“As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Romans 8:36-37).
In many pastors' hearts there resides a simple heresy, a consumer driven error of great magnitude. It is the error that forces many good men out of the ministry, and leads many churches into the pursuit of big business methods and then, into open disobedience to God, and finally into theological and financial bankruptcy. This heresy is not overt, but covert. It does not wear its robes and crown when it comes. In a disguise of helpfulness it creeps in, first into the pastor's heart, then into his study, then into his sermons, then into the deacons' meeting, then into the church's advertising, and finally into the hearts and pocketbooks of the people in the pews.
A Great Heresy of the Last Days
What heresy is this that comes as an angel of light, but is actually the ambassador of Hell?
It is the heresy of Successism.
It is a heresy with axioms to be memorised and engrafted and implemented by every pastor who desires to be "successful." If you listen very closely you will hear the axioms of Successism taught at all the Leadership conferences that are hosted by "successful" Independent Baptist Churches. So what are the axioms of Successism?
THE AXIOMS OF SUCCESSISM
The Success of a Pastor and His Ministry...
- Can be reliably measured by man and is not dependent on God's approval alone.
- Is visible, spectacular, impressive, not hidden away in the heart to be seen only of God.
- Is recognised and rewarded in its own generation, and does not wait for its reward in Heaven.
- Is measured by the bottom line, whether in numbers, in finances, in size, in budgets, or in influence over others.
- Is characterised by continual growth, only ever increasing from strength to strength.
- There's no place for God working through decline, through weakness, through pruning, or through Him leading through the valley of the shadow of death.
- Thrives on expediency, declaring that, "Whatever needs to be changed, whatever needs to be done to get results has to be right."
- Believes that the ways and thoughts of men are of equal authority with the ways and thoughts of God.
- Seeks out its basic guiding precepts from "successful" businessmen, not from faithful Christians.
- Sees no need to seek counsel from godly men of a previous generation, but taps into the creativity and vitality of modern youth for guidance.
- Is the result of strong leadership, not of humble servanthood.
Ever so subtly, ever so cunningly, ever so entertainingly the axioms of Successism are sowed in the hearts of pastors. He that hath ears to hear.....
So What about When the Numbers Drop Off?
What do pastors do when Successism fails them, when the attendance declines, or the offerings are down, or persecution arises and the bottom line bottoms out?
Is there a Bible answer to explain the downturn? Yes, and it is called...
THE VICISSITUDES OF VICTORY
The work of God has always had its ups and downs. That is the history of the Faith and the message of Romans 8:18-39.
Vicissitudes have to do with change, interchange, alternation. They are a "passing from one state to another." When God would speak to the Christian church at Rome about the glorification of the believer He speaks to them about the vicissitudes of life. There will be sufferings in this present time, "For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body."
There are "the sufferings of this present time." There will be some who are "against us." Some do "lay thing(s) to the charge of God's elect." Enemies do "condemn" and would "separate us from the love of Christ." "Tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, and sword" are present in every generation. We are "killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Death, life, angels, principalities, powers, things present, things to come, height, depth, and many other creatures, would like to be able to separate us from the love of God.
But we are triumphant in Christ - "Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us."
Success has never had to do with size or numbers. It's not about headlines or bottom lines . It has always been about simple obedience to God. That is success!
The only mention of "success" in the Bible appears in Joshua 1:8-9 " This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest."
Did God have a plan for Joshua? Did he accomplish God's plan? Did he review the plan when he got to the end of his life? Of course, the answer is yes to all three questions. Three times he tells Israel of God's faithfulness to do what He says, "There failed not ought of any good thing which the LORD had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass. And, behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth: and ye know in all your hearts and in all your souls, that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the LORD your God spake concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof." Joshua 21:45; 23:14
THE MAN WHO SIMPLY OBEYS GOD IS SUCCESSFUL, NO MATTER WHAT THE RESULTS
That's how Noah and Abraham got their names included in Hebrews 11. (Isn't it a good thing that John Maxwell didn't write that chapter in the Bible?) Poor old Enoch wouldn't have gotten a look in, would he? In fact, I doubt very much if any of the men or women named in Hebrews 11 would ever have been invited to speak at a Leadership Conference in their day. Oh, we know now what their lives were worth, but they made very few headlines in the ancient world. You see, God never has measured success by how many people's noses you can count, or how many Mercedes are parked in front of the church. He measures success by how much we simply obey his Word.
- That's why the number of people in the ark with Noah was not the emphasis in Scripture. Rather, God inspired Moses to write, "Thus did Noah, according to all that God commanded him, so did he." Genesis 6:22. Noah simply obeyed and God wrote THAT down as the important fact of the chapter.
