[originally sent to the subscribers of the subversive underground newsletter the week of Jan 1st, 2006]
SUCCESS AND FAILURE by keith giles
While we prepare to launch our new house church adventure here in our community, I realize that part of the process involves a new way of thinking about success and failure.
One morning, a few weeks ago, I was sitting in our den, drinking my cup of coffee, and trying to think clearly about how we’d start our house church here, what it might look like, how we might begin.
There are various ways for us to start. We’ve tentatively picked a date later this month where we’ll invite a few friends over to our house and explain our vision to them. Some will come to support us, to hear our plan, some to pray for us, others may actually decide that they also want to take a turn at being church in this way and come with us when we have our first meetings in February.
Still, there is an element of missional life surrounding our calling here in this specific house and in this exact neighborhood. Already we are making friends with the children in this community. As these kids get to befriend our own two sons, we are slowly getting to know their families. It’s actually kind of cool that, to this point, it’s mainly been our boys who have been living the missional life here, as we coach them and play off of their lead.
As I was thinking about this house church ministry, I began to wonder about how we’d know if we were being successful or not. At first I thought success might be a house full of people meeting every week here in our den, praying, worshiping, serving others and getting to know one another. Honestly, that’s what I think I’d want to be able to show to another pastor down the road if I was ever asked, “How are things going with that house church?”
Then I realized that this was a very traditional church way of measuring success. Bigger must be better, right? Growth must signal the favor of God on something, and if it’s not large then maybe something’s wrong with you.
I’ve made a conscious choice to reject this sort of measuring stick. Yes, healthy things grow, but growth doesn’t always have to be outward. Sometimes a tree grows faster and larger beneath the ground, as roots are spreading and nourishment is flowing into the trunk, limbs and branches. Growth can be measured by how deep a single person is growing in their relationship with Jesus, or in their understanding of the Gospel.
So, it was then I realized that success for us, in this house church ministry, was simply about following through with everything that God had been saying to us to this point.
As long as everyone in this community around us knows that we love them and that God loves them, no matter what, we’ll be successful. Even if only one or two people attended a weekly meeting in our home, we’ll be successful. In fact, even if no one came to our weekly meetings, we’d still be a success as long as the people in our cul-de-sac knew that we actually cared for them because we had demonstrated the love of Jesus in tangible ways.
Early in the process of our responding to the call to start this house church, I had a conversation with a friendn of mine about what we were doing. He told me he was disappointed that we would leave the traditional church to do this because we had so much potential. That and he was pretty sure that once we started this thing we'd quickly fall on our faces and fail to do what we hoped to do.
I can remember my response, mostly because it was unrehearsed and seemed to come from somewhere other than my own brain. I said, "For us, to decide not to do this just because it looks difficult, or because we're afraid, THAT would be true failure to us. And if in ten years we've got the same five people sitting in our living room, living out this vision together, sharing life and giving all of our tithe to the poor, serving others and enjoying community, then for me that would be success."
This new definition of success demands a longer term vision for us than how things look a year from now, or how many people we have coming and contributing to our house church. In this new definition of success, all that matters is that we are following through with our calling to love God, love others and to express the love of Jesus in our everyday lives.
Sure, I would love to speak at a conference a year from now and tell the inspiring story of how we touched a hundred lives, outgrew our living room, spawned three new groups out of our first group, and established lasting ministry in the community around us.
Maybe one day I will get to share that story, or maybe I’ll simply be able to tell the story of how our family shared life with a few of the families on our street and allowed the Holy Spirit to direct us as we showed the love of Jesus to them.
Either way, this is God’s project, not ours. He will direct us and lead us. He will be the one who builds this church here in our home. We’re only the hosts and the servants who open the front door, and our own lives, to invite those He calls inside.