What is success for your church?
I once asked this of an old-school church leader, who promptly spluttered and spat a mouthful of tea back into his cup and saucer. (I’m from England, and people drink a lot of tea over there. That’s plenty of opportunity for tea splattering.)
If we’re honest, though, we can sort of understand that pastor. Asking about church success can make us feel a bit televangelist and slightly unclean.
But it’s a vital question.
Every church – indeed every organization, both profit and non-profit – has a key measure around which success is gauged. It might be widgets produced, cash accumulated, buildings opened, exams passed, or lives changed.
It may not be explicitly stated, but it is there nonetheless. The success question asks, ‘Are we bringing a good return from all that investment of time, money and energy?’ And as faithful followers of Jesus, we should embrace such accountability.
For most healthy churches, I suspect that the top metric of success is something to do with making disciples. After all, that’s what Jesus commissioned us to do on his behalf, and with his Spirit’s empowering!
‘We exist to make disciples of Jesus’. Boom! Success question answered!
But then comes the follow-up: What do we mean by ‘disciple’?
That’s not a trick question, nor one where you need to list 157 attributes from all the Dallas Willard and Dietrich Bonhoeffer books you’ve pretended to read. Rather, at heart, it is very simple: are we seeing more people grow as learners from Jesus (the Greek word for disciple, mathetes, simply means ‘learner’)?
Now, what happens at this point is we assume that ‘disciple as learner’ equates to, ‘I must fill my head with more knowledge’. But that is to misunderstand discipleship (and success as a church).
Disciple-making is more about imitation than it is about information.
Jesus is more interested in what we do in practice than in what we absorb in the abstract. Which isn’t to say that Christian education is wrong, it’s just that’s not the end goal. The reason we study is in order that we might build our lives more firmly on the rock that is Jesus – by putting into practice what we hear him say.
So Jesus calls us to a lifestyle of discipleship, whereby we are constantly growing as Jesus-imitators.
This is the foundation for how the church is to grow, because mission, at its core essence, is about inviting people into a discipling relationship with Jesus.
Often that relationship with Jesus is most easily entered when your friends imitate you imitating Jesus. “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” said Paul (1 Cor 11:1) – and that is exactly the invitation we give to the lost men and women and boys and girls amongst whom Jesus has placed us.
At first this call might be implicit, and later increasingly explicit, but it is the essence of a disciple-making missional lifestyle.
And it is these themes – the intersection of discipleship and mission, and how we can intentionally grow in effectiveness in those areas – that we will be exploring together at the National Gathering in February. I can’t wait to meet you there!Register ONLINE