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What is a Successful church?

successful
[suh k-ses-fuh l]
Spell adjective
1. achieving or having achieved success.

2. having attained wealth, position, honors, or the like.

3. resulting in or attended with success.

I’m not exactly sure how to measure a successful church based on Webster’s Dictionary’s definition.  It just doesn’t seem to accurately articulate what the body of Christ is capable of through the power of the Holy Spirit and our obedience to His Word.  Webster’s definition captures what success looks like here on earth, but falls short of capturing an eternal perspective of what success should look like as we follow Christ and His commands as the church.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic recently as I’ve studied Paul and his missionary journeys and the development of the New Testament Church. The older I get the more I’m convinced it’s not about numbers or the latest and greatest in ideas or technology. I have a sense of the church being a back to the basics, grass roots ideology that we are here to point the lost in the right direction. It’s a simple concept, but it’s our mission. We, as believers. are the church.  There are many styles and formats to get people on our campus and in the building, but once they’ve entered the doors of our sanctuary, it is really time for the Holy Spirit to do the work.
I’ve been convicted and challenged as Ive been studying Acts and the purity of Paul’s heart as he bravely entered each town along his journey with a heavenly message. His fearless proclamation of Jesus’ love for all people, even as they hurled jagged stones at his body time and time again, is mind blowing. I’m so comfortable in my nice home and familiar surroundings, my life is scheduled and I rarely deviate from my daily routines. My fear is that I’m not being an effective Christian and using my time wisely on this earth. Paul never found comfort in his quest, but he always had joy. His joy was pointing the lost in the right direction…the direction of Jesus.
Paul’s success of spreading the gospel came with a lot of hardship and ultimately his death. Are we there as a church? Am I willing to be uncomfortable for Christ? Am I willing to put others needs before my own? What does it mean to be a true servant? Will I love someone enough to speak the truth into their life, even if they don’t want to hear it?
Do I have a faith as strong as my dad who once said he wouldn’t change anything about his life, not even his disease that slowly and tragically robbed him of just about every bodily function and ultimately took his life. He couldn’t sit around a table to enjoy a good steak and conversation with friends, he couldn’t speak to his grandchildren or tell his wife that he loved her. He couldn’t run and play ball with his grandsons anymore. On a bad day, he couldn’t even breath without assistance. He had an obnoxious hole in is throat and in the middle of his stomach that hurt and regularly became infected, causing him to have daily struggles. But he wouldn’t have wanted to change a thing?
He also wouldn’t have changed the over thirty years of ministry where he pointed people in the right direction, scrubbed toilets, comforted those who were grieving, opened his home to strangers, provided for those who couldn’t provide for themselves, visited those in jail and the list goes on. So many of the back to basics human needs we find Jesus and the disciples doing as they went from city to city, household to household and pointed people in the right direction. My dad’s life was not perfect but I think he found success because he had joy in the journey as he pointed people to Christ. He wouldn’t change a thing, good or bad.
What does this mean for the church? I think we have to have joy in the journey, even when faced with our own personal struggles, and still be able to put others’ needs first. I remind myself often that it’s “not about me” when I’m down and want to give up. I’m here to point that wayward teen or single mom that is at her wits end, the wiggly three year old that can’t sit still during a Sunday School lesson in the right direction. What do people do once pointed in the right direction? I don’t know…That’s personal, it is really up to them. What is our responsibility as the church? I think it’s simply to create an environment where the Holy Spirit can do the work and people will leave feeling something they’ve never felt before. We need to be the hands and feet of Jesus daily to a hurting and lost world.  We need to point people in the right direction then we have a responsibility to help keep them on track through discipleship and study of God’s amazing Word.
Something beautiful…
something life changing…
something real…
Maybe that’s success, maybe that’s just “back to the basics” Christianity. But whatever it is, it is essential and life giving and our responsibility as the church and as individuals to fulfill.

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