That word “success” is such a loaded word. It is filled with all types of pictures, statistics, awards, financial profits and whatever else you want to associate with that word; success. In the next few months, the Olympics will validate the long practices, disciplined meals and training regimes of three individuals or teams by bestowing upon them a medal. Lebron James “Decision” could be argued as being successful because he lifted up the O’Brien trophy just a few weeks ago. In November, President Obama or Governor Mitt Romney’s campaign will be declared a success when one of them will be privileged to obtain 270 electoral votes to be President of these United States.
The above examples have two things in common; the individual is deemed by their peers and opponents as being triumphant, victorious and sensational. The second is that success like those mentioned above is fleeting. There will be other Olympic champions. Yes, there will come the day when a player better than Lebron James will lift the trophy and there will be another president.
I was asked a few weeks ago by someone who was learning about CoHO, “How do you measure success?” Now when one leader asks another leader a question like that, the answers that are sought are measurable. In the first two years of ministry in Oakwood, I would get the usual question of, “How many people attended Sunday?” The questions though different, all originate from the same question, “Is what you are doing successful?”
This is what I have learned as a church planter and starting a nonprofit; success should not be measured only in nickels, noses and programs. As a leader in two different organizations, I understand that finances, persons and programs are areas that need to be measured. We need to be careful about money. We want to know that we are reaching people in both depth and breadth. Finally we want to ensure that we are putting our energy into initiatives that are feasible and suitable. I have found though that it is not helpful and most importantly not God glorifying to reduce the measure of success to these three areas. Such a reductionist approach to success will only lead you to idolatry and a inward focus.
So how do I answer the question of “How do I measure success?”
First, I believe it is very helpful to look at the church or nonprofit that you lead and ascertain your context, the people that God has brought alongside you and the people that you are called to minister to.
Each one of our context is different. The church I was led to plant and the nonprofit are all located in an under resourced community. The culture, language, communication and other patterns of life are different than the community that is on the Westside of the railroad tracks. Now I have friends in Montgomery who are involved in similar type ministry but their success will be radically different because the culture of Alabama is different than Arkansas.
I am blessed to be surrounded by a great group of men and women who love Jesus and love the opportunity to employ their gifts for the kingdom. Around me are maturing theologians, artists, musicians, a trained teacher, dancers, a muscle bound cheerleader, a mental health counselor, newlyweds, soon to be parents and persons passionately fighting to see who they are in Christ. The average age group is 19-25.
Finally there are the beautiful people of Oakwood. Are their lives changing like ours are?
In order for me to answer the question of success, I have to take these three added categories into consideration. In fact, if I were to prioritize all six categories, I would push these three above the nickels, noses and programs. Why? I have learned that as I talk to people, what people want to hear about are the stories of other people. When you tell numbers and statistics, faces are lifeless. But tell people a story about a person’s life being changed or a community slowly changing, it is as if the sun has risen on their faces.
The ministries that God has given to us are means not to show us as successful but to show God as glorious.
We have to be careful not to have a reductionist approach in our ministries. When we limit success to three categories such as finances, numbers of people and effective programming, we will fall into idolatry of the self and idolatry of the organization. Idolatry of the self takes place when we look at other leaders in different context and seek to become like them. We will emulate their speech, their patterns, and leadership style and all the while, we miss the opportunity of experiencing God craft something very unique and special within each of us. Idolatry of the organization will take place when the mission, the philosophy, policies, procedures and the name of the organization become ultimate. God’s name and glory becomes a byword. The people who are served simply become a tool to advance the organization.
I would encourage you to take a step back and survey where God has you. Ask yourself, “How will I determine success beyond nickels, noses and programs?” That type of success will never be fleeting.