There are some pastors whose names are known by thousands, even millions of people. But that’s not the case with most pastors. Today I want to tell you about one pastor whose life and ministry may have seemed plain and average, even a failure to some people, but who was actually one of the most …
I’ve always tried to live my life and do ministry by this rule:
Don’t try to be successful. Try to do good work.
Not people-pleasing work, God-honoring work
Not self-promoting work, Christ-magnifying work
Not numbers-driven work, Spirit-led work
The one time in my ministry that I abandoned this principle and did things for the numbers, I got numbers. For a while. But the numbers came at a cost. They sucked my soul dry.
Those numbers, as modest as they were, almost killed my church and cost me my ministry. Not because of the numbers. Because I abandoned my principles for them.
Yes, you can honor God and see numerical success. There are a lot of churches, pastors and ministries that do. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.
It’s not about size or success. It’s about having and honoring Godly principles, no matter what the results look like.
If we hope to overcome the perception that “successful small church” is an oxymoron, we have to redefine success the way Jesus did. And that starts by answering the question in the title with another question. Namely, “what is a successful church?”
The answer to that question is not found in buildings, budgets or butts in the seats. It’s found in the simple, two-part formula for success laid out by Jesus himself. The Great Commandment and Great Commission.
Are we loving God? Loving each other? Making disciples? Sharing our faith? Any church that’s spending its time doing that instead of obsessing over budgets, building projects, making a name for the pastor, petty infighting and the like, is a successful church. No matter how big or small it is.
Jesus was the most culture-challenging, paradigm-shifting, tradition-breaking, change agent who ever lived.
How did his followers become so boring?
Want cutting-edge, society-shifting change? Church is the last place people expect to find it.
Want dry, stuffy, moldy, old traditions and ideas? That may be the very definition of church in many people’s minds.
This is a problem. A big problem. And it’s our fault. We’ve taken the life- and society-transforming message of Jesus and we’ve made it about . . . success.
Trying to maintain that success has made us safe.
Safe is boring.
Three facts sit atop my “things I wish someone had told me in Bible college” list.
FACT #1: 80-90 percent of pastoral ministry students will never pastor a church larger than 250 people.
FACT #2: Virtually all of us will pastor a small church for at least some time in our ministry.
FACT #3: You can pastor a small church well, without settling for less.
It’s much easier to start or run a successful business than to plant or pastor a successful church.
And when I say ‘successful church’ I don’t mean a big, growing one. I mean a solid, healthy one – of any size.
If you pastor a church and it’s not collapsing in a heap beneath you, you’re doing a better job at a harder task than most of the successful business owners and managers that people want us to emulate.
So, why is pastoring harder than running a business? Here are 6 reasons:
We want numbers to verify our successes.
There are two huge problems with that sentence – and they’re found in the words numbers and our.
First, not all successes have numbers to verify them.
Second, the successes of the church are not our successes.
We need to start getting comfortable, in the first instance, with Success Without Numbers and in the the second instance, with Success That’s Not Ours.
Where are the church leaders who will take up the mantle of, not just successful ministry, but life- and society-transformation? I’m not talking about name recognition. I’m talking about leaders with such a radically positive approach to the life and message of Jesus that they have a society-shifting impact.
Where are the Christian innovators who will put a dangerous passion for Jesus ahead of personal ministry success? I’m not upset at anyone. I just want more.
I pray for an infusion of Godly change agents who won’t just transform the institutional church, but make the world stand up and take notice. Or, more likely, change the world and leave the institutional church playing catch-up.
I’ve chosen to be a follower of Jesus. A disciple. From the moment I did that, I gave up ownership of my life.
My life is no longer mine. It’s his. So my goals don’t matter anymore. My potential is not enough. Not for me, my church, my family or my ministry.
I don’t want my best. I want God’s best. Because his best is so much better than my best.
Of course that’s what so many of these self-help gurus are claiming. That, whatever my dreams for my life are, God has 10 or 100 times more than that for me. (The really holy ones will use old-timey bible terms like 10-fold and 100-fold).
But the difference between my best and God’s best for me is not a matter of scale. It’s not that I’m asking for 100 and God wants me to ask for 1,000 or 10,000. Getting more of what I want is not God’s best, it’s just more of my best.
Testimonies come in every day from church leaders who have read The Grasshopper Myth.
“A burden is lifted off my shoulders.” “I have a renewed vision for what my church can really be.” “Like a lot of cool water to a parched soul.” “God has given me new strength, joy and hope for my great small church!”
As I read words like these, it causes me to pray every day, “God, I don’t know what you’re doing with this, but whatever it is, please help me not to screw it up.”
Not exactly the poetry of The Serenity Prayer, but it’s just as sincere.
Here’s the latest sign of how many people are being touched by this little-book-that-could. While doing a quick inventory of books for our internal record-keeping, I realized that at some time in the past month or so…
We sold our 5,000th copy of The Grasshopper Myth!