Anyone who commits time to an endeavor should have a measure of success. If you’ve heard the acronym SMART goals, you know what I’m talking about. The “M” stands for measurable. If you have no way to determine a goal is being met, what’s the point of having one? With that in mind, many people have different rods for measuring success in ministry. Unlike a business – success in ministry is not cut-and-dry. Whenever you’re relying on the Holy Spirit, there will be strong variables. With that in mind, I came across a verse in Acts which can serve as one template for a successful church ministry.
“And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” Acts 6:7 – ESV
A Quick Background
The apostles were doing their thing preaching the word and people were being added to their number daily. Some Hellenists complained about their lacking service to widows. The apostles knew they needed to stay devoted to prayer and to the ministry of the word, so they prayerfully picked out seven people to take on the task. After they prayed and laid hands on the seven people they chose, we find the result (Acts 6:7). I see three markers of success in the verse, but let’s look at cause and effect.
The apostles were focusing on their own mission, but they were still open to the needs of others. After hearing the need, they were humble enough to know they weren’t the solution. Instead of going beyond their means – they chose other, probably more qualified, individuals to meet the need. The apostles had a clear vision of their role and refused to stray from it. The seven chosen were humble enough to meet the need. The disciples were working as a body (1 Cor. 12:12).
I see three different things happening as a result of their faithfulness:
The word of God continued to increase.
When a church is doing what it’s meant for, God’s truth should permeate its people. The disciples in the church should be eating the Bible for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Not literally – but it should be a constant in their lives. In a healthy church, people have a rhythm of absorbing God’s word. Some will read, some will study, some will listen, some will memorize, but all will receive and be changed by God’s word. In the words of my pastor, Jordan Hansen, they will read it and do what it means.
The number of disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem.
In a successful, local church, disciples will be made. The church is not meant to make converts, but is meant to make disciples. Life change, by the way, is a good Litmus test for determining the difference between a convert and a disciple.
Why Jerusalem? Jerusalem was the home base. Mission work is awesome. In fact, I love it so much, my family is committing a couple years to planting a church in Belgium. That being said, disciple-making needs to start at home. Without a strong foundation of believers, mission work would be nearly impossible. In successful churches, the number of disciples being made locally will multiply greatly.
A great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
This one puzzled me. At first I thought it was a repeat of more disciples being made, but there’s something distinct to this last marker of success. After studying, I would say, here in lies the rub. Who were the priests? If you look at who they were in the New Testament, oftentimes, they were legalistic (more concerned with works, than the heart). In one example, after Jesus healed a leper, he told the man to go show a priest so it would be a testimony to him (Matt. 8:4). These guys were so obedient to works, but did not have any obedience to faith. These were “good” people.
Successful churches will reach people who consider themselves already good or holy enough. Instead of working hard at following rules, they will believe Jesus already gave them His righteousness. Jesus was perfect, so they don’t have to be. They will be free to be in relationship with Him without feeling they need to earn salvation. Legalists and Pharisees will be saved from their religion of self and will be set free by the blood of Jesus. Oftentimes, these types are considered the hardest to reach. It makes sense: how do people who think they’re saved, get saved? I don’t know. But the Holy Spirit does. And in successful churches – this miracle will be facilitated a great number of times.
Wrapping it up.
The Bible has a lot of these type of verses; where you can run with it to find out how to measure success. As far as what makes a church successful, this is not an exhaustive list. I do hope Christians will pray into this measure of success for all churches. Pray the word of God increases, the number of disciples multiplies locally, and the religious are saved.