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Measuring Success

How do you spell success? How do you go about determining if something or someone is successful? A common answer in our day would be, “Look at the numbers. They will reveal the true story. The numbers will make success or failure very clear.”

When this thinking comes into the church it is evident. For people key in on what I call the Five M’s: money, members, ministers, missionaries and ministries. If a church has the 5 Ms in ever-increasing numbers, it is declared a success. Its senior pastor will soon be on the speaking circuit. Then he will be pursued to write a book or two where he can reveal his secret for success. He may even end up putting together his own conference and DVDs.

All this leaves us with a question: Is this how we should measure success in the church? If it is, what do we do with Ezekiel and people like him today?

Ezekiel’s call comes in Chapters 1- 3. Right from the start God tells him that the people will not heed the message he is to proclaim to them. Note God’s words in Ezekiel 2:3-4, “Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that rebelled against me; they and their fathers have been in revolt against me to this very day. The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn.” Then God adds this in chapter 3:5-7, “You are not being sent to a people of obscure speech and difficult language, but to the house of Israel—not to many people of obscure speech and a difficult language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely if I had sent you to them, they would have listened to you. But the house of Israel is not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to me.”

Ezekiel did not have to go to language school. It wasn’t necessary for him to learn his way around in a new culture. He was called to his own people. Yet he faced a big challenge: His own people refused to listen to God’s message to them. In fact, they rebelled against it. Even though they were in exile because of their hard headedness (3:11) God warned him they would still not listen to his message through the prophet Ezekiel.

So what should Ezekiel do? Should he give up and say it’s no use going to them? Should he just walk away and not get involved? Essentially, God said, “You go and preach my word to them. Don’t you become like them but I will tell you what you can expect from them.” This is a paraphrase of what is recorded in 2:6-8.

God prepares Ezekiel in two ways. First, he gives him a message and tells him to eat it and he does (2:9-3:2). He says yes to God’s call and consumes the message himself. He takes it into his very being. It becomes a part of him. It sustains him and gives him strength and life.

Second, God prepares him for the mission in a very practical and yet humorous way. Notice 3:9, “I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint.” In other words, they think they are stubborn and hard headed. They haven’t seen anything yet. Wait until they meet you. You won’t have to be afraid of them. I am going to make you more stubborn than them. They won’t be able to discourage or defeat you.

Now let’s return to my original question but ask it of Ezekiel. How will Ezekiel or others be able to determine if Ezekiel is faithful to God’s call? We already know he can’t use the number of converts he will have or the amount of support he raises. He may have large numbers listening – at least at the beginning. But the 5 Ms won’t be much help here.

There seems to be only one way we can answer this question in this instance: Has Ezekiel been faithful to the task God gave him? God turns the measurement of success upside down here. In the kingdom of God success is spelled not with numbers but the word faithfulness.

Does this mean Christians shouldn’t be concerned about numbers? No, it doesn’t. Numbers can be helpful. They can show interest, support, and growth. However, they should never be the bottom line for the church. The bottom line for the church is this question: Have we, or have I, been faithful to God? This is what should drive us. Here is our motivation.

Let me close with a pointed question: Are you being faithful to God where he has placed you? In your work, school, neighborhood, sporting activities, hobbies, clubs, relaxation, entertainment, etc. are you faithfully serving God? Remember, all that we have received comes from God and “moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2, KJV).

Elder Jim Gordon