I’ve pushed this book before, Rethinking the Successful Church by Samuel D. Rima. This isn’t on my “recommended” reading list, it’s on my “read this book or go to jail” list. Every pastor or future pastor who hasn’t already read Rima should stop what they’re doing right now and find this book, order this book, beg, borrow, or steal this book.
Most pastors, if they’re really honest…really, really, really honest, would admit that they would love to be thought of as having a successful church. Now that isn’t necessarily bad if one’s definition of success is a pure one, one unaffected by the western culture. “The task of redefining our understanding of success will not be an easy one. Over the course of a lifetime we have had drilled into us a cultural view of success that is not easy to shake.” (Rima, pg.168)
The word success has become so Americanized that it is hard to use it without thinking of size, numbers, big, popular, influential, etc. I’d like to throw out the word, at least any connection between it and the local church, and replace it with the word value. “For me, success in ministry has become much more qualitative than it is quantitative. The reality is that it is entirely possible to manufacture phenomenal church growth and produce dramatic tangible indicators of success, while at the same time accomplish nothing of any genuine eternal value.” (Rima, pg. 163)
“Today we live in a culture of success.” (Rima, pg.48) How true, and might I add, our Christian-culture tends to define success in the same way our secular culture does. Equating size with success has been “drilled into us over the course of a life time.” Throw out “success” and replace it with “value.”
You and your church may never be successful according to the world’s definition but that doesn’t mean you don’t have value. A church can have value whether it has 5, 50, or only 100 members. And a church can have 500 or 5000 and not necessarily have value. “At some point on our ministry journey we have got to realize that we can build the biggest church in the world and actually see thousands of people coming to Christ, and still be an abysmal failure in the eyes of God. If our motives are impure, our methods dubious, and our personal character and spirituality seriously flawed, I do not believe God considers us successful.” (Rima, pg. 173)
You have value by remaining faithful to your calling when it would be easier to run in the opposite direction. You have value when you show up week after week to teach the word. You have value by loving your people…especially those who are hard to love. You have value by trying to produce followers of Jesus, by praying for people, counseling people, comforting them when they are in pain. Your church might not have success but it does have value when it loves those inside and outside it’s doors.
Throw out success. Replace it with value. Read the book!
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