Speaking of the church, how do we measure success? By what means is a successful church measured? Are numbers the indicators of success (or not)? Is it the size of the budget, the size of the offerings, the size of the membership, or the size of the group in attendance? Is it the number of ministries, the number of ministers, or the number of those ministered to? Speaking of the Christian, how do we measure success? By what means is a successful Christian measured? Is it success in ministry, in influence, in sphere of influence? Is it even possible to measure success in such things?
Imagine you are a Roman citizen in first century Palestine. Perhaps you heard this man, Jesus, speak. Maybe, even, you heard the claims of some of the Jews that this man was on some sort of mission from God. Not having knowledge yet of the resurrection, how successful would you say Jesus was in his mission as he was whipped half-to-death and nailed to a tree, left to die in humiliation and agony, after having a huge crowd demand his crucifixion? He only had twelve close friends, perhaps 70 disciples and maybe 500 followers. Scripture says that he didn’t even have a place to lie down that he called his own. His burial site belonged to someone else. The leaders of the religious powers-that-be said he was evil, and he was denied by one of his closest friends and betrayed by another.
How successful would you say that the Apostle Paul was, if you were a citizen of Rome, when you heard through the proverbial grape vine that he had planted a handful of so-called “churches” in the name of some guy that, ridiculously enough, supposedly raised from the dead and, if that isn’t bad enough, then ascended in a cloud into the heavens. This guy, Paul, was such a trouble maker that he had been beaten several times by his own people (even stoned to near-death), imprisoned by the officials a half-a-dozen times, and ship-wrecked a couple times, and so on. He is delusional after all, claiming that some crucified dude had showed up again on his way down the road! And if this is the same guy that had gone into heaven, why, then, was he on the road over yonder? He had, like, one friend with him here in the Roman prison. These so-called churches had all kinds of issues and were wreaking havoc all over Asia Minor and Macedonia. Paul always talked about dying, and how he wanted to be crucified; well, he got his wish when he was beheaded and his body hung on a stake along the Roman Road.
Today, I think that numbers are in fact indicators – road signs if you please. We know that three days later Jesus arose from the dead. Paul’s churches were the primitive beginnings that eventually became the world wide Church, and that there are millions who claim to be Christian through Paul’s expression of Christ. Measuring success is a means to an end, but the end in itself, in a question, is, “Are you everything that God has called and equipped you to be?” I want to know how many people are impacted by my expression of Christ so as to test the effectiveness of my Vision Casting according to my calling and equipping. Success (or not) is ultimately determined by God, though. He knew that the death of Christ would lead to the resurrection of Christ. He knew that the few would reach the many. He knew that the martyr would be the catalyst that builds the church. And He is the God behind and beyond the numbers. Success is when Jesus says to you, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”