Measuring $ucce$$

Mine’s BIGGER!

Great answer, but what’s the question?  Are we talking about wives or trucks?  (Or something else???)

Well, if you read here much, you surely know I am NOT talking about those things.  I am talking about ministry – service to God.  And as I watch one of my college-age children begin a career path in ministry, I am getting a much more mature view of what his training involves and what it aims him at (of what mine involved and what it aimed at).  And like so much else involved with church and ministry today, I am skeptical.  Something is amiss here, and it stinks of idolatry.

Are you aware, dear reader, that King Herod The Great, the king of the Jews when Jesus was born, started a construction project to rival all others?  A construction project that lasted over 70 years!  And the monument he was building was Jerusalem’s Temple – aka The HOUSE of God.  Herod would not live to see it completed.  However Jesus of Nazareth, who was born in Bethlehem (it’s complicated, I know, but try to keep up) was born very early on in the construction process.  He was crucified well before its completion.  But when it was finished, it was one of the great Wonders of the World and rivaled even Rome’s glory!  And just to give you a taste, let me point out that some modern scholars have chosen to call Ancient Jerusalem not a city, but a temple with a small village around it!

Yeah.  That’s HUGE!

If you thought Solomon’s temple was big… sorry to tell you, but Herod’s was bigger!

Let me round out the picture just a bit more, for I suspect many of my readers just are not really equipped with sufficient knowledge of this monstrosity to truly appreciate it’s significance as a looming backdrop to the canonical gospel stage upon which this Jesus plays in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  During Jesus’s whole life (“earthly Jesus” as some of us call him), Jerusalem would have effectively been an orange barrel city.  Digging, dirt moving, stone-stacking, men-at-work, hard-hat-required zoning at every turn.  Kinda like driving through Albuquerque, New Mexico any time in the last 40 years!  But this is, in a sense, the place of worship when Jesus was doing his “earthly ministry”.  It was big and massive AND it took a loooooooong time to complete!

The temple always was meant to be the place where heaven and earth met.  God would live there (at least that was the idea).  But if you had to choose between that monumental stone structure or the young, donkey-riding prophet who throws tables inside it, which one would you say was God’s real dwelling place?  (John 1:14 anyone?)

Perhaps you recall that scene when the disciples follow Jesus out of the temple district and pause on the Mount of Olives to look back at the construction project.  One of the disciples points out the size of the stones being moved in to place (Mark 13; Matt. 24; Luke 21).  Suddenly the construction site is starting to take shape.  All those taxes Herod raised for all those years are finally starting to grip the imagination of Jews who patriotically love God and country!  And what does Jesus say about those stones?  Does he say, “Yeah, God is really blessing Herod’s ministry with fantastic success!”?

No.  He doesn’t.  And instead of blessing that construction site, God sends his young prophet to die on a cross outside the city.

Maybe when Jesus says not one stone atop another he is just being jealous!  But if you are a New Testament Christian believer, that is not an option you entertain.

Maybe for him SIZE doesn’t matter.

Or… Maybe smaller is better with Jesus?

How big is your heart?  That is the Christian temple after all… No?

Let’s consider this a bit more critically.  Did I say these passages of Scripture teach us how to do ministry – the ins-n-outs of service pleasing to God?  No.  I am not claiming that.  They do, however, make a good springboard for our discussion though.  After all, I did mention idolatry, yet no one ever accused Herod of that!  Yet, there is no doubt that money, sex, and power characterized Herod and his kingship/dom.  As N.T. Wright demonstrates, these ancient Roman gods are alive and well in America today too.*  And if they could so severely infiltrate the king of the Jews and his (supposed) best efforts at leading and serving God’s people in Jesus’ day, who’s to say they aren’t our problem now too?  And anyway, we certainly see quite clearly the difference between BIG SUCCESS and small failure.

And here’s the rub… neither in my own training for ministry, nor that of one of my kids in school training now too, do I find the slightest concern regarding this problem, but I sure do see plenty of collusion both there in the academy as well as in the field.

When I was young “success” used to be measured in numbers of souls saved.  You could have a revival if you were good at packing the house.  And if you were successful, you could get an appointment at a big church, if not – a small one.  Conversely, if you started a church that grew large (or pastored a small one into strong numerical growth) you would be considered a success.  And this idea is not entirely gone and forgotten now, but the money and influence that go with those numbers is where the real measure of $ucce$$ is now.

