Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Measuring success in the bivocational church

Churches in America tend to measure success by counting nickles and noses.  When our numbers are up we assume God's favor is upon us, and when the numbers are down something is wrong.  Pastors and other church leaders look for the latest and greatest strategies for growing their churches by reading the newest books and attending the right conferences.  Now, there is certainly nothing wrong with wanting to grow a church.  Any minister would prefer growth over stagnation.  Numbers are important because they represent people, and in the best of situations they represent people whose lives are being transformed through a relationship with Jesus Christ.  The problem is when we assume that the smaller church is less important to the Kingdom of God than the larger ones, and when we in ministry begin to measure our value to that Kingdom based upon numbers.  The fact is that if big numbers are the only sign of God's favor on our ministries then few bivocational ministers will feel very good about their calling.  I believe there are more biblical ways of measuring success.

Robert Schuller once defined success as "discovering and developing your potential as well as seeing the new opportunities born all around you every new day."  John Maxwell defined it as "knowing God and his desires for me; growing to my maximum potential; and sowing seeds that benefit others."  Charles Stanley described success as "the continuing achievement of becoming the person God wants you to be and accomplishing the goals God has helped you set."  Each of these are individuals who are considered to be successful Christian leaders and pastors, and yet none of them defined success with numbers.  Their idea of success was more personal.  It involved one's personal growth, recognizing the call of God on one's life, and seeking to be obedient to that call.

In my workshops I always remind church leaders that the call to bivocational ministry is not a greater nor a lesser call than the call to fully-funded ministry.  It is God's call on a person's life for that particular time and for that particular church.  Our willingness to be obedient to that call is the beginning of a successful ministry, and our faithfulness to that call allows our success to continue.

Success must be seen as a journey, not a destination.  It begins with an understanding of the vision God has for your ministry and then taking the steps needed to achieve that vision.  Every step of that journey represents success.  Failure isn't taking a step backwards; we will all do that at times.  Failure is when we stop the journey, when we stop moving towards the vision.  Success isn't found in achieving that vision.  Too many will achieve that initial vision and stop.  A successful ministry will achieve the vision, stop long enough to celebrate, identify a fresh vision from God, and begin the journey again.

For more information on how to measure success in a bivocational church and how to take the success journey I refer you to an early book I wrote on the subject, The Bivocational Pastor: Two Jobs, One Ministry.

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