How would you answer that question? What criteria do you have for measuring success? For some, success is measured by their income. For others it is measured by the size of their office or home or car. One popular measure of success today is simply that you are famous. I am reminded of a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean. British officer to Captain Jack Sparrow, “You are possibly the worst pirate I’ve ever heard of” To which Sparrow responds, “Yes, but you have heard of me”.
Within Christian circles we know that the measures of success that are found in the secular world are not our measures. it is easy to say that having lots of possessions, popularity, or power are not the answer. Yet in churches we often still measure success in concrete, numerical terms. Successful churches are the ones growing the fastest or with the biggest budgets or the most popular. Maybe in some of our better moments we say that success is found in the number of baptisms, or people in a Sunday School Class or on short-term mission trips. In families we might say that is it having your children all believing in Jesus and a healthy marriage. While those things get closer to what success for Christians and ministries needs to look like, they still fall short. And in some ways because they are close yet so far away, they are perhaps more dangerous because they make us think we are successful in the right way.
If you watch little kids playing soccer for the first time it looks more like a giant amoeba moving up and down the field chasing a ball than it looks like soccer. On one occasion the ball ended up in the net, more by accident than by any intent. It was the first goal scored. Parