Posts Tagged ‘Success’

The Nature of Failure and Ministry

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

Much is being written today on the nature of failure and ministry.

One author, after attending a church growth seminar, noted how the presentations were “flawless and the drive home crappy” because the polished and glitzy nature of those very presentations left him feeling guilty, insecure, and an utter failure.

Through bruising loss and set back upon set back, this pastor came to see that the goal should not be “success” but “faithfulness” – faithfulness to the mission regardless of outcome.  What occurred in turn for him was a rather profound transformation where the dominoes of (a) failure followed by rejection followed by shame were replaced with (b) failure that led to yielding that led to acceptance that led to an honoring.

Pastoring, in the end, at its best, is about helping us all to value the right things, to heed and hear God’s voice, to do the work God has given us to do.  First things first.  Remembering why.  Why we are here – a loving faithfulness to God and other. Calling us to faithfully do this thing called “church.”



Success and Health – Finding the Right Measures for A Church

Friday, November 14th, 2014

“There is a more descriptive and theologically accurate word than success in describing what we’re after, health.” (J.R. Briggs)

How a church measures itself forms, arguably, a subtle yet powerful message about what church and religion as a whole are to value.  Briggs’ quote above bores right into that insight.

Success in much of our culture becomes carefully aligned with quantitative results. Nothing wrong there.  I prefer to drive cars with dashboards.

And there is another measure maybe all the more important … health.  We prefer to be in a “healthy” car, driven in a healthy way, with healthy passengers.  Dashboards are great.  But they are never the point.

What are then the measures of health in a church?

In this denomination it comes to a rather simple premise.  Do we place love and humble service in the first place or do we reserve that spot for truth, for doctrine and their sidekicks … order, control, power, rightness.    In the New Church this is not a choice between polarities.  It is a decision of incarnation, a decision of living into - living into a set of priorities we feel will bring God’s light more fruitfully into the world.   Not an “either, or” but a “both, and.”  Again, dashboards … all for them. And there remains a bigger picture.

Restated, church bell towers needs bells, not just clocks. What is the “bell that rings?”  Is it a ringing that resonates with God’s movement around us?  Or is it just way to tell time?

Getting Ready for …..

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

Started working on this year’s Easter service.  We will be focusing on the Road to Emmaus.  What a beautiful story!  I won’t ruin it by outlining the plot but at its core it is about “Success” and “Failure” – our view vs. God’s.

God’s call appears to go well beyond what we can imagine it to be.  Our story about faith hems us in – both in good ways and bad.  And much of the Easter story is about those illusions being destroyed – the illusions of the disciples, to the skittish Roman Occupiers, to the sanctimonious Pharisees.   Is God an earthy King, concerned with GDP and American Exceptionalism?  Is He here to set people against one another in a class war?  Does He spend His time parsing out the legitimacy of particular forms of worship?   Actually God is far more free than any of those.

“Success” and “Failure” are often our own private and misguided way of framing our world.  Maybe Easter leaves us with the simple acknowledgement that even that illusion of an all too readily cleaved world, broken simply between “success” and “failure,” must die, our call being to “participate in the qualities of love and faith.”  God is THAT free – able to choose both “Success” and “Failure.”

Above all else, avoid success

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

Thomas Merton famously wrote, “”Be anything you want. Be madmen, drunks, and bastards of every shape and form. But at all costs avoid one thing: success.”

One must smile at the sentiment behind his words.  Success does truly dull us to so much, leaving us feeling smug and self assured in a way that cuts off the possibility of reflection and growth.  ”Success” at the spiritual journey appears far different however than more contemporary forms for success.

Spiritual “success” as I witness with those with whom I work pastorally often include …

  1. Surrender: The surrender is of a different ilk than the royal ego – the “I” deciding to surrender something.  Surrender is not chosen.  It is forced.  There is no “choice” involved because the individual ego is “defeated.”  All that is left is presence.  As one clergy friend, who had suffered painful loss said, “I know I am just along for the ride.”  That is surrender, said by her with a grin.
  2. An Irrefutable and Uncomfortable Call: This one brings a smile to my face – a large smile – because who wants THAT!  It is fun watching the contortions of “should I” or “shouldn’t I” when, if those questions are asked in a spiritual environment, the answer has already been given. It just remains to be lived into.
  3. Loneliness: The call is a solitary one, adding color to Jesus’s comments about “leaving family.”  Not many join that journey early.  Not many speak of it to others.   I hear often universal expressions of loneliness.
  4. Peaceful, Quiet Joy: And undergirding all the above is the Gospel – the “good news.”  The peaceful quiet joy may not always be present but I am left hearing it spoken of frequently.  ”I was sitting by water and I felt a peace I have never felt before” one courageous woman wrote.  Another spoke of her dedication to Taize services and contemplative prayer – and their “intoxicating” impact.  A third struggled to find any words, saying only that she somehow knew I “would understand.”  And I do!
And what can a Pastor offer?  Really just a simple “yes.”

