When it comes to church leadership, there seems to be a word that sends more shivers of horror down their spines than the combination of Stephen King, M. Night Shyamalan, and Boris Karloff could ever pull off. Indeed, this word evokes a fear is so insidious that it’s paralyzing and many church leaders run for cover when the word is even whispered in their presence.

That word is “Success.”

There are a probably a number of reasons why this word creates such a wave of terror amongst these leaders. For one, we live in a nation where the church, by and large, is losing ground, losing respect, and losing members. But in the midst of virtually every town, township, and county there seems to be a big-ol’ church that’s growing like a weed, multiplying disciples of Jesus like rabbits, and making the rest of the church leaders in town either scratch their heads or pick up rocks to throw.

Now, no one wants to look bad, but when the pastor of First Church looks out across an ebbing sea of blue and grey heads on Sunday morning, the word “success” is suddenly a very scary word. And so, in an effort to assuage our sinking self-esteem, we begin to quibble about the definition of success.

  • Success: Being faithful.
  • Success: Doing your best in difficult circumstances.
  • Success: Faithfulness, not numbers.
  • Success: Deeper disciples, not more disciples.

But let’s be honest. If you can’t measure it, you don’t know whether or not you’ve achieved success or not. The New Testament is pretty much about measuring success. Jesus talked about multiplying thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold. He mentioned a measure pressed down, shaken together, and running over. Oh, and it was he and his disciples who knew they’d fed 4,000 once and 5,000 another time. Was it all about numbers? Of course not. It was all about people. But each of those numbers was a person. We won’t even get into the book of Acts with it’s addition and multiplication references.

Effective leaders, including church leaders, know how to account for success because they’ve working towards a measurable goal that matches the mission given us by the founder of the faith.

  • Make disciples
  • Be fruitful
  • Be obedient

There’s more to those three than just numbers, but they’re also all about numbers (paradox 101). Disciples, by definition, are faithful, fruitful, and obedient. Faithfulness is measurable by it’s fruit, and being “nice” isn’t the only fruit. Faithful disciples are faithful to the Great Commission, their non-anonymous witnesses/testimonies to the risen Jesus (by definition, there are no anonymous testimonials … they explicitly point to Jesus). All that’s to say that the bottom line measure of success always includes ongoing disciple-making, as in making new disciples.

 “But my church structure/organization/theology makes disciple-multiplication difficult.”

If that’s truly the case, and not just an excuse, then find another church.

 “But my church has a power-clique that won’t let me/us make the changes necessary to have indigenous worship services that will reach the unreached in our community.”

See the above response to begin with, then read on.

The fact is, a great indigenous worship service can help grow a church, but that’s not what marks a successful leader. There are a lot of churches who put a lot of effort into creating a great worship service only to discover a great worship service doesn’t guarantee a church filled with seekers or new disciples.

Success can’t be measured by a great worship service – even in a growing church. The primary relevant measure of success in the church is “How are you doing in your faithfulness, fruitfulness, and obedience?” And of course, the key indicator of that success includes ongoing disciple-making, as in making new disciples. Growing churches have leaders committed not only to talking, teaching, and preaching about disciple making, they are modeling disciple making. They are doers, not just preachers, of the word.

Who have you personally shared your faith with this week? If it’s only been with already-disciples, or only from the pulpit, then it might be time to redefine the word success. It’s not such a frightening word after all. It’s simply there to hold all of us accountable to mission of Jesus Christ.