In America, many people connect "success" to acquired wealth, achievements in business, and the number of kudos bestowed upon them by their friends and colleagues. 

Sadly, many are now carrying this mentality over to the area of church growth. They believe the church's success in filling their sanctuaries, must automatically be tied to the 'secular successfulness' of the church and their people. Some go so far as to suggest that without these 'tangible, secular blessings' the church will experience diminished effectiveness in outreach efforts, and a general weakness among believers.

But is that true?

I encourage you to think that suggestion through carefully before continuing. If that is true, as they insist, then how do you explain the amazing growth of the church in China (they've grown to be 300 million strong (min.), even though many churches are dirt poor, their pastors have been imprisoned for 5-20 years, and many believers are being locked up/ put to death for believing in Jesus? 

And what about Burma, where the national Army is actively hunting down Christians and murdering entire villages of believers? Have you been to Burma? Have you seen their living conditions? Most villagers live in simple bamboo shelters, have no running water, have one or two changes of clothing, have been given NO kudos from 'business associates', have NO bank account, NO car, NO toys, and NO desire for them. Yet the church is growing by leaps and bounds - with some entire tribes becoming nearly 100% committed to Christ - amid continuous persecution, hardship and poverty. 

And let us not forget Iraq and Iran - where the government (Iran) and groups like ISIS (Iraq) are hunting down Christians and exterminating them by the thousands - taking away their homes, and torturing their loved ones in an attempt to turn them from Christ. In face-to-face conversations with pastors from Iran (in a neighboring nation), I learned that Iran is killing 100-120 pastors and thousands of believers every year. So, while its certainly NOT socially advisable to be a Christian in these countries, yet, the church is exploding with growth. (Certainly the number of believers in some Iraqi cities has dropped to near zero, but the reason for the decline has only to do with believers fleeing persecution (going to other cities), and is not an indicator of declining numbers of believers within the nation). 

So what do we learn from such stats? These facts disprove the 'American doctrine' of church success. Don't take me wrong: while I am certainly not against the personal success, accomplishments, milestones, and social advancements of any believer, when you zoom out to take in the greater worldview, you see how erroneous the American church growth ideology really is. 

Do the COMPARISON yourself: Why is it, that in nations where people live in a constant state of ease, and enjoy every conceivable blessing in their lives, that the church has nearly stagnated? At the very time when believers in America are praying for more blessings, so "unchurched people will see the power of Jesus in their lives, so they will be drawn to Him" - the church has become ineffective at reaching this generation for Him. But in nations where it is very likely that a person might be put to death on any given day, simply because they believe in Jesus, the church is exploding with growth. 

When compared to the Word of God, it is apparent that our definition of church 'success' is a modern church invention. Don't believe that the church can actually thrive spiritually, explode with growth, and be considered a true success in the sight of God without doing it through the artificial requirements of our church growth experts? Then read Hebrews and Acts over again. In Acts the leadership of the church, and many believers, suffered terrible persecution and death - and STILL - the church exploded numerically into every nation, and believers walked in an incredible level of power in God. 

And I close with this quote from Heb. 11 - after reading it, tell me what you think of the American doctrine of church growth - and the silly expectations they try to place upon congregations throughout the world.

While many count success through the number of dollars stored in their bank, the plaques on their wall, and the model of car sitting in the driveway of their mansion, that is NOT how God views it at all. He considers the people, and their church successful when they're doing His will, touching lives with His love, lifting up the hands of those who are discouraged, feeding orphans, caring for widows, and visiting people in prison. (James 2:27).

The problem with validating our "success" with numbers of backsides in a pew: I could give you hundreds of examples of men and women who are considered the greatest patriarchs and matriarchs of the church, yet the numbers of converts in their lifetime may not support their exalted position, if we weigh their success by the American standard.

But rather than citing hundreds of examples from the annals of fellow believers, I will do you one better. Consider Jesus. If you gauge Jesus' earthly ministry by the "American Standard of Success" - then He was a miserable failure. When he died all-too-young at the age of 33, 

1) He had NO wealth, 

2) He had NO followers, 

3) He received NO kudos from His colleagues, and 

4) Even His closest followers turned their back on Him, and walked (or ran) away. 

Think about it: The Bible validates these facts about JESUS' MINISTRY: 

1) In Luke 9:58, Jesus replied, "Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head" (YOU can't get LESS wealthy than that, can you?)

2) Mark 14:50 explains it this way, "Then they all forsook Him and fled" (Last time I checked, ALL means Jesus "membership roll" was stuck on zippo, zilch, zero). 

3) When we read Mark 3:6, it explains just how true that statement is: "Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus" (When your colleagues are plotting your death, they're probably not arranging a "man of the Year" banquet for you), and 

4) Jesus had handpicked His disciples, yet 70 of them left when He taught them about communion, one plotted with the Pharisees to have Jesus killed, and the remaining eleven turned their back on Jesus, and ran for their lives when He was arrested, tried, and crucified. 

Of course, we know that Jesus radically and permanently changed the course of history, paved the way for our salvation, fulfilled the will of the Father, and completed His pre-planned mission to perfection. And don't forget, when its all said and done, Jesus wasn't just a success, He IS Almighty God - and that's how success is counted in His eyes!!!

So tell me - what do you think of the American Standard of Success now?

Now, let's finish by reading Hebrews 11:32-40, "And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning;[e] they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect."

I rest my case - I pray we will become "successful" in the ways God considers VALID and COMMENDABLE - rather than seeking to prove God's favor through secular achievements. May you do well, in all you do for Him, and in the end may He say about you, "Well done, good and faithful servant!"

Posted on August 14, 2014 .