It's not how many walk an aisle on Sunday in church that measures success, but how many walk with Jesus in the world everyday. For far too long the church has been afraid of the world and the affect it would have on her. In contrast, missional-minded people choose to have an affect on the world, not the other way around.
In a real sense, it is not our attendance charts, year-end reports and newsletters that tell of our success—but often it is the voice of those who are not even in the church...and may never darken her doorway. Sometimes the indicator of success sounds more like an insult.
Look at how Luke describes Paul and his band of missional disciples in Acts through the eyes of those steeped in the world system:
“…and when they had brought them to the chief magistrates, they said, 'These men are throwing our city into confusion,'” (Acts 16:20)
“…they began dragging Jason and some brethren before the city authorities, shouting, ‘These men who have upset the world have come here also; and Jason has welcomed them, and they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.’” (Acts 17:6-7)
“…You see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people, saying that gods made with hands are no gods at all.” (Acts 19:26)
These are entirely different measures of success for the church than what we usually tally. Granted, we Christians hardly need excuse to be more offensive in the world than we already are. That's not the point, but when we actually mobilize God's people into the thick of the market-place and world system the true enemy will not respond softly. When we keep people side-lined in comfy sanctuaries the devil is hardly threatened.
Lobbying congress for a more conservative political agenda is hardly what our true purpose is, yet that is what the world sees of us. Jesus never did that, even though the people He was serving would have preferred that he do so. Instead, He simply transformed people and empowered them to make a difference in their portion of the world. The people he really insulted and offended were the highly conservative religious leaders. Al and Deb Hirsch ask a profound couple questions in their book Untamed:
“What is it about the holiness of Jesus that caused “sinners” to flock to him like a magnet and yet manages to seriously antagonize the religious people? This question begs yet another, even more confronting question: why does our more churchy form of holiness seem to get it the other way around?”
Is it possible that we are too nice to the wrong people and too mean to to the right ones? The true Jesus is not a safe and sterile, milk toast wimp, conflicted by a mission and a passive kindness—which Hollywood typically portrays and Christians are comfortable believing in. He said things that offended others regularly. He never carried the party line. Jesus shocked his foes, his friends and his followers with equal doses. While it was the Romans that crucified Jesus it was the leaders of His own religious faith that instigated the persecution. That is fairly consistent with radical spiritual revolutionaries. Ask any soldier or radical change agent, “friendly fire” isn't so friendly.
I believe that an indicator of influential success is determined by who you anger and who you do not. I think this barometer does not indicate that the Church of America is doing very well at all with influential success. As a result we experience very little real persecution.
Perhaps we are so rarely truly persecuted because we so rarely threaten to shake things up out in the world where we are really needed. Jesus promised that if they persecuted Him they would also do so to us. Paul wrote that all who desire to live godly will be persecuted. Perhaps we are not persecuted because we are not being like Jesus and are not living the sort of godly lifestyles that would merit such. Why would Satan persecute a church that has voluntarily taken herself out of the action where she can actually do some good?
“I get it!” came a remark from a pastor in one of Reggie McNeal’s D.Min. classes.
“I have been thinking all along about changing the church. You are talking about changing the world!”
Reggie concludes, “He did get it!” [McNeal, Missional Renaissance, p. 65]
We have got to set our sights on something much bigger than a church with thousands in weekly attendance. Contrary to what you thought, changing the church is not the idea of this blog. That is a small goal not worth fulfilling. We need to change the world. Anything less is demeaning of Christ’s sacrifice.
“Can the church stop its puny, hack dreams of trying to ‘make a difference in the world’ and start dreaming God-sized dreams of making the world different?”
―Leonard Sweet [Soul Tsunami, p. 16]