Today we continue our series of BLOG posts reflecting on the question, "Do You Really Need MORE?"
Those of us who live in the West are born into a world dominated by the religion of capitalism. From our early years, we hear it preaching its gospel of success. "Growth is good!" "Bigger is better!" "MORE is the goal of life!" To be fair, capitalism does a lot of good in the world but unquestioned it can develop a sinister dark side. We do ourselves a favour when we question its assumptions. Let's not embrace the status quo so easily and so uncritically.
Let's be honest, there is a certain appeal to climbing the ladder of success. I was recruited to the pursuit of achievement from an early age, based on my upbringing and culture. I'm also an achiever by nature and I love setting goals, accomplishing things, and completing tasks and projects. There is a positive side to all of this but there is also a cost. When is enough enough? Is this all there is to life? At some stage you have to ask whether your ladder of success is leaning against the right wall. After all, success always creates more pressure and more work. The god of success is never satisfied and the admiration of the crowd quickly fades. Could a shift from success to significance be really what our heart longs for? What truly gives life meaning? What brings joy and is life-giving?
Check out my review of The Essentialist: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.
Popular business thinker and author Jim Collins, after investing extensive research into studying businesses and companies that are built to last and then companies that move from being good to great, turned his focus to how great companies lose their way – how do the mighty fall? The fall always begins with hubris (pride in one’s own achievements) followed quickly by the relentless pursuit of MORE. That’s often the beginning of the end … yet very few people want to talk about the addictive, intoxicating nature of success that in the end often destroys organizations … and people.
The church world is not immune to the alluring seduction of success. As a young church leader, I quickly bought into the belief that churches needed to grow and that bigger is always better. Having the church NOT grow bigger was not even an option. After all, wasn’t rapidly increasing church attendance the true measure of success and a mark of favour with God? Who would question that?
I think it is time to question our assumptions about growth and success. If your neighbours have more kids than your family does are they a better family? Is bigger really better? Is a bigger church really better than a smaller one? You will never read a letter from the apostle Paul to a church in the first century saying, "I'm so excited you've broken the 200 barrier!" It's just not there. But he did commend his churches for qualities such as their growing love for one another (see 2 Thessalonians 1:3), which just happens to be what Jesus said his followers should be known for (John 13:35).
For over 20 years, I was involved in leading a church congregation that grew from 1,500 people to around 10,000 people and I can tell you that reaching more people can be exhilarating. But it comes at a cost. There is a shadow side no one really likes to talk about, including the increasing stress and strain on staff and volunteers, often due to an unsustainable pace and unrealistic schedules. The contemporary church can become like a machine, gobbling up good people up and spitting them out. No wonder we are seeing such a sharp increase in the DONES.
Nicole and I actually missed the intimacy of the church when it was smaller. In the end, it felt like managing a large corporation, with all internal politics that come with that. We knew thousands of people but had little time to go deeper with many of them. How easy it is for pastors to degenerate into professional managers of organizations delivering religious goods and services, competing with each other and fighting for people’s attention within the broader marketplace of our consumeristic society.
Is this what Jesus had in mind? Who are we doing this all for? Genuine care for people can easily morph into empire building and the cult of personality, if we are not careful. Yes, the church world today creates it’s own ‘celebrity stars’ who become the ‘rich and famous’ working their brand and distributing their products just like people in every other sector of society.
So, do we really need MORE 'success' – personally, in our businesses, and in our churches?
This post is not 'against' success. I think Dwight L. Moody captures best what I'm trying to say:
“Our greatest fear should not be of failure,
but of succeeding at something that doesn't really matter.”
Maybe its time to change the scorecard and the focus of our success orientation.