I especially see this in the 501c3 ministries.  Don’t be fooled by the label “non-profit”.  There is a LOT of ca$h to be made out there with a “non-profit” mini$try.  And as the 501c3 ministries don’t really need to claim numbers of souls saved to be a mark of success, there is no way around claiming ever-growing budgets that reach into the million$!  And, anyway, wouldn’t you rather give your money to an organization that is known for, and has a track record of, handling large $um$?  The health-n-wealth gospel preachers on your TV have nothing on these ministries!  As one of my fellow street ministers asked me two years ago: When did HOMELESS MINISTRY BECOME A BU$INE$$???

The church I attend used to be located, not too many years ago, in a more central part of town (not exactly poor, but certainly not the glitz-n-glam), and the building was a bit frumpy and “dated”.  But we put together a fundraising campaign and joined the white-flight district with a HUGE and ornate monument to the peasant Jew crucified in the backwater part of someone else’s empire!  And now that church is considered a $ucce$$ of the first order!  Not exactly the achievement of coronation by crucifixion… No.  A bit more respectable (with Roman-style respectability) than that.

College is all about training successful professionals.  And I watch my boy taking ministry classes to train him (among other things) to write a $ucce$$ful resume, to dre$$ for $ucce$$, to $trategize proper time management, and so forth – you know, just the kind of stuff God sent Moses into the deserts of Midian to learn before he started his ministry, or like he sent young David to learn in the sheep fields, or just like Jesus taught the twelve before he sent them out two by two.  What counted as success in each of those examples?

Wait… WHAT?

Agent X, Are you saying we should not train budding pastors of 19-21 years old to manage their time properly?

Yeah… I am saying that.  For Jesus, time management in ministry seems to have involved arriving a bit late to heal Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:35) or Lazarus (John 11:32), but showing up in time to party at all the major weddings and festivals! (Matt. 11:19/Luke 7:34).  Who is really served by proper time management, as it’s taught in “ministry” courses at the Christian university?  Is it not the business interests of church buildings and colleges?  I know when I was in college, the same exact school that taught me that when I give I should not let my right hand know what my left hand is doing (Matt. 6:3) turned around the day after graduation and tried to sell me a brick in the memorial wall with my name on it for only $100!  And for $1000, I could get my name on a seat in the coliseum.

Really???  I got that Christian education for that?  Yeah.  I did, it seems.  And as I recall, I loved my Bible classes and hated my ministry classes.  And hey, while I am at it, will someone please tell Dave Ramsey that Jesus teaches us to FORGIVE debt, and that if and when our pastors, churches, and 501c3 ministry representatives ever finally get that message across to God’s creation, THERE WON’T BE ANY DEBT ANYMORE!  IT’S CALLED JUBILEE!!!

And this Jesus we serve, if we are in fact serving him, says not one stone will be left upon another…  All this aiming big at success and so on is really not found on his lips or in his example.  Look again!  The ministry God is blessing is probably NOT a huge temple-construction project; it’s a young prophet dying on a Roman cross!  Perhaps we could find another measuring stick for ministry success.  Try APOCALYPTIC!

 

 

*  Wright, N. T. (1994). Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

 

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9 comments

  1. Pastor Randy · January 19

    Ah, yes, $ucce$$ is measured by the wrong matrix. It should be measured by what have we done for the least, the last and the lost. Great thoughts!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. LoiterLarry · January 19

    Jesus the drunk going to parties and crashing weddings! God help you! Would you really teach that as time management curriculum in Bible school?

    Nice!

    You had me thinking of that old story about the seminary students who were assigned to preach a sermon on the Good Samaritan and given a date, time, and place to deliver it. The seminary professor arranged for each student to encounter a person in distress as they approached the appointed time and place. If the student stopped to help, he would miss his/her chance to preach their sermon and risk flunking the course. But the dilemma was by design. And in the end, the prof gave passing grades to those students who stopped to help and flunked those who showed up to preach!

    Whether that story has any historical validity or not, it still holds within it the irony that with only this one small exception, the seminary (university, college or what-have-you) otherwise trains those same pastors for exactly the agenda this test calls to account. They aren’t training ministers to be late, drunk, show up poorly dressed or any such like, and thus not training them to take up a cross and follow Jesus.

