importance.
WE MUST CONFRONT ONE ANOTHER WHEN WE LOSE FOCUS ON JESUS.
Given enough time, it will happen. All of us will fall prey to the sirens calls of worldly values and measures of success, and neglect Jesus. Our focus will drift towards building facilities, constructing programs and growing the church without consideration of Christ. It’s only through the loving exhortation of others who know and care for us that we can be regain our focus on what’s really important.
Our success in mission is determined by our focus on the gospel, and living in biblical community is foundational to growing in the gospel. The church is God’s intended means of keeping the church focused of Jesus. Since we know the gospel is of first importance, may we work to plant churches that reflect this priority.
Published May 10, 2016