Dear fellow followers of Jesus, what is the measure of your success? Your view of success for your life of faith, as well as your view of success for your church ministry, determines how you’re driven to live each day.
Aiming for “Highs”?
The importance of setting the right success goals can be seen analogously to many endeavors in life such as parenting and marriage.
Many parents are (understandably) eager to boast milestones achieved by their infants and young children — “My son can sleep through the night at 2 months old!” “She started walking at 10 months old!” — but sometimes this becomes a competition to achieve more and more, faster and faster. We coerce our kids to chow down their food quickly, but could we be neglecting to teach them lasting self-motivated discipline that comes from within? Some find tutors for their kids to force feed them ways to achieve higher SAT scores, but could they be neglecting to instill in them the love of learning for life?
As for marriage, far too many are marked by short-lived romantic passions, but when life gets real, people give up and split up easily. Marriage is like a flower and it doesn’t flourish unless it’s watered and nourished regularly. It’s a day by day job.
In the same way, many Christians aim to experience “spiritual highs”, but they forget that it’s endurance in faith and in perserving in everyday life that count most.
Misguided Ministry Goals
Likewise, I’ve seen far too many pastors and church ministry leaders who beat themselves up as they expect to meet a certain church attendance figure and didn’t achieve that in a short enough amount of time (like “0 to 500 people in 5 years!”), so they try this marketing strategy and try that 5-step discipleship plan to try to force the results they want to achieve. And when they’ve exhausted their efforts to start campaigns or motivate their congregation and yet they didn’t get the results they expected, they feel sad and bitter and dejected.
Similarly, we would far too easily proclaim “revival” when we experience “spiritual highs”, or witness stuff such as seeing 100 people raise their hands at an evangelistic meeting, without regard for how many of them would remain in their faiths years later.
Many years ago, I took part in a new church plant. When I later met a brother from my previous church, the only thing he asked me about the church plant was: “How many people do you have now?” It was as if congregation size was the only thing that mattered. Unfortunately, many church ministries are intoxicated with measuring themselves by numbers.
About 10 years ago, on a visit to Japan, I met a local pastor. Japan is a tough place for church ministry, where 70% of the churches in Japan have fewer than 30 people. I asked this pastor, “Tell me about your church.” He said, “My church has 10 people” (and I thought, “You gotta be kidding, right?”). Then he used his fingers to draw an imaginary rectangular area to show me the size of his church’s gathering place. I was appalled that the size of the rectangle he drew was less than half the size of my bedroom!
Years later, when I thought about that conversation again, I realized God was telling me that those 10 people in this tiny Japanese church are still people made in God’s image, and they’re souls treasured by God. And God can raise a mighty army out of any 10 dedicated believers as long as they steadfastly devote their lives to Him.
We should aim for enduring faithfulness in our own faith and in our church ministry.
Endurance in the Bible
The Bible never says we have to have wondrous experiences in our Christian walk. It never talks about churches needing to build large congregations. But it frequently talks about endurance:
- A true disciple is like someone who counts the cost of completing the work of building a tower (Luke 14:28)
- Christian life is like running a race with endurance (Heb 12:1)
- God tests our faith in order to produce endurance in us (James 1:2-3, NLT)
- “The one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt 24:13)
- Eternal life is granted those who “keep on doing good” (Rom 2:7, NLT)
- When Paul exhorted us to “fight the good fight of faith”, one of his encouragements for us is to pursue endurance (1 Tim 6:11-12a)
- In the book of Revelation, the main characteristic of saints is endurance (Rev 14:12)
- Christ is also described with endurance as a characteristic (Heb 12:2-3, 2 Thess 3:5)
- The Bible never says “God loves you very much” but it repeatedly says that God loves us with a love that endures forever (Ps 136)
Keep On Running
Some people say that endurance is as if your life is a marathon. I do not like that metaphor because you don’t know when your life will end, so you have no idea where you are in the marathon. Rather, a much better metaphor comes from my friend and co-worker Harjanto. I think of him whenever I think about endurance.
Harjanto has been running for almost 25 years, at least 3 mornings a week, rain or shine, and he has never stopped. Once in a while, some people would join him in his morning runs, but, according to Harjanto, many of them only lasted a few months and they would give up. He had no sympathy for those who give up.
Once he told me that when he went out running, it got freezing cold, and rain started to fall. And then he realized he forgot to wear a cap. Instead of stopping and giving up, he kept on going. He could have had lots of valid reasons to turn back and let this one go. After all, what’s so bad about just missing one little run on a cold and rainy morning? But he knew giving up just a little would lead him down a slippery slope.
He never once mentioned anything about losing weight from running or other health benefits he could boast about. The only thing that mattered was to keep on running, week after week.
Much more can be said about the topic of endurance, but I want to end with two encouragements to endurance that I find useful as a reminder to myself:
- Higher Purpose: We’re called to endure despite hardships and tough circumstances, because we’re serving a higher purpose. For example, we are to work in our jobs as if we’re working for the Lord, not for men. And our endurance and our faith is for the purpose of bringing glory to God, not to ourselves.
- Eternal Perspective: Apostle Peter says that we have to endure sufferings only “for a little while” (1 Peter 1:6). And it makes sense, because if you have the proper perspective of time, anything we have to endure in this lifetime is nothing compared to eternity.