    Good point. Long post, but good point.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. John Lewis · January 21

    You’re saying a lot here brother. Yes, 501C(3). The great non profits of the world right. I’m not sure it’s the same designation as our great universities….but the same principle goes. Smarmy professing profiting quite nicely in their work for a “non-profit” university. And certainly in the ministry world, there are plenty of examples of very profitable non profit ministries, aren’t there??

    As for Herod’s temple…and every temple, did God ever ask for a temple. I know that somewhere he specifically told David that He did not need or want a temple, but since you are going to do it anyway, go ahead. I’m not looking it up right now, but I know that’s the gist of what God told David.

    And aren’t we all his temple now, individually and collectively as the both of Christ? Really not trying to say anything real deep here, just ruminating.

    And really…does Dave Ramsey annoy you that much? His teachings really have helped at least thousands of families change their futures often for the glory of God. And he is very clear in all that he teaches that the whole point in getting and staying out of debt is with a goal of being able to be outrageously generous in giving to others. And as you mock him, bear this in mind – it’s awfully hard to start moving in the direction of serving God when someone is carrying a mountain of debt behind them. As Ramsey points out routinely, the borrower IS enslaved to the lender. The more people getting out of debt, the more freedom there is for them to be able live and survive off of that “prophets wage”. And yes, Ramsey is quite profitable in his enterprises…but then again, I don’t believe he hides behind that 501c(3) status does. He’s out front and open in his profitability. And he seems to at least be doing it in a way to give glory to the God who provides his abundance.

    And yes Jesus teaches us to FORGIVE debt. But this really begs the question as to your cheap shot at Dave Ramsey. Dave is not working with Citibank, Capitol one, Amex, etc on how to be sure they get to collect every penny. He works and teaches people to pay off the debts that owe. He’s not teaching anyone to go out lending to others and charge usurious interest. He’s teaching and equipping people to avoid that, and he also teaches people NOT to loan money to friends and family. He teaches that if you have a friend or family with a need, and you are equipped to meet that need, and you are led to meet that need, to simply GIVE that person the money without expecting yo be repaid. Because – lending money between friends and family, expecting to be repaid, destroys relationships. And, RELATIONSHIPS are undeniably a large part of what Jesus taught. Relationship with Him, with God the Father, with our fellow believers, and the world around us.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ryan · January 21

    Just getting the chance to read this post. It was a post true to prophetic form. As usual, you make us think.

    I also wonder about the relevance of Herod’s temple being completed only 7 years before it was destroyed? Similar to civilizations being destroyed once they feel fat wealthy and secure. Shouldn’t this be a warning to our human contrived building projects? Or as another prophet once said, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”

    A handful of times over the years I have given some thought to “joining the ministry” and even went to Dallas Theological Seminary for a prospective student orientation day. However, the conclusion I reached was that I should follow the example of Jesus of whom it was said, ” How is it that this man has learning, when He has never studied?” and of Peter and John, “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished.” Perhaps there is more credibility for those who are professional ministers, but I think there is more testimony from those who are unprofessional. A lot of people will follow the script when getting paid for it, but how many will do the same exclusively from conviction? This isn’t meant as a condemnation to formal biblical training, but what appears to me as the questionable motivation of many people that arise from the ranks and are lauded as “the true faithful” but who pocket $600K annually (Franklin Graham, or a hundred other names), or become national best sellers on selling christian business (Dave Ramsey, or a hundred other name).

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Agent X · January 21

    Thanx so much for the feedback! It is highly valued here. I deeply appreciate your having read here and taken the time to think on things and respond! It is a conversation that way… a discussion. And your opinions are valued here. Thanx.

    I can see that we have disagreement at some points. “Disagreement”… the word feels heavy. And perhaps the heaviness is accurate, but I also sense that my discussion partners WANT very much to be in agreement. This feels dangerous to disagree. I think it is too easy for us to gloss over the sticky points way too often. There is an ugly arrogance that goes with the idea that I am right and you are wrong. There is a ridiculous parody of harmony if we simply roll with it unchallenged. But you have chosen to RISK disharmony! I appreciate that. It is entirely possible that my thinking and this post are just waaaaaaay off base and needs to be challenged. I merely ask that it be respectful.

    Let me say this at root: When I published this post, I had just recently observed some of the work my kid was doing for his class in school. He is a ministry student now, and the establishment folk are preparing him for their idea of ministry. Seeing his work particularly as regards shaping time management triggered my thoughts. However, I OFTEN think about how ridiculous this Prophetic Ministry is. What does it accomplish? Really? I watch so many of my former classmates go on to fantastic ministries in various fields – only some of which is church. Nearly all of them earn a living off the ministry, and most of them earn a lot of money and/or prestige too.