- That's why the size of the tiny remnant in the days of Jeremiah is not the focus of the books he wrote. The focus is on his obedience to God's word. That is the measure of success.
- That's why the Lord Jesus was not discouraged when the multitudes packed up and went home in John 6:66 "From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him." He knew they had not repented of their sins and that they had no heart to obey God.
- That's why the apostles in Acts never gave up when persecution arose and the numbers evaporated. They knew the fickleness of the crowds and perceived who had the goods and who didn't.
WHAT ABOUT THE VICISSITUDES OF THE JERUSALEM CHURCH?
I have yet to hear a sermon on the text in Luke 12:32 "Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."
Who wants to talk about a "little flock"? That's not a suitable subject for Dr. Flutesnoot to use to set the preacher boys on fire if he hopes to inspire them to misinterpret the Great Commission to mean "Go out and build a megachurch!!!"
I am waiting to hear someone preach on the vicissitudes of the Jerusalem church. Oh, we like to hear about how it exploded in size from 120 in the upper room to 3120 on the day of Pentecost, and we love to read about the 5000 who believed in Acts 4:4, and we cheer when we read James' words to Paul in Acts 21:20, "Thou seest how many thousands of Jews there are which believe...". But have you noticed how quiet it becomes when we read that "...at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles"
So the church of thousands, the very first "megachurch" saw its attendance drop from multitudes to a dozen or so, maybe twenty or thirty including the apostles' family members? Those are the vicissitudes of victory. Why do I say that? Because God says that "they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word." And the church at Antioch was founded (see Acts 11:19-21), and the first missionaries to the Gentiles were sent out, and the gospel message that was first spread by the converts at Pentecost, who were the New Testament Diaspora, that message was strengthened and multiplied.
When Paul visited Jerusalem for the last time in Acts 21 the crowds were large, but their boast was that they were all "zealous of the law." That may have looked good, but when Paul was arrested, there was no all-night prayer meeting called as there had been for Peter in chapter 12. And no one came to his defence. Is it any wonder then that it was only a dozen years or so until the Roman Titus sacked Jerusalem and expelled all the Jews? Say, have you ever wondered why God allowed Jerusalem to be destroyed? Was it because the church had lost its saltiness in their compromise with Judaism? Was it because the light of the gospel of the grace of God was finally eclipsed by the darkness of a works-for-salvation-gospel? The apostles coped with the Vicissitudes of the ministry because they understood that successism is worldly and carnal and boastful. And it depends on the wisdom of men. Simple obedience is so much better than successism. That's where we find victory in Christ!!!
Bro. Bob Kirkland is a dear friend who pastors in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada (Visit Church Website Here).
We have corresponded for years. I finally had the opportunity to meet him last year and spoke at Fairhavens Baptist Church, where he pastors. It is a small church, but has an enormous outreach through his radio ministry, through the newsletter he sends out weekly, and through his audio sermons that go around the world. Bro. Kirkland pointed out to his readers a few years ago that over 90% of the work of God done in Canada is done through little churches. Very little is actually done for Christ through the so called "megachurches." Oh, they have the attention of the media and they generate a lot of noise, but they are so often characterised by ego, error, and emotion, by excess and extortion so that in many cases Big is not Good, but Bad. Sadly, they are altogether too often BIG BAD BAPTISTS! It doesn't have to be that way, but "Successism Pollutes" and "Power Corrupts." When I see Rev. Ambitious awarded a doctorate, and then change his name to Dr. Arrived and then become the keynote speaker at Dr. Superific's conference every year, then I run for cover. Very soon the wheels fall off, and his juggernaut crashes and burns. I've seen too many admiring pastors hurt from falling debris. You'll recognise them by their singed eyebrows.
It has always been possible that God might choose to bless simple obedience and enlarge its results greatly, but it is a wise pastor who does not set his heart on size, instead of setting his heart on simple obedience to God, leaving the results to God. God knows how much chaff is mixed with the wheat.
Somehow, somewhere, sometime, somebody set Independent Baptists on the wrong track. It was at least as far back as J. Frank Norris, possibly as far back as Charles Finney. One of the villains of church history brought successism into our churches and colleges and changed the Great Commission into a pursuit for bigness and busyness, rather than for the preaching of the gospel worldwide. You just can't spell "Obedience" by preaching "S-U-C-C-E-S-S" !!!!!!
We are faced, most of us, with the choice, will I be a pastor who strives to build a megachurch, so I can be seen to be a success? Or will I be the contented pastor of a "micro-church" with a mega-outreach of the gospel, and leave all the rewards and recognition till the Judgment Seat of Christ?
Then, and not till then, will we know what the results really are.
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