The Idolatry Of Success (Independent Baptist Truth Revolution #26)

golden-calfThe seduction is subtle, but so strong. We in the Independent Baptist world aren’t particularly more engrossed in it than other groups in Christianity, but engrossed we are. We give the all-too-common sin its own unique flavor. We drive relentlessly, as Jehu of old, to the ever elusive designation of success. In its pursuit, we lose things far more valuable.

In far too many cases, we (translation: pastors) get up every day and let success be the fuel that drives us in God’s work. We are a little hazy on how we will know if we reach the pinnacle of success, but on we go. We either: 1) decide we are farther along the road to success than others and become unbearably egotistical, or 2) decide we are behind and fall into the deepest depression. It is, in either case, the same problem. Yes, pastors are the worst offenders, but some, as it were, hitch their wagon to a star hoping to ride up into the glory of the star pastor.

It becomes the unsuspecting catalyst of abuse too. Success is never listed by our Lord as a spiritual commodity, so we are left to our own devices to procure it. That leaves us lonely in the unsteady hands of our flesh to guide our way. People become the pawns in our game. Pawns, as you know, are meant to be sacrificed to obtain the greater prizes. We start charging up the ladder stepping on fingers and even pushing a few right off. There is that greater goal you know. We push people to pull off a big day or have many bus riders or baptisms. Those things aren’t bad until we probe under the surface of why they are being pushed so intensely.

In many cases you don’t have to probe too deeply either. Whether the pastor is preaching in a guest pulpit, writing an article, or putting out a Facebook status or Tweet, he does the probing right before our eyes. There might a token “thank you” to those who worked hard, but the message comes through loud and clear–look at me and the great work I am doing for God. Can’t you see that I have got it! Success! The name of Jesus might get sprinkled here and there in the comments, but those comments really say you are looking at success and you should be impressed.

The abuse comes out in that the ones doing the work and those getting the credit are not the same person. Further, if success is not at the pastor’s perceived level of success he preaches hard sermons on their lack of dedication until they hit the altar and, more importantly, do better. Some get caught up in the same drama by seeking success in the pastor’s approval and praise. It comes, to the surprise of many, at quite a cost.

People are different. Some can go for years and never think it unnatural and stay relatively happy serving the pastor’s ego. Others go along for a while and then have their epiphany moment–they see what the pastor is really up to and they become angry and even cynical. Christ had nothing to do with the Christianity that got sucked into, but He gets collateral hard feelings from them. People leave churches for their own issues, and sometimes from their own backslidings, but some times from being used in an abusive, clandestine ego-building campaign of a pastor who lives for success.

I read recently where one speaking about some people’s mistrust of pastors said, “They have never known a pastor’s love; they have only known a pastor’s lust.” Perhaps if we want the sheep to act right we should quit treating them like mules.

I can’t say I’ve never been bitten by this bug. But I am learning. I think sometimes now of the pastor of 16 years of my growing up, Milburn White. With every passing day I see that he understood some things about pastoring that I need to see. He loved me. He never used me. He never wanted anything from me but what was best for me. Strangely enough, I had every possible job in the church I could and was involved with everything. He never rode me hard, but would always at just the right time say, I believe you can do _____. I was the type that often thought I most certainly could not. He believed in me. I was convinced that what I did was for Jesus because he NEVER made it about him. He made it about Jesus. When I saw him at my grandmother’s funeral a few years ago ( I had not seen him in many years before), he hobbled up and said he was so proud that I was serving the Lord, and that it made him so happy. Again, he made it not about himself. Yet he got what eludes many of us pastors–eternal and deserved gratitude and you can’t manufacture that. He made the ministry what God intended–to others and for Christ! Success? Would you say he had it? I pray when I am hobbling around someday someone will feel about me what I feel about him.

He had real success, something far removed from what I am writing against today. This success that so many go after today is insidious; it is treachery against the very idea of ministry; it is twisted service, misspent on me at the Master’s expense. The success-mad ministry of today is idolatry– the idolatry of self. I can’t serve Him and worship me.

Results come from many factors. Yes I should work hard and use up my very life in the ministry I have been given. (Don’t misunderstand me–I am not advocating a half-hearted approach to ministry). I should lead others to serve Him too. But never forget–Him, not me.

O Lord help me cast down the idol of success so that my blood, sweat, and tears, yes, my very life, may be given to You. Let me not live for the temporary applause of success here, but rather for the “Well done” from Christ’s lips.

