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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Defining Success

I am spending time these days watching little league baseball at an instructional level. The idea is to instruct the players, helping them to develop as players and grow in their understanding of the game. In this league, success is not measured by how good the players are,or by wins and losses, but by how much growth the children experience as players. Coaches do not field a team designed to win as much as they seek to give players opportunities to play in a variety of places and roles, teaching along the way.

At the major league level, an environment where some teams have vastly more resources than others, success should be defined by how well teams do with the resources they have. By this measure, the Tampa Bays Rays are highly more successful than the New York Yankees because they win with 15 percent of the resources. Now that is an achievement. That is success.

Is the billionaire who has inherited wealth more successful than the person born in poverty who achieves modest success as a professional? Should teachers be measured by how smart their students are or how much they learn?

People tend to define success in terms of wins and losses, but the biblical mind takes a different view. In the Bible the widow's pittance is a greater gift than the bags of gold of the rich which are but a small portion of their wealth. The most successful nation has no standing army and lives in the shadow of the great empires of the day, but finds its security in God. The seeds of greatness are a people enslaved. The greatest king is a young shepherd boy. The word of God is not found in palaces but on the margins of society. The Lord of all is born low in a manger.

This brings me to my question of interest. How should we define success in the church?  Should it be size? Spectacular facilities? Dazzling programs? Fine preaching? Quality of music? These things are valid measures of success, and it is fine to use such standards to evaluate ourselves. But if we ask ourselves how successful we have been, the more important questions are, have we loved God? Have we practiced mercy? Have done we justice? Have we walked humbly with God?

We are well to remember that Christians have rather unconventional measures of success. We have many markers that identify us as a congregation at CMC, such as church documents and statements, architecture, art or the lack thereof. But my favorite is the signage over the doors entering the sanctuary. Take a look next time you are here.