The age of technology is a beautiful time to be alive. Social media has connected us, and there are resources available to churches like never before at the click of a mouse. I am grateful to live in the digital age.
And then again, the age of technology can also be quite a frustrating time to be alive. Social media has divided us in some ways too. And everyone has an opinion on everything. Furthermore, all those resources available for churches aren’t always all that great.
Particularly, I want to address the issue of how we define “success” in the church. Ask 15 random people what makes a “successful church” and I’m sure you’ll get numerous answers. Some might say lots of people. Others might say money. Still others might talk about a dynamic pastor or perhaps some sort of vibrant youth or children’s ministry.
In truth, none of those things are mentioned in Scripture. In fact, sometimes those very things can lead to the idolization of a person or ministry which would lead a church away from being successful — in terms of biblical fidelity.
So, what makes a church successful? That’s not a subjective question actually.
Here are some thoughts I have, but first take a quick read through of Philippians 2:1-11 (click the link).
I don’t intend to say that Paul was saying “Here’s how you have a successful church.” But I do think we can glean some thoughts from this passage to help us have biblical strategies for a successful church. I pull 3 main ones from this text.
Surrendered to the Lordship of Christ
In Philippians 2:9-11 Paul writes about the fact that Jesus is Lord. The emphasis of this text is on Christ’s Lordship. One day Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and you will all bow the knee to King Jesus.
All people past, present, and future will confess Christ as Lord. This doesn’t mean all people will be saved. But it does mean that the proudest of people, to the most wicked of people, to the most powerful of people, and everyone else will have to admit that the Lord of the universe is Jesus.
Since that’s true, then the local church is to live as though Christ is Lord now (because He is!). In other words, a successful church in the eyes of God will see Christ as King of the church. Not the person who gives the most money, nor the person who has been there the longest. Not the most boisterous. Christ is King of the church. He is the head of the Body.
So, one strategy for godly success in a local church is to submit all things unto the head of the Church. It is to care chiefly that the music, preaching, ministry, giving, outreach, evangelism, mission, and everything else associated with the local church is joyfully surrendered to the authority of Christ and pleasing to Him (rather than bending to the whims and fancies of others whether they be in the church or the culture at large).
Understanding the Magnitude of the Gospel
Philippians 2:6-8 is a beautiful passage of Scripture that some believe was part of an early church hymn. Certainly, it has its difficulties in translation, but it’s a wonderful explanation of Christ’s work and combined with other parts of Paul’s writings we see this as a glorious picture of the Christian gospel.
Jesus is God
Jesus was in the form of God – the 2nd Person of the Trinity, being 100% Divine and equal with God the Father – yet took upon Himself the form of a servant becoming 100% human. The CSB actually translates the difficult phrase in v.6 as “did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited” which I think does help capture the sense of the passage.
Jesus Became Man
Jesus was not obligated to take on human flesh in the sense that He owed us anything. Yet, He did not count His equality with God as something to be exploited and humbled Himself. Jesus never gave up an ounce of His Godness, and yet, He also went all out in becoming man so that He is considered the God-Man, 100% God and 100% Man.
Jesus Lived, Died, and Rose Again for Our Sins
In His humanity, He was perfectly obedient. You see, the Christian gospel teaches not only that we needed Christ to die for us, but that we also needed Him to live for us. The first Adam was disobedient and plunged humanity into ruin. The second Adam, Christ, was perfectly obedient, rescuing those who place their faith in Him from sin, wrath, and misery.
Then Jesus died. But not just any death. He died on the cross, naked, shamed, mutilated, and despised. We know from other places in Scripture (like 2 Corinthians 5:21 or 1 John 4:10) that on the cross Jesus became sin for us and was our propitiation: a wrath satisfying sacrifice. On the cross, Jesus perfectly atoned for all the sins of all who would lay hold of these promises by grace through faith. And we know this is true because Jesus rose again from the dead.
So, it doesn’t matter what sort of numbers, programs, preaching, or building a particular church has. It doesn’t matter how much money is in the bank account. If the church doesn’t have the gospel right, it isn’t successful and it’s not really a church.
I surmise that many churches would have more fruitful and long-lasting ministry if they spent less time thinking about particular programs and more time understanding, exploring, ruminating in, and believing the gospel.
Living out the Effects of the Gospel with One Another
Now we come to Philippians 2:1-5. Once, a deacon at a former church told me this passage was (and I quote) “pie in the sky.” In his view, Paul didn’t really mean for us to live this way. This was just (his word) “Utopian.”
I disagree. I say the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. And that the power of God in the gospel transforms lives in a beautiful way. So much so that it brings about unity in the local church.
Paul’s argument in these verses is that the church at Philippi can grow in its Christlikeness. To humble one’s self and to concern one’s self with the interest of others is to be like Christ. To lay down our rights for the sake of our brothers and sisters in Christ is to be like Jesus who “did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited.”
And who needs to hear this most isn’t the person in your mind that you wish would be reading this post. Who needs to hear this most is you (and me!). What I’m saying is, don’t wait for someone else to start modeling this. You model it. The gospel must permeate our minds (where we understand its robustness) and our hearts (where we live out the effects of our regeneration).
Are you part of a successful church? I’m not talking about how big your bank account is. I’m not asking if 5,000 people attend each Sunday. What I’m curious about is if Christ is King, if the gospel is understood and believed, and if the tangible effects of Christ’s work our lived out on a weekly basis.