Was Jesus Successful?

Written by Dianne Carlson on .

Success FailureWhether we fully understand it or not, America stands at a crossroads like no other time since 1776. Perhaps that crossroads is best seen in the current political battle underway as the Presidential elections draw near this fall. Both candidates offer a radically different view of reality and the future that will forever change America and the world. 

But in a way, an even bigger crossroads is being faced by the Church today. That crossroads has everything to do with how we define the Church and its' ministry. You see at the heart of America's political chaos is an unseen spiritual battle going on in every congregation in America. You can't explain one without the other. Ultimately, that crossroads has everything to do with how the Church understands Jesus and what the Lord is calling His Church to be and do. If we get that wrong nothing else will be right, no matter how things look on the outside.
At the heart of the Church's greatest challenge is the meaning of the word "success." People talk a lot about "success" in ministry because we are Americans. We love "success"!  After all, does anyone like something that is "unsuccessful?" People equate a lack of "success" with being a "failure" and that word terrifies Americans. Who wants to be a "failure?"  All of this is wired deeply into our thinking and cultural DNA.

So perhaps the best place to start this brief discusssion about "success" and "failure" in the Church world is with Jesus Himself. Was Jesus "successful?" Surely many people would say so considering there are over 2 billion professsing Christians in the world and tens of thousands of churches out there. Surely Jesus was and is the model of some kind of "success," right?

And yet, most people seem to have conveniently forgetten what happened to Jesus. Our Lord opened His public ministry in Luke 4 with His hometown family and friends trying to murder Him in verse 29. Does that sound like "success" to you? Surely one might have thought that the folks at Nazareth would have been proud to have the Son of God and Messiah start His "successful" ministry there. Maybe it was something He said.

As you move further into our Lord's ministry, 1000's of people followed Him and were blessed by His many miracles. And yet, amidst all the accolades, crowds and fanfare our Lord drove 1000's away with a short sermon in John 6. What started out as the greatest Church picnic in history, with over 5000 people attending, dropped down to the 12 disciples and one of them was the devil. A model for "success?" Maybe again, it was something He said.

And finally, our Lord headed to the Cross. The one time church growth experts and admirers seemed to have vanished as the crowd dropped down to a couple of women at the foot of the Cross. The rest of the disciples ran and hid. So it clearly seems that Jesus had a different idea of "success" than His disciples did at the time. Eventually the disciples "got it" later, along with the Apostle Paul, as they were all martyred, with perhaps the exception of John. Is martydom "successful?"

All of this brief walk through the Bible leads us to some troubling personal reflections concerning the Church world today. As of tonight, some people might say the most "successful" church in America is the Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas pastored by Joel Osteen. Over 43,000 people attend the church on a weekly basis, not counting the millions watching by television. The Lakewood Church is the best known church in the world today. It surely looks like people are getting "blessed" down there and "success" is overflowing.

However, you get into some real trouble when you try to connect such "success" to Jesus by asking, "How well do those churches reflect Jesus' life, ministry and that of the apostle's?" Surely that question must be taken into some consideration. The reason you get into some trouble with a question like that is because it seems hard to connect Joel Osteen's "success" to our Lord's ministry. That is because they really don't have much in common, if we are honest. It might even turn out that people are much happier with Joel Osteen than Jesus and if that is the case something has gotten terribly lost in translation.
All of this should lead us to reevaluate our definition of words like "success" and "failure" and recognize those words are entirely culturally conditioned. The Bible's words for "success" and "failure" are not our words for those things. They mean different things. However, as long as they are seen as the same by millions of people, Biblical Christianity will be lost to us and replaced with a seductive counterfeit. More importantly, the Jesus of the Bible will become hidden in a world of image, changing culture and marketing that spoils our appetite for knowing and experiencing the Real Lord.

The BEST word to use when describing our calling as believers is the word "faithful." That word connects ALL ministry to the Lord and not our culture or ourselves. When we use the word "faithful" it let's us know that results in the Kingdom of God can't be measured or labeled by us. The Lord has called us to be "faithful" because the results are His alone. No person can do anything to make things happen in the Kingdom of God that guarantee or create "success." As our Lord said, "Apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). Sadly, few seem to believe that today. As one returning missionary was quoted as saying, "It's amazing how much the American Church can produce without the Holy Spirit." As a result, culturally driven attempts at creating  "success" in the Church really destroy a genuine movement toward Biblical faithfulness to the Lord and His purposes.

Perhaps the best way to end this brief article is to talk about how words like "success" and "failure" dominate and destroy the lives of the Lord's people. We can only guess how many children's lives have been ruined by trying to achieve a parental or cultural level of "success" based on money, title or something we measure with our fallen standards. The same is true in the life of the Church. When a person is in Christ, they are a new creation, the old has passed away and a new life has emerged ( II Corinthians 5:17). Our lives and ministries cannot be measured by any labels like "success" or "failure" because the Law or our performance was nailed to the Cross. This is the true freedom that allows life to find a joy unspeakable and full of glory. The Kingdom of God contains a new world that completely rejects the labels from a fallen world. There are NO "successes" or "failures" in Heaven simply because we are in Christ alone.

The moment we believe all of this, everything has to change because we only live for an audience of One. May the Lord Jesus change all of us today to find true Biblical success by being faithful to Him no matter the cost or worldly results.