For it is by grace you have been saved...

Monday, October 22, 2007

What Is Success?

Years ago, before going to North Dakota to serve with the then Home Mission Board, I had the chance to visit with a high ranking officer of that entity (very high ranking). I had done some research and wanted his opinion.

Here was the question:
“In Texas, there is one SBC church for every 3,000 people in the state, and we have over 400 HMB missionaries. In North Dakota, we have only one SBC church or mission for every 30,000 people; yet we have less than a dozen people receiving HMB support. Why is that?”

Here was the answer:
“We get a better return on our investment in Texas.”

Fast forward a few years. The Sioux church we served was holding its own, so to speak. A new church plant 60 miles away we worked with only had about 4 families. In both cases we were told by outside sources that these works were not “viable.” In fact, when we left ND, no one was sent to replace us at the new church plant, and it died. (Of course we still brag about the number of “new church starts” but that’s another story).

Once again, I’m finally getting to the point. A dear friend of ours is currently struggling in a “frontier” ministry. Response is very slow, but there are those in whom God is stirring a hunger. Yet his financial backers in another state, who by the way have never set foot on his church field, are telling him it’s time to move on because this is not a “viable” work. I guess they think they’re not getting a good enough “return on their investment.”

How do we measure success? Is it based on the numbers we draw (like a popularity contest)? Is it in terms of how much that work begins to give back financially (like a stock market investment)? Or is there more to it in God’s church.

Mark Dever, in his book Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, gives one of the best answers I’ve read. This is a lengthy quote, but it’s worth the reading:
We need a new model for the church. Simply put, we need churches that are self-consciously distinct from the culture. We need churches in which the key indicator of success is not evident results but persevering biblical faithfulness. We need churches that help us to recover those aspects of Christianity that are distinct from the world, and that unite us,

In a society where Christianity is being widely and rapidly disowned, where evangelism is often considered inherently intolerant or even officially classified as a hate crime, we find our world changed. The culture to which we would conform in order to be relevant becomes so inextricably entwined with antagonism to the Gospel that to conform to it must mean a loss of the Gospel itself. In such a day, we must re-hear the Bible and re-imagine the concept of successful ministry not as necessarily immediately fruitful but as demonstrably faithful to God’s Word.

Great missionaries who have gone to non-Christian cultures have had to know this. When they have gone to places where there were no obvious “fields white unto harvest” but only years andeven decades of rejection, they must have had some other motivation to keep them going. If William Carey would be faithful in India or Adoniram Judson in Burma, it could not be because their immediate success showed them that that they were being obviously relevant. It could only be because the Spirit of God in them encouraged them to obedience and trust. Rural pastors labor in churches amid declining populations, and they do so at the call of God. We today, in the secular West, must recover a sense of satisfaction in such biblical faithful ness. And we must recover it particularly in our lives together as Christians, in our churches.

My prayer is that we will find satisfaction and success in this way. And Brother Gary, if you’re out there, stay faithful, brother. As I told you, it’s all about the calling of God. He’s concerned with your faithfulness not the world’s idea of success. May we all learn that simple truth.


Anonymous said...

When did you serve in the Dakota's? I was a summer missionary up there in '88.

Bill Lail

Scott said...

We were there in the early to mid 90s, but I also served in the summer of '88. I spent the summer in Ft. Totten, the same place we ended up living for 3 years. I would imagine we were in "orientation" together. Where were you that year?

Anonymous said...

Minot, Ft. Yates, Beulah, 1 super summer, and 1 Lakota youth camp. I get a bit fuzzy about all the places after such a long time.

I believe my partner that summer, an Allen Spencer ,moved up there later to serve in the churches.

Scott said...

Allen's name is familiar, and so is yours to be honest. We ended up doing some church planting about 60 miles from Minot, with a Minot church sponsoring, so we spent some time there. I have a friend who spent some time in Ft. Yates and we went to Indian camp several years.
Do you remember folks like Dewey Hickey, Larry Vickery, or others? We have some fond memories of the Dakotas.
So where are you now?

Anonymous said...

Wasn't Hickey in South Dakota on the reservation down there? I think it was the Bedford's that we helped in Fort Yates.

This 2-year sink-or-swim policy that so many churches and NAMB employ has nothing to do with reasonableness. It is really to let go ministries and people that are not considered viable after a time. Easier to have an firm fixed deadline than to have accountability and evaluation by a leadership team. It's less messy letting something die with a deadline than a declaration.

How big is your "small town?"

Bill Lail

Scott said...

Dewey was actually the Executive Director of the Dakota Fellowship at the time.

You're right, there are a number of things I would change about the way the NAMB operates, but nobody asked me!

Marshfield is actually about 6,000 now, hardly a small town I guess. But we still very much have a small town atmosphere, the county courthouse on the square, etc. Folks are still very neighborly, our association is made up of mostly smaller country churches and so on. Very nice community. We enjoy living here.

Anonymous said...

Please give me a call some evening.

(314) 566- 8676