I wonder how one might best define "success" in the context of pastoral vocation. Certainly numbers are meaningful - I'm an engineer for crying out loud, I can't ignore numbers. One might argue that the number of folks in the pews each week is a good indicator of the "success" of the church or of the pastor. Each one of those numbers is an individual soul that is precious to God and capable of joining God's mission in that place with their own unique gifts. They all matter, and the more that are present, the more potential there is for the Kingdom of God(whatever that means). If attendance/participation declines or increases precipitously, it can be an indication of the health of the congregation or of the pastor's "performance." But this is not an objective science experiment, carefully controlled and easily measured. Attendance is but one indicator, one piece of data. Taken alone, it misses much more information than it provides. Statistics do not lie. Interpreters of statistics do, however, though it's usually unintentional. Hmm...kind of like scripture - the error isn't so much in the data(scripture), but in the interpretation.
How do you measure spiritual growth and formation? If you make a deep difference in the lives of a few people, is that as important as growing in number? We can look to Joel Osteen if we want to find a pastor who is really good at growing the numbers of his church. I have stepped in puddles after a soft rainfall that are deeper than Osteen, but hey, he fills up that arena every week. Ok, I'm done bashing him, but the point remains - if you tell people what they want to hear and make them feel good, you can accumulate a sizable following, even if your message is completely vapid. Are you then a "success?" What really matters? And when I say that, what I mean is, "What really matters to God Almighty, creator of heaven and earth?"
Are our churches seeking to please God? Or are we seeking to look good - to ourselves, to our community, to our denomination? Do we sing, "they'll know we are Christians by our love?" Or is it more like, "they'll know we are an imporant church by our numbers?" Why do we show up every week? To build up our empire?
We are a few weeks in to our contemporary Sunday night service. It has been fun, and as a traditional worship lover, I am struck by how much I respond to the more emotionally charged praise music. I find that it moves me and that I need to be moved that way in worship. These children we pick up and bring in add a lot to the experience too. This past Sunday, we had a significantly smaller number in the evening than in previous weeks, but Sunday morning attendance was a little higher than usual. It's interesting that in my mind, I separate attendance in terms of age - the kids we bring in are one component, and the "adults"/others are a second one. Like they aren't equal somehow. I am 100% positive that others think about this in the same way - an us/them mentality, even if there's no conscious animosity toward "them." Anyhow, the low attendance didn't go unnoticed, and was a point of concern for at least one person. It seems that folks are just waiting for something to worry about. This same person told the pastor he was "praying for her success" here. I appreciate the sentiment, but I wonder how this person would define success. I suspect it is a moving target, but mostly related to numbers. The numbers are going to be evaluated on a week-by-week basis.
Whose success should we pray for and work for? I don't think it's the pastor's. Maybe it's the stuff I associate with the word that bugs me so much. The idea that we can all just work really hard and pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and bless the whole world by our obviously awesome relationship with God that allows us to be the agents of change and get lots of credit with everyone including God in the process. Humbly, of course. What a steaming load of garbage. IT IS GOD WHO SAVES, NOT US. Who do we think we are, anyway? Of course we have responsibility to work for the kingdom of God, which involves doing things. But we have to acknowledge our own sin, our own need for salvation, even our own need to confess this and share it with others. And we can't get so obsessed with measuring our performance that we ignore what's really important. God will take care of the numbers.