Thursday, November 03, 2005


There are a lot of bloggers posting about be successful all of a sudden. It has kind of spread like avian flu. Charlie, over at Another Think was tossing the idea around a little in this post, where he eventually asks, "How do you define success in your life?" Realizing that the context was about being "a successful blogger," this was my reply:
The concept of being "a sucessful blogger" is so foreign to me. To me, be sucessful is doing everything in my life to the glory of God. It is what I strive for. Blogging is just one part of it. So is mowing the lawn.

Now I understand the point of the piece. And Charlie was right when he pointed out how the desire to be noticed or to make money can really obscure the message of Christ we (usually) proclaim. But I think we get can so caught up in navel gazing and glorifying ourselves, that we miss the reason that we are supposed to be doing everything. In short, we get caught up in the worldly definition of success. defines it this way:
1: an event that accomplishes its intended purpose;

2: an attainment that is successful;

3: a state of prosperity or fame;

4: a person with a record of successes;

Looking at these definitions, we can see what the world considers as worthy accomplishments. And you see from definition number one that the creator is the one who truly defines success. In the case of Attention Span, this blog is a success if it accomplishes what I intend it to accomplish. Period. I have control. If my stated intention is to be a "large mammal" or a "higher being" in the ecosystem, then to be a success I must set that kind of goal. If my intended purpose is provide a place to post teapot cake pictures, then that is the grid by which I determine the blog's success.

The trick here is to set a goal that pleases God, not simply one that makes us feel important.

If we let the world (or even others) determine if we are "successful" in their eyes, we find ourselves looking to please others rather than God.

Let's extend this idea to the local church. A few of us in my denomination have wrestled with the whole idea of measuring success in a congregation. We are issued a couple of trees' worth of paper forms to fill out each year, reporting facts and figures as the pastor observes them. The basics are listed: worship attendance, Sunday School attendance, membership, annual budget figures, number of conversions, number of pastoral calls, lists of ministry books read by the pastor... it goes on and on. Then these numbers are used to determine how well a church is doing. How healthy can a church be if the attendance is going down? How healthy can a church be if no one was converted in the church all year? How healthy can a church be if there are almost no specialized programs taking place within the church walls?

You see the problem here? The world is determining the church's success. OK, maybe it's the denomination or outside Christian observers, but it doesn't seem to be the Creator.

I have no problem with statistics. I'm a stat nut at times. Just watch me research potential players for my fantasy football teams, and you'll see. But even the most esteemed experts can't consistently tell a great player from a below average player based on statistics. Somewhere I have a quote from an executive from an NBA team, spoken during the early 1980's. He talked about the player he really wanted in that year's draft who was destined to be a star. That player was taken by another team before this executive got his pick. Disheartened, he took an admitted "lesser player," thinking that maybe this guy was better than nothing. The player who was snatched up by another team turned out to be a "bust" -- he accomplished next to nothing in his short professional career. The "lesser player" the executive was forced into taking was a guy from North Carolina named Michael Jordan.

The point is, statistics can help us see various aspects of "success" but number cannot tell the whole story. My church hasn't reported many conversions to Jesus Christ in the eight years I have been here. Admittedly, I don't really know what qualifies as a "church conversion." What about the kids who accept Christ at church camp? What about kids like mine who have grown up in the church? When are they to be reported as "converted"? I honestly don't know. But I know that reading the reports from my church about "conversions" certainly doesn't give the whole story.

I don't deny that the Great Commission is part of what a church is to accomplish. But by the same token, a church's duty is more than simply evangelism. We must disciple and instruct people in their faith. We must encourage one another. We must look for ways to share God's love with those who refuse Him. A friend of mine has argued that the church's measure of success should be the Great Commandment, not the Great Commission. Certainly it's a point of debate, but because of all the overlap between the two Greats, ignoring either is dangerous. Defining success as a church as simply "number of converts" is as incomplete as measuring by "number of unchurched people smiled at."

But if we let our Creator define success, we must remember passages like 1 Corinthians 3:5-8:
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.
Or John 4:36-38, from the lips of Jesus:
Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying 'One sows and another reaps' is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.
We need to keep in mind that, while we are all called to do His work, some are reapers and others are sowers. But they each work for the same team. We support one another. And each, if he or she does what God has assigned, will be successful. We set out to bring out our intended purpose, as determined by our Creator.

I fully realize that some use this kind of logic to excuse laziness. That I fully condemn. But in the same way, we must understand our call to do everything to bring glory to God. And that doesn't always mean a crowd at the altar at the end of the service.

Am I a successful blogger? You bet. After all, I set the criteria for success.

Am I a successful Christian? Not so much. The criteria for success comes from my Creator. And I pray for the strength to live up to the purpose He has intended for me.

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