    What do you think it is like being a prophet of the streets in a “Christian” town that regularly turns the homeless out to the night while watching so many of your former classmates and friends make a splash, get PhDs, write books, pastor churches, lead law firms, and raise millions of dollars for their ministries? Do you think I might be a bit jealous??? A bit envious??? How could I not???

    Well, if you think I am a liar, then I guess you can chalk it up to jealousy. But I will tell you that is not the case. I am a bit cynical, I think, but not jealous. I risk a bit of bitterness, but not jealous. I really don’t want what those ministers have. I want God’s Kingdom Come ON EARTH LIKE it is in heaven.

    I too, could have gone on for my PhD. I think of the two friends I helped get their coursework done so they could go on and get theirs! I guess I do feel a small bit of ALMOST jealousy of them when I think one or two might get to attend an SBL conference and actually debate some fine points of theology with N.T. Wright. I have a couple questions for him he has not answered to my satisfaction too. And I contacted Wright once to see if he might have an internship that I could apply for, but he did not. But that would be my jealousy, IF I really were jealous.

    But when I was in school, my favorite prof on a couple of occasions quipped that “Prophetic Ministry” had become FASHIONABLE a time or two over the years and that he had seen students self style themselves as prophets. But he put it to us that if we wanted to be prophets, we must be willing to earn a prophet’s wage. I made up my mind right then, that I did not want to be a prophet. And it was years later before I embraced the label. I wont go through all that now… but I took the prof’s word seriously, and I have turned my back on the Pastor’s Wage… so jealousy at that level is really off the table for me.

    Okay.. So, back to why I posted… I saw my kid formulating a time-management project and it really hit me how unbiblical it was, and I asked who does that really serve? And immediately I plugged that into the picture I have now painted above. BIG MINISTRY! We serve a BIG GOD who should be served with BIG MINISTRY. This seems like a no brainer. It should be professional, timely, scholarly, and make a lot of money.

    The money part is only one part, but it is probably the BIG part. It goes into making BIG MINISTRY alright. And it has become the default yardstick of success, as I see it. It looms just below the surface, but it isn’t really off the radar at all. Only denial can obscure it’s presence. But really the post is about BIGNESS. And it has other parts to it too. But money seems to infect the other parts as well. I mean, if you are going to BE professional, you really have to look the part, and that dictates that you SPEND MONEY on some professional clothes at least!

    So really, I am calling the bluff on the measuring stick of success. I went to Bible history and the Bible to do this. Jesus RIVALS Herod’s Temple. There is a new temple in town, and this town aint big enough for the both of them! But one is this HUGE monstrosity desperately trying NOT TO BE A PARODY and the other one is so small and humble but stubbornly REAL, AUTHENTIC, and even killing it does not work! We serve the God that does THAT!!!

    And I also mentioned IDOLATRY. Who is really being served by all this BIGNESS, if not God? Well, it doesn’t take a detective to come up with Mammon, Aphrodite, and Mars (aka Money, Sex, and Power). And calling the bluff on idolatry is never a matter of compromising so we can all get along and hopefully avoid disagreement. We should NEVER collude with idols! That makes God JEALOUS! And He can be quite violent about it.

    This is where it all gets quite tricky dicky. Am I against 501c3? Well???

    Agent X actually works WITH ministries that are 501c3 organizations quite frequently. Some of those ministers are my friends and definitely my colleagues. I work with them, I pray with them, I pray for them, I appreciate MUCH of the work they do. I think these people love God and love God’s people… So what is wrong???

    The problem comes into the light when I ask: Why a 501c3 INSTEAD of the church? Arent these people and their organizations doing church work? Where is the church, then?

    And I see the “body of Christ” is somehow MIA and favor is given to the 501c3. How did that happen? Is that of God? And in every instance I know of, the 501c3, despite all the GOOD work they actually manage to do sometimes, takes the place of the church for one of two reasons (if not both): Either the church could not agree to do the work OR there was MONEY to be made(raised) by this other method. It seems that the answer to the questions ALWAYS boils down to one or both of those things. And WHY would Christian people abandon the Body of Christ (God’s answer to ALL the world’s problems) for a different answer???

    This smells of idolatry.

