by PJ Moon
Success is a fickle thing and yet drives people to conquer the world and even worse, quit. Let me tell you my battle with the idea of success.
My wife Ashley and I began this journey about 2 years ago, as we planted a church called The Local in Austin, TX. This led us to planting an unconventional model of church, a collection of House Churches, that would make space for people with doubt, people deconstructing their faith, and people that wanted to be regularly engaged missionally with their community.
I want to share less about our model and more about what I have experienced around this idea of success.
It’s obvious that we all want to be successful, whether that be work, school, family, or even ministry. None of us want to fail and the hope of success drives us to wake up in the morning and do our best. And to that point, if we feel like we are failing, we tend to feel discouraged, anxious, and even feel like quitting. How we think about success will greatly impact our long-term viability as people. Let me dive deeper.
As we began to plant, I noticed something in me that I hadn’t noticed before… an insecurity around success. I wanted to succeed, and frankly so did the people who supported my life. Really quickly I knew I needed to define what success truly was for what Jesus was asking me to do, not someone else. As I reflected on this question, I realized that much of what I deemed successful came from other environments I had experienced, or what others spoke over my life.
Let me explain. When I made the decision to plant a house church movement, this impacted the “metrics” that other people may see as successful. I would constantly receive comments from peers or leaders asking “how many people showed up last night at your gathering” or “how much money have you raised up until this point” or “when is your ‘big’ launch”. None of these questions/comments are bad and frankly many of you may need to consider them. But for me, every time I got asked one of these, it made me question what I was doing and created this thought that maybe I wasn’t successful or maybe I was doing it wrong. Who are you allowing to define success for what God is calling you to?
If you live by other people’s definition of success for your ministry, you’ll also die trying to live up to it.
So what do we do? We have to be honest about the idols of success in our lives. Is it how many people you have coming? Is it how much money you have raised? Is it how big your launch team is? Is it being able to be sustained with a paycheck to do ministry “full time”? Whatever your idol is, we have to call it what it is and choose to REDEFINE.
Again I don’t think practical measurements of success or viability are in any way bad, but it can’t be the ONLY measurement that you live by. We need to dig deeper into the question of what does the Spirit define as success and what is he calling us to do. And then we need to put those measurements at the top of our list.
For us at The Local, I heard so clearly that we were supposed to plant a church that developed people to live the Gospel local, where they live, learn, work & play. This drove our team to make an unpopular decision (according to others) to forgo our regular gatherings once a month and partner locally with organizations that are serving our community. This drove us to begin to measure how the people in our community, however many that be, were being discipled to understand that they have a unique God purpose where they are locally. I began to receive questions from peers saying, “well don’t you lose out on an opportunity to receive tithes & offerings?” Again… someone else’s idea of success.
The Spirit’s idea of success also drove how we spent money. Success to us wasn’t how much money we had, but rather how we chose to steward that money. In 2020, during a global pandemic, we spent almost 50% (over 10k) of our entire budget on community projects & outreach and we successfully launched our first church in another city… this was success.
For us, success wasn’t about a large launch team, or sustainability of myself as the pastor, or how many people we could amass together for our gatherings, but rather being faithful with what God put in front of us next. When you live by the Spirit’s idea of success for your life, it is freeing. It frees you to dream, frees you to risk, and frees you from the narratives of success from other’s.
Maybe rather than striving to be “successful”, we should strive to be “faithful” to His individual call on our lives. Not sure about you, but I would rather be known for faithfulness than success… and maybe someday, God willing, both.