Originally created 08/01/98

How does the church measure its success?

The church is in an identity crisis: We are not sure who we are, what we are to do, or how we are to do whatever it is we are supposed to be doing.

A tension has always existed between the spiritual and secular. These tensions today are built around the question of success. Success is the bottom line, even in churches.

The criteria we use to measurer success is usually the three "B's," budgets, buildings and buses. In order to be successful, the church has often compromised its beliefs and practices to accommodate a demanding society.

What is it that makes a successful church? How do we measure that success? Is it by attendance? Is it by budgets? Is it by buildings?

I would suggest to you that the measure of a church is found in Jesus' prayer in John 17. It is a prayer for truth and unity.

The first criteria for success in the church is truth. "Sanctify them in truth; Thy word is truth" (John 17:17). All of the frills we call "church" today mean nothing if they are void of the truth of God's word. Truth remains the same, simply because it is truth and truth never needs to be validated by success.A church's success, then, is measured, not by the frills, but its adherence to the Word of God. We have often "exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worship or serve the creature (self) rather than the Creator" (Romans 1:25).

This is why congregations grow inward and become self-serving. We love our comfort and convenience. We love to be served rather than serve. And we flit from church to church trying to find one that meets our expectations and accommodates our mindset.

The other measuring rod for the church is unity. "That they be one, even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us; that the world may believe that thou didst send me" (John 17:21).

That is the truth of God's word. Yet, today, the church remains in a state of fragmentation. In-house bickering and fighting over trivial issues destroy the credibility and outreach of the church.

During the Russian Revolution, as the blood flowed freely in the streets, the Orthodox bishops were arguing over what color of robes they were to wear.

In the 1800s, the major issue was instrumental music in worship. A church formed on the frontier. Half of the congregation wanted a piano, and the other half wasn't about to let that "instrument of the devil" in the church.

The next Sunday, it was missing. The congregation fought and bickered over the piano. They finally found it six months later in the baptistery.

The point of the story is simple: If we fight and bicker over trivial issues, we aren't going to be using our baptistery very much.

Unity . . . so that the world will believe that God sent his son, Jesus, into the world. The only way a world is going to believe in a loving God and Jesus is when they see him being "lived out" in the unity of the church.

Perhaps the time has come to quit worrying and striving for success in the church and realize that God has called us to something greater: Things like truth and unity.

The Rev. Michael Hilley is pastor of Westside Christian Church in Martinez.

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