What Is Success?

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

Critical question: What is Success?

It is interesting living in this culture because we frankly are a sports obsessed nation.  I would argue that much of our understanding of success gets tied back into athletics.  Athletics clearly can teach the right lessons and it can just as clearly teach the wrong lessons.

A few statistics that point to the challenges of equating athletic success in terms of “wins” and “losses” with success….

  1. Suicide Rate for Retired NFL Players is 6 times the national average
  2. Life expectancy for a NFL player who plays 4 years is 55 (CBS News)

Anecdotally, I hear from parents all the time – and I have experienced first hand – that the pressure continues to build in terms of athletic success and yet it appears very hard to step off the merry-go-round.  Spring seasons have try outs in the fall.  Travel teams are billed as the way to “keep up” and ensure that your son or daughter does not “fall behind.”  Every new piece of equipments is a “must have” in order to gain the competitive advantage.  (Underarmour touts that it’s new mouthpiece makes players faster and stronger.)   Parents spends thousands of dollars a year to secure a hoped for college scholarship worth a few thousand dollars.

I am not disparaging this from a  distance.  I get it.  With my own children, I participate in the above.  We have rarely said “no” to any of the above.  And we need to acknowledge there is a cost.

The cost is the immersion in a cultural based on the endlessly frenzied pursuit of athletic success versus the pursuit of a settled soul that can leverage the best of athletics without the accompanying obsession.

And I say the above with some trepidation, worried it will be misunderstood.  I LOVE sports.  I played numerous sports.  Captained my high school’s football and lacrosse teams and played the later through my 20′s.  I coached at Youth, Junior Varsity and Varsity levels.  I witnessed numerous young men and women find in organized sports a sense of purpose, a sense of discipline and and sense of direction via athletics.  It no doubt “saved” lives in a certain sense.   I watch football every weekend!

And I need to clearly sound a note of caution.

As a Junior in high school, I was privileged to be a second stringer on a  football team that was unimaginably successful.  Quarterbacked by our very own assistant pastor, Barry Halterman, the team gave up ONE touchdown the entire season.  The star of the team was one of the most violent individuals I knew.  I remember numerous events even in practice where teammates were mocked or pummeled.  On one drill for an onside’s kick I recovered the ball and went to the ground, as we were taught.  Standing over me, he snarled “Good thing you got down” – clearly a threat to the violent end to the play that would have awaited me if I stood up.  And I wasn’t a tackling dummy – I was a decent player.  I can only imagine what life was like for those lower on the athletic food chain.

What never sat right and still does not sit right is the constant chatter that “sports teach us about life.”  Because here was the rub – this violent individual was wildly successful, receiving numerous accolades.  He was the model.  He was who we were supposed to be.  It was not an approach to “life” I thought much of then and I certainly think less of it now.

This individual clearly mellowed with the years.  And sports may well have been integral to that evolution. And lets sound a note of caution.  Life is not athletics. Life is life.  Athletics can support life, can teach us lessons about life.  But to say sports is life?  Problem.  And note, we may not say that but we may live it.

What then is success?

Success is the settled soul.  Success is the undoing of fear.  Success is the deep understanding of the moment.  Success is the development through spiritual practice of a connection with God that guides us in every moment of our thinking. Success is freedom from the limitation of our ego-driven will.   Success is actual “surrender” to a purpose larger than ourselves which is the only “currency” we bring to the next life.

Success is defined then in relation to our true, best selves, our relation with others, and our relation with the God of our understanding.  Hopefully you can read the above list of definitions and with ease connect the dots about what athletics, when held in perspective, can teach.   Discipline, teamwork, sacrifice, resiliency are all embedded in the above.

When I met with Vaughn Hebron, one word got right to the core.  In talking about success, Vaughn said it is “relationship.”  He said that the transportable value that flowed from the NCAA to the NFL to his business is “relationship.”   A great point!

Christ consistently used relevant cultural metaphors to bring His points home.  It was a agrarian society and so He used numerous agrarian references.  In today’s culture, athletics functions the same way.  We can talk of spiritual topics using athletics as the matrix.

And what is it that I think Christ would remind us?  I love this line from Matthew, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” The settled soul – that is success.

If we cultivate that settled place, we can handle far more calmly the ups and downs that are inevitably part of life’s journey.  And, ironically, the settled place can allow us to really launch ourselves passionately into LIFE!   Hell, from our theological perspective, is constantly telling us “Anything but THIS …. Anything but NOW.”  And success is now – in its blessings and breaking.  Life based on an endless, frenzied pursuit of athletic success, simply won’t get there and will burn itself out.  A deeper flame can light the way, allowing us, to use Kipling’s words, “to meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same.”