George Barna loves to come out with a lot of statistics about Christian churches, specifically evangelical churches. For many years I have heard of his reports that indicate that churches are in decline, that people do not put as much importance on church-going as in years past, and that the way we worship needs to change in order to reach young people.
I have also heard in the past year sermons that seem to indicate that if our faith was great enough then the churches would be more successful and growing. My pastor preached a sermon titled "The Fear of Success" last year, and yesterday's lectionary text from 1 Corinthians 3 became a sermon on how we need to be mature Christians in order to grow our congregation.
But I have a big problem with this idea of success because of one fundamental question...
Where in the bible does it say that the goal of a Christian is to be successful?
Our full-time pastors are pushed into growing congregations because their very livelihood depends on the offerings that are collected. It's either grow numbers or have people give more. As society shifts their church attendance to other things for any of a variety of reasons, we are left with churches that are struggling financially. It is no wonder I hear this topic of success come up these days.
The so-called prosperity preachers from television also preach a version of success. Most people can see through them--see through to the fact that while the preacher takes your hard-earned dollar, that same preacher is living in a mansion and owns multiple cars and/or a jet. Yet how is this different from the sermons I have heard about being a successful Christian?
If we look to the bible to see stories of successful Christians, we fall short. How many of the early Christians lost their lives--a sure indication that they were not successful. Even Jesus was killed. By the world's standards, he was not successful.
Let's stop fooling ourselves by saying a greater faith will lead to success.
The goal of a Christian is to be a devoted follower of Christ. It may mean a degree of personal sacrifice, ridicule, a path less taken. But the goal is not success. Faith is lived day-by-day; and many days we will fail. Our faith gives us courage to try again...and again...and again.
In the future, our churches will have to change. They will need pastors not reliant on a full-time salary. They will need Christians that pursue faith when the world is going to call them foolish. Our Christian worldview needs to shift from the pursuit of success to the holy and narrow path of faith. In that place, there is no fear.