Re-imagining Success

From W.David Phillips:

“At my last doctoral class with Len Sweet last week, he posed a question to us that went something like this: Provide for me the metaphors that will describe how we measure success in the church in the future. We are prone to measure success by how many and how much. And we determine who is a great leader by how many and how much.

So today, I want to share with you some of the metaphors we listed (and some I came up with afterwards), of things we can count as a measure of success. But I need to issue a warning. You will have to think about these and you may push back unless you realize the metaphor. So don’t react…Ponder…

1. The number of cigarette butts in the church parking lot.

2. The number of adoptions people in the church have made from local foster care.

3. The number of pictures on the church wall of unwed mothers holding their newborn babies in their arms for the first time.

4. The number of classes for special needs children and adults

5. The number of former convicted felons serving in the church

6. The number of phone calls from community leaders asking the church’s advice

7. The number of meetings that take place somewhere besides the church building

8. The number of organizations using the church building

9. The number of days the pastor doesn’t spend time in the church office but in the community

10. The number of emergency finance meetings that take place to reroute money to community ministry

11. The amount of dollars saved by the local schools because the church has painted the walls

12. The number of people serving in the community during the church’s normal worship hours

13. The number of non-religious-school professors worshiping with you

14. The number of people wearing good, free clothes that used to belong to members of the church

15. The number of times the church band has played family-friendly music in the local coffee shop

16. The number of people who have gotten better because of free health clinic you operate

17. The number of people in new jobs thanks to the free job training center you opened

18. The number of micro-loans given by members in your church

19. The number of churches your church planted in a 10 mile radius of your own church

Got any more?”

28 thoughts on “Re-imagining Success

  1. All good, except number 1. Can’t abide cigarettes and their butts anywhere – whether it’s at church or the shops or the beach. Smoking is bad mmkay..

    Otherwise a great list of things to ponder.

  2. The fact is Mark, smoking is a disgusting life threatening habit and smokers show brazen disregard for the health and comfort of everyone around them. This is not a theological issue and has nothing to do with whether or not they are “unchurched”

    I do not want to see cigarette butts anywhere and would certainly not regard this sort of environmental pollution as a positive sign of a successful church.

    I resent the implication that the fact that I won’t have the air I and my children breathe contaminated with other people’s carcinogens somehow disqualifies me for Christian mission.

    And another thing – Cigarette butts are not just an element of a disgusting, life threatening habit, they are a form of litter. A church parking lot littered with coke cans or chewing gum wrappers or any other sort of rubbish would be seen as a bad thing, and if we saw someone dropping their rubbish willy nilly we would not be happy, no matter if they were “churched” or “unchurched” But for some reason it’s okay for smokers to leave their butts anywhere they like and we’re supposed to see this as a good thing?? If people insist on smoking at the very least they should completely dispose of it, rather than just dropping it for someone else to clean up.

    Anyway I know that this is totally missing the whole rest of the point of the blog (which I heartily agree with) but any defense of smoking and “smoker’s rights” really makes me angry.

    Time for me to take a deep breath (of clean fresh air) and calm down… 🙂

  3. What about smokers on the way to being set free? I think that’s got to be the point of having broken people around the church – they don’t stay broken forever.

  4. One item that can’t be measured as easily, as it seems somewhat subjective, is how long a church has been faithful to whatever calling they believe they’ve had. If I’ve obeyed God, then that’s success. However, how do you measure that, or can you? These measurements (and I think they all have merit, though I like some more than others) could just be symptoms of whether a church has been faithful and obedient… which, I guess, is the point.

  5. How dumb – that smoking & cigarette butts caused the most controversy here…

    Sorry – when I spelled ‘dumb’, I really meant ‘silly’.

    Great list.

    Oh – and this is 1 Freo supporter who will not be ‘repenting’ or ‘converting’ any time soon!

    YO FREO!!

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  7. anger vented

    smoke vented

    litter on the ground

    broken world

    broken people

    even those of in the body of Christ

    are still broken

    believers smoke, vent anger about other’s bad habits and not their own, and are sinners

    just the same as anyone who does not believe.

    the only difference

    is that believers will be saved from the wages of their sin.

    all the things on this list are very nice.

    but, the only success in the church is the Love of God that He Gives through us and i do not think that it can be measured.

  8. Beautiful! Thank you! Thank you!

    I want to live like Jesus, and rub shoulders with the unclean, because that’s where I was.

    If my Church had looked askance at me, I’d still be darkness.

    Thank you.

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  10. It’s interesting (dumb, silly) when smoking becomes the “red herring” dragged across the trail to get us off the real deal.

    No one said that smoking was a good idea, that it was beautiful, that cigarette butts all over the parking lot weren’t litter, that it wasn’t a carcinogen (etc., etc., etc.).

    The point was just that if you have broken people coming to church they are likely to have habits that intrude on your space and mess up your place.

    If you can’t deal with that, you can’t deal with unchurched people…

    Thank you for this list. Many of the points connected to a very tender part of my heart.

    A church planter and a believer in grace…

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  13. Success? All of the metaphors listed are outward symbols – but what about an inward reality first?Success is the word of God being preached faithfully – that’s it. And at the center of that preaching is the Cross – the atonement of our sins paid for on the cross. Without salvation from Hell unto Christ, you can change any habit or lifestyle you want – but without Jesus, one’s eternity is lost. A better life or a moral life means nothing without the salvation of Christ from Hell. And if you faithfully teach that, a human will either be drawn toward God or repulsed away from Him. So if a church sees people being drawn to Christ and seeking salvation and the church sees those offended by the words of Christ and walk away – the church is being clear in its message and is successful. And then when those “activities” listed are seen, they are born of the Spirit, not man’s efforts, church programs or just seeking a better life. Success is all about the message being preached!

  14. Broken people are already broken. We can’t fix them but Christ can. Smoking won’t send anyone to hell. But our reaction to their habits, hangups and hurts might keep them out of heaven. We must be careful that our reaction is not the thing that blocks them from coming to Christ, which many times means they come to church first. Cigarettes and much more. Just read this from Daniel Henderson… “Our greatest fear is not that we fail but that we succeed in things that do not matter.” To reach the unchurched who smoke and minimize the discomfort of those who don’t, put a cigarette butt container out. Doesn’t seem quite fair that only believers should have a smoker’s corner.

  15. Awesome list. Very provacative and causitive of introspection.

    BTW, I’ll gladly fill up every empty seat in my church with a smoker. At least we have the opportunity to (hopefully) bring them closer to the delivering power of Christ.

  16. Man, with all the fuss over a durry, what would some of you guys do if someone started shooting up!! Or a woman said she was going back to her abusive husband because ‘he really loves her’, or the guy who leaves a big oil slick in the carpark and a cloud of smoke when he leaves, and you just know that he’s gonna be asking you for a lift somewhere during the week…

  17. Oh, my gosh. This is painful.

    Let me rephrase #1.

    “1. The number of cigarette butts in the ash tray outside your church doors”

    It’s not about the the cigarettes or where the butts are discarded, it’s about the people who smoke them. Are there ash trays outside your church door?

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