    Now this begs questions of why I would ever work with, pray with/for the ministers engaged in 501c3 at all!

    Oh how I wish you dear readers had asked that! Then I would know you are very near the heart of this discussion. You would finally pin me down on the thing I cannot answer. But you didn’t, and you don’t. So… I am off that hook, it seems.

    But, back to the main trail here, my real point is not to hound the 501c3’s to death any more than the Christian university. Hey, I loved my school! I wish all my friends and family had gone there. I LOVED the place. The BEST years of my life were spent in those classrooms getting Bible lectures from men and women who had devoted their lives to studying Jesus and the Bible! We opened up massive mysteries and explored them together every day! I spent night after night in the library til they ran me off. My classmates and I would meet after midnight and discuss the things we were thinking and learning til almost dawn! Yes. I LOVED the place.

    But I was stunned when they asked me for a donation and offered to put my name on the brick! And suddenly an irony came quite clear into view. That building where I studied sooooo much Bible, including discussions of Matt. 6:3 had the names of MAJOR donors plastered on the side, and even the classrooms themselves had plaques with names of donors placed prominently at the entrances. And here I was one day out of school wishing I could go back and raise my hand in one of those lectures. I suddenly had a question that I don’t think the institution was ready to handle. And I am quite sure that even if I had the chance to ask it, the institution would blow me off for my trouble.

    Oh, yeah, and I really did hate those ministry classes. This was sorta the APPLICATION part of the experience. And it was all directed at bigger and better, more timely and money-making. Ethical, of course. We weren’t talking about running sweatshops, in fact we had groups on campus raising awareness about sweatshops, fair trade coffee, and even saving whales… All that was ethics, but not really biblical. And I suddenly was able to admit to myself that I actually hated the ministry classes. I loved the Bible classes, even the sociology and other things but not the ministry classes. I had specifically majored in TEXT as much as possible. And was grateful for every ounce of it.

    And I recall a couple of prof’s lamenting that the students were borrowing too much. I was one of them. I borrowed way to heavily for my education that now makes me absolutely NO MONEY. In fact my education has earned me less that $2000 ever!

    Perhaps, I am just bitter. But then I do remember those prof’s kicking that around a time or two. Why did they not take a stand???

    Why do you think they didn’t?

    Right. They would have lost their jobs! They could plainly see with far more maturity than I had where that was going. They made token mention of it, but continued on piling debt on MINISTERS anyway! And those ministers graduated, looked around, and found quickly that there is very little chance of making MONEY in ministry – at least in the usual, conventional sense. This aint the 1950’s America where everyone goes to church and tithes. This is post-Christian America (and I would argue it never was Christian really). You gotta make tents!

    And so with these things in mind, as I watch my kid try to navigate this stuff (btw, it is really sad, I tried for all I was worth to get him into my old school but he could not afford it. He is making every effort to limit his debt, and my old school is waaaaay to expensive for that!) And I see that the problem is far more systemic than one guy can fix. Idolatry pervades! And I happen to believe in a BIG God who sends a humble prophet into that GRAND HOUSE and drives all the money changers out with a whip! And THEN they KILL him for it! BUT he wont STAY DEAD! And I WONDER AT THAT!!!

    As for cheap shot at Dave Ramsey… well, he would have me WORK HARD serving this system. (Sounds “Legalistic” to me… WORKS and so forth to pay off a false God – MAMMON). Where does Jesus ever teach that? Insofar as Ramsey wants us to be charitable, I say: YAY! Good for him! On that point he is not far from the Kingdom of God! But he does NOTHING to advance the JUBILEE that I have seen. On the contrary, he tells us to do what Nazi Germany told the Jews… Work with make you free! But Jesus said (and I quote), “Forgive the debt”… and THAT… IF we really did it… would turn the whole world upside down! EVERYTHING would change.

    And well, if I am dedicated to earning a prophet’s wage, I think I want to see THAT happen IN THIS WORLD where I REALLY LIVE.

    But of course, that is a lot of jabbering. And perhaps I am just really deluded. Maybe some of it has merit, but I don’t seem to have convinced tooooo many others of that yet.

    But I really do appreciate your sharing here. This is very near the heart of why I have a blog at all. And I submit this response for your perusal. Shoot holes in it. I invite further consideration.

    Thanx

    X

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ryan · January 21

    You are one of a kind. Love you brother

    Liked by 1 person

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