How Winning Hurts Churches

Winning streaks can ruin a church. Too much continual growth, too much peace, too much “vision.” I know this may sound weird, but too much of a good thing can kill us if we’re not careful. It’s not that “success” is bad for us or the Kingdom. It’s that we tend to forget the Lord over prolonged periods of blessing. When we forget the Lord, our ministry turns mechanical, our egos inflate, and we can become reckless with regards to righteousness.

In Deuteronomy 8, God warns His people of this as they prepare to enter the Promised Land: “Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Deut. 8:11-14)

I know we talk a lot about how hard it can be to follow Jesus under the crushing weight of oppression, poverty, or grief. Rightfully so. However, the Scriptures also speak of the pitfalls of plenty—at least as often. It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the Kingdom, after all. The same applies to churches. The more we “achieve,” the bigger the temptation to forget that God sees everything–and we aren’t invincible.

The story of David instructs us here. His sin with Bathsheba seems rooted in a sense of forgetfulness of the Lord and personal invincibility. God’s quaking of David’s life may have saved David. Sometimes the worst thing that can happen to us is to get away with something. Sometimes, getting away with something makes us feel invincible—and even, at our sickest, that God is blessing (or at least alright) with our sin. In such times, we’ve usually forgotten the Lord already…like Israel…like David. When we forget the Lord, He will surely find His way back into our memories. He will not be fooled or confused by our antics. He is God, after all–and we must always remember that.

Faithfulness to the Lord is more important than “success.” Those are not mutually exclusive, but it’s impossible to be successful in ministry and forgetful of the Lord. Success in the Kingdom, after all, is founded on faithfulness to the Lord. If we fail at the that, we fail–regardless of what the numbers say.

This morning, let’s ask ourselves hard questions about our devotion to the Lord and about things we need to set right or repent of. Let’s make sure that in all our efforts to do good ministry, we aren’t forgetting the Lord. If you haven’t had a “winning streak” in twenty years, ask the same questions. Sometimes, we forget the Lord because ministry desperation leads us to take matters into our own hands or compromise our integrity in a “ends justifies the means” panic.

Ministry skill can be taught and implemented relatively quickly. Character must be formed over time. Character formation begins with the fear of the Lord.

Thus, ministry “success” begins and is sustained by the fear of the Lord. Here’s a question to ponder this morning: would I rather be right with God and a “failure” in ministry, or mostly right with God and “successful” in ministry?

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

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