Find all articles in the series here.

25 thoughts on “The Idolatry Of Success (Independent Baptist Truth Revolution #26)

  1. Sadly, I think a desire for success often leads to a desire for numbers. Because obviously your church isn’t growing if there are not more people. This ignores the potential growth that could be happening inside of the people already there.

    It also makes being a pastor in a small town hard. If your town only has a few thousand people then it will be hard to run 500. However, if you are a city of hundreds of thousands then it will be more likely that you can have a larger congregation. So from the outside people see the larger church as more successful rather then realizing the smaller church in the smaller town is doing better with what they have been given. Sort of like the story of the talents.

    In the congregation that desire for success leads to burnout. When a person works a full time job, has a family, owns a house, attends church, and works strenuously at ministries: eventually something has to give. I have seen to many marriages and families implode and then wondered why considering how much that person gave God. As I mature, I realize they were not giving it to God but rather trying to find success to earn favor with God.

  2. You have well described what I have experienced. We are so confused about what success really is. Success is not what other pastors around the nation say about me or what my pastor thinks of me or what the people in my community think of me. The focus is on achieving praise from people rather than Christ. Let us focus on His affirmation that is already given to us through justification, imputation, adoption and regeneration.

  3. “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” Joshua 1:8

    This message was given to Joshua directly from God, and being included in His Word to us, we can claim it. It’s interesting to me that He categorized the success as “good”. Must be there is “bad” success? The key to “good” and “bad” success, in my opinion, lies in your goals. Is your goal to have the largest church? Is your goal to have “the most spiritual” church? Is your goal to have beautiful facilities? Is your goal to be favored in your camp? Is your goal to be wealthy? Is your goal to be famous?

    I believe Jesus gave us His goal for us in Matthew 28:19-20 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” So, as “making disciples” is the goal of our success, the key to our success is “love”. Everything we do should be because we truly love the Lord and love His people.

    I’ve seen it work. It’s very rare, but its out there. It’s the kind of ministry my father had. In the last days of his life, my mother begged him to retire because of his health. Explaining to me why he wouldn’t, he wept, “I can’t imagine not pastoring these people.” He loved them, literally, til death. And every member of his congregation would tell you that they knew he loved them.

    I’m sorry I’ve written so much. I have so much more to say on this subject. It’s one very close to my heart. Thank you Pastor Jimmy for another good word.

  4. A lot of IFB people see soulwinning as the highest purpose of man. By nature, this is a goal that can never be completely accomplished since not every soul will be saved. Then, we are left with the option of depression, overwork to the point of exhaustion, or comparing ourselves to others so we don’t feel so bad about our failure. Some recognize the inherent difficulty and redefine this slightly, which can help a lot.

    Others see our relationship with God as being paramount which changes everything in this equation.

    • You are definitely right. If you are not winning enough people then you are not a good Christian. The problem is, what if you are horrible at talking one on one in a confrontational manner to strangers.

      Also, the emphasis ends up with just winning souls and never in the baptizing and teaching parts of the great commission. So there are much larger numbers of people that supposedly believe on God, then there are people that actually end up in church.

      Personally, I tend to invite people to church only. Each year our church has 3 big pushes, Easter, July 4th, and Christmas. I get a stack of invites and put them on doors in my neighborhood. If somebody is looking for a church or God then I hope that will draw them in. Of course I may never know that they were drawn to God because of me, but I don’t need self affirmation I suppose.

      • It’s all part of that legalism–if you are a big soul-winner, then you are a good Christian… I don’t know how many churches I’ve been in, where they were proclaiming the great number of salvations and baptisms, but despite the hundreds each year, they were the same size or nearly-so as they had been for years and years… no numerical growth at all for all that “soul-winning”…

      • I made the mistake of asking once… not only did I not get any real answer, but I also didn’t get support–not, mind you, that I’m saying my question had anything to do with it, but still… 🙂

        I do know one pastor who says it’s a numbers game. You have to go through all those numbers to get a tiny handful of folks who stay… but I can imagine what you are thinking about such a mindset. Yeah, maybe this ought to be a future post, as you suggested earlier. 🙂

  5. Pastor Regan,
    I think an article about “soul-winning” and repentance in the gospel would be interesting. I’m not sure you would want to go there (You don’t see me blogging about it). You would be kicking over a few sacred cows for sure!

  6. Pingback: It’s Time For An Independent Baptist Truth Revolution! | The Reagan Review

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