Does anyone here actually hope to be a failure? And if you achieve that, are you then a success? Everyone wants to be a success. Whether that is in work life, family life, or any other area of life.
But how do we measure success? How do we know if we have achieved what we attained to? It is not always so obvious. For example, how do we know if someone tells a good joke? People laugh, right? But not always. The other day, I told one of the children who live at our complex a joke. He really didn’t react because it was kind of bizarre for this strange man to tell a weird joke. So there wasn’t much laughter. But a few moments later, we heard that child telling that same joke to a bunch of his friends. That was the measure that the joke was funny.
The truth is we need ways to measure every aspect of our life. Imagine if there were no units of measurement. Police would stop you if they thought you were going to fast. Milk and meat would be in a different size package every day but cost the same. We need something to use as a measurement.
We want to be successful as individuals and as a church. We can agree on that. But how do we measure that? What are the warning signs if things are going wrong? What tells us if things are going well? The story we are looking at is going to help us through this. Even more, it is going to help us navigate the spirit of competition is so destructive to our mental health. Let’s take a look.
Success in the Story
The story is one that would have been familiar to the original audience. A ruler goes off leaves servants in charge of something. It is a universal story that finds itself repeated even today in popular entertainment. In this version of the story, the ruler summons ten servants. Each of the ten servants were give ten minas to invest. How much is a mina? One mina is about a fourth of a worker’s annual salary, so ten minas would be a significant sum. The fact that the ruler would trust his servants with this money says something about the expectations he had for them.
Although ten servants were given money, only three are mentioned in the employee review interviews. The first servant was able to produce ten more minas with the mount that came his way, a 100% return on investment. The second servant made five minas, a 50% return on investment. Notice that the second servant is not condemned for making only half the profit of the first servant? That is significant. What the ruler seemed to be looking for is that each servant would try their best to invest with what they had been given.
This brings us to the next servant. The final servant simply wrapped up the ten minas and handed it back to the ruler untouched. The least that he could have done was to put it in the bank and then the ruler would have at least made the basic interest. But the servant did no such thing. He even knew why the ruler had given his money to the servants and yet he didn’t do even one thing to make a profit. This is the servant that is condemned, the one who refused to try. The crime was not just that he didn’t make money, it was that he was not faithful with what had been entrusted to him. It all comes down to a matter of trust and this servant betrayed that trust.
To sum up, the principle for measuring success is not our return on investment or even how we compare with our people. The measure of success is about how faithful we are with what we have been given.
Success in Our Life
One of the areas that people hope for success is in their individual life experience. I will be turning fifty in the fall and it is a natural thing for me to be reflecting on this. I wouldn’t say that I’m having a midlife crisis, but it is a natural time to be considering where I am at and how that compares to my expectations. I am quite content right now, but such was not the case about four years. I was having significant health problems, was struggling financially and my second child was going into a group home. My life was nothing like I had planned. Not only were we struggling financially, I didn’t even know what I was going to do as a career. At that time I had real doubts that I would ever be a pastor again. I joked that I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up but that joke hid real pain. I looked at friends that I grew up with and saw their successful careers, their health and their “normal” families. I was a mess. But not because of what I had or didn’t have. I was a mess because I was comparing myself to others. The truth is my success as a person has nothing to do with how I compared to my friends. In terms of health, I was not responsible for anybody’s else but mine. I should only be faithful with the amount of health that I have. The same is true for every area of our life. There are things that are beyond our control but we can be faithful with what we have been given.
What if we really believe that everything we have is something of value given to us be Jesus? And that all we are asked to do is to be faithful with what he has given us? What would that do to the pressure we face in life?
Success in our Church
It is important that we are faithful with everything that we are given as individuals. That includes our health, finances, families and so on. But it is equally true for us as a church. Churches can be just as competitive as anyone else. Many pastors don’t like spending time with other pastors because they begin comparing numbers.
It is important that we consider how we would measure the success of our church. The easiest ways are to look at numbers of people attending and the amount given. While I don’t want to dismiss those and they say something, that is not the measure. Otherwise all large churches are successful and all small churches are unsuccessful. It is estimated that 90% of churches are small churches. If size is the measure of success, only 10% of churches would be considered successful.
Having moved back to St Catharines, one of my observations is that some of the churches that were the big, hopping churches have closed down. Being big was not enough. The measure of success is the same thing we have been talking about. It is all about faithfulness.
God does not look upon our church and ask we are not like other churches. God looks at our church and asks what we are doing with what he has give us. But what has God given us? Here is a short list:
- Our people. Every person, of every age and every ability is a resource and a valuable resource. God places people here and entrusts them to us. Are we faithful with our people.
- Ministry opportunities. Churches agree that ministry is important but where we go wrong is where our focus should be. Many churches think we need to be faithful to the ministries of the past, when really we need to be faithful with the opportunities that God is giving us now. The past is important but not as something to be duplicated. The past is important as inspiration to be faithful to the present as our predecessors were with their opportunities.
- Relationships. God gives us relationships both inside and outside the church. What are we doing to initiate new relationships and deepen existing relationships.
- Building. We are reminded that the church is people and not a building. But we have a building, a beautiful building in a strategic location. Are we being faithful with this building, not just in keeping it beautiful, but using it to bless our community?
- Holy Spirit. The birth of the church is dated to the arrival of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. We were never meant to do things only in our own power. Do you know the Bible describes both individual Christians and the church as the temple of the Holy Spirit? We have the Spirit, in what way are we seeking the wisdom and power of the Spirit.
God gives each one of us a certain amount of resources, both as individuals and a church. Do we want to be the unfaithful servant who hands back to God what he have us, all wrapped up and untouched by human hands?
Let’s not get caught up with how we compare to others. It doesn’t matter. Individual life and church ministry is not a competition against others. It is all about being faithful. God gives us all something. The main question we need to ask is, are we being faithful with what God has given us?