There is a chronic issue that is burning out pastors and church leaders all over North America. It creates the environment for workaholism and often seriously sidelines many genuinely called and gifted ministers of the Good News. The root of much of this toxicity has to do with the way many evaluate and judge the success or failure of Church communities. Many church leaders are driven by the cultural idea of success; the idea that numbers and efficiency are the measures of success. The idea that the more bums we have in the seats, the larger our buildings and the size of our operating budget - are all indications of success. Add to this the number of programs and the efficient delivery of those programs rounds out the often unspoken metrics. While these in and of themselves are neither good or bad, they are not necessarily an indication of success from a Kingdom perspective. To think the issue of success in the Church is about big or small numbers is to simply miss the point! The measure of success in the Kingdom is one of faithfulness, of the maturing quality of love in the lives of the people we serve regardless of the numbers or our annual operating budget.
Sadly, though, while many of us would "amen" this statement, many of us live something very different; living and dying on the basis of attendance, budgets, and buildings - it is a hard cultural paradigm to shake. However, doing so will enrich the quality of our ministry and our personal lives immensely. It will free us from the proverbial hamster wheel that keeps us striving for irrelevant measures of success. Let me explain, if the numbers of bums in the seats is the key measure of success then all our efforts, deliberate or not will push in that direction. Everything we do will be flavored by our chronic need to increase numbers to bolster our feelings of success. However, one challenge is when there comes a time in every leader's life when there is a need to do the unpopular thing for the health of the community. Confronting broken-ness, unhealthy thinking often results in threatening our numbers (or our success). We quite naturally tend to lean to things that tickle the ears while being afraid to offer some of the more challenging things for fear they may not be as appealing.
While there are many faithful folks who lead large churches, it is so easy to cultivate communities of followers that are a mile wide and an inch deep. On the other side of the coin is the pastor of a small church who dreams of the BIG church can find themselves in the same predicament. Many of us, however, find comfort in the idea that at least the people were there and heard some of the gospel.
The reality is with the increased demands on time and programs; ministry staff is increasingly stretched and therefore have to provide the kinds of programs and experiences that have the broadest appeal. For this reason, it is a real challenge to spend the quality time and make the personal investment in the lives of people that brings about greater depth.
I think we need a new scorecard! I have a love - hate relationship with the idea of "score" as we can get awfully narrow but at the same time, I have come to believe that without some idea of what we are shooting for, we will end up shooting at nothing. The key is to define the goals and measure of faithful success on specific community health indicators. For example, if bums in the seats are the key indictor we could simply serve free beer Sunday mornings! However, as I think many of you will agree, Kingdom communities need to be something more.
To this end here are a few thoughts about a new scorecard, one that may help us to reflect honestly upon what we are really shooting for in our own church communities. Perhaps for some of us, this may give us permission to step off the hamster wheel of cultural success and into Kingdom life and rest.
The new scorecard, in essence, will be looking for signs of Kingdom life and these may include:
1. Fruitfulness, a quality of life and relationship with God - Paul spoke to the Galatians about the fruit of the Spirit or if you like, the image of Christ being made manifest in us or even better - maturing in God. Do we see in tangible ways that the people we are serving are growing and maturing in Christ? This is more than how many attend services or our programs. Moreover, it is the quality of their daily relationship with God in the every day of real life.
2. Growing caring relationships with others - along the same theme, are we seeing the people we serve growing in genuine and healthy love for each other, serving one another and laying their lives down for each other? This can take a multiplicity of forms of sharing, supporting others who may be in financial difficulty. Are they freely recognizing needs around them and choosing to help out?
A key indicator of this is how they steward conflict. Conflict is inevitable in any community and is not necessarily an indicator of community health. If and how those conflicts are resolved says way more about the health of the community than almost anything else.
3. Increasing sense of ownership (responsibility) in the community - Is there a growing sense of responsibility for the well-being of the community. Are people moving from consumers to co-contributors, taking responsibility for the overall health and well-being of the community? It is powerful as people begin to recognize that they are a contributing part of something bigger than themselves, as they begin to recognize the body of Christ and their place in it!
4. Kinds of questions being asked - The kinds of questions being asked can be insightful indicators of where people are at. Are they asking small questions focused on what's in it for them or are more people asking bigger questions as to how they can spend their lives for the Kingdom, the specific ways and places God may be calling them? This is an issue of maturing, and we will see a general maturing in the kinds of questions being asked.
5. Signs of abundant life - Are we seeing people flourish? Are we seeing people getting free, making better choices and loving one another in healthier and more consistent ways? Are people addressing issues in their lives, dealing with conflict in healthy ways, sharing their faith, reaching out to those who don't know Jesus and are these things happening more and more naturally instead of as the result the prodding and coaxing of leadership?
Success for Kingdom leaders is the faithful love and support, encouragement, equipping and teaching the people they serve to become self-governing adults in faith - to be growing towards healthy Christian maturity. If we can be faithful in doing so - with a little or a lot, you are a success! You will no doubt hear well done good and faithful servant!