How do you measure success?
Is it the number on the scale? The number in the bank account? The finished knitting projects lining your shelves? Most of us, intellecutally, would be quick to agree that these are not the adequate measurements of a life well lived (or even a day well spent). But… deep down? Do those numbers matter?
They do, insofar as their ability to allow us to achieve success in other areas.
Let’s face it, having money doesn’t make you happy, but the lack of it (especially in regards to issues of hunger and housing) isn’t creating much happiness either. We need money. We need the scale (and our cholesterol numbers) to nudge us towards health and wholeness. These are good means to an end.
The problem comes when we begin to pursue those metrics… those ways of measuring success, as the end itself. My theory is that for many of us, we are more likely to lose sight of what is truly important when those numbers are going well. We become obsessed with those last five pounds, or that mark we’ve set for our savings… it becomes our holy grail. When we accomplish that number, then (and only then!) will we know happiness.
At some point a few decades ago, the church bought into this reasoning. Our numbers were going up… and we took pleasure in our success. Buildings, bucks and butts in the pews (how we measured success) became our pride and joy. Even today, we look back on those golden years when the Sunday School rooms were overflowing, and we needed to raise money to buy an additional dozen choir robes.
Don’t get me wrong. Buildings, bucks and butts in the pews can be important, but only if they serve as means to an end. No wonder we grieve when churches merge and close because ‘the congregation grew too small’ to support its building and staff. We grieve the loss of what we worship.
Wouldn’t it be an extraordinary thing if a church merged with another not because its numbers in the pews had grown too small, but because its understanding of God’s vision for the church had grown too big for those walls? If we decided that the means (buildings and bucks) no longer helped to shape the ‘ends’ (folks in good relationship with God and one another)? What would happen if we figured out that by closing some doors, more hearts might open? What if we’ve been measuring success by the wrong metrics?
After all, what really is our goal? (And who sets that goal?)!
I think this is our work as a church and as a society. We need to evaluate and change our understanding of what is important and what we define as success. Ultimately, it is what defines us as human.