If the metric of ministry success was social media presence, book sales, or conference attendees, then Western evangelicalism is at the top of its game. Let’s be clear from the start. There is much good that comes from the church technologically engaging the world, publishing solid materials, and training fellow leaders and Christians; however, there are also dangers. Three come readily to mind: compromise, idolatry, and pseudo-success.
One need look no further than contemporary Christian music to see this all too clearly. As a major fan of several of Christian contemporary music’s pioneers, I was perplexed as to why artists like Phil Keaggy and Michael Card saw less and less radio play time and lost record deals. As one of the best guitarists of our time and one of the most theologically astute lyricists, they respectively serve as case studies of how beauty and depth can be of more value than sales. An industry that is modeled essentially like its secular counterpart raises concerns. Can artists produce theologically robust, musically diverse, and intellectually engaging music—even if it might not top the charts on Christian radio? Followers of Christ should seek a kingdom-based paradigm of advancement not focused on finances, but on Christ.
I must confess that I was a John Piper fanboy. Piper is a prominent Reformed pastor, author, and leader who publishes and speaks regularly. I didn’t go quite as far as having his picture as my desktop background, but I’ve seen it done. Emulating mannerisms, integrating quotes, giving away books, attending conferences, and rigidly following the pattern of ministry espoused by your own favorite author and speaker just might be an indication that your spiritual life is imbalanced. If we rely more upon what those in ministry say about what the Word of God teaches than we do our own wrestling with the text, then despite our affirmation of Scripture alone we actually live by Scripture plus favorite pastor. Followers of Christ should seek a Kingdom-based power of influence not focused on celebrity, but on Christ.
Revenue, television appearances, and conference plenary sessions are not ultimate measures of ministry success even though they can be easily measured. The more important metric is the proclamation of the Gospel, simple acts of kindness extended in love towards neighbors, and acting as light and salt in a world of darkness and decay. Modern conceptions of ministry success would deem Jesus’ ministry a failure. The pattern of John 6 indicates a counter-intuitive paradigm from what we’ve come to know and practice. The crowds flocked to Jesus the multiplier of loaves and fishes, but went away in droves from Jesus the preacher of eating flesh and drinking blood. All the church growth strategists would cringe at Jesus’ message and simplicity of method. I suspect Christ would cringe at ours. Followers of Christ should seek a kingdom-based pattern of ministry not focused on fame, but on Christ.
All this is quite ironic as evangelicalism at large is far from well-received in our culture. Yet all the factions have their own platforms, stages, and celebrities. Is there much to learn from the people of God who have studied, experienced God’s grace in ministry, and used their gifts for the building of the church?
But how much more from Christ, his word, and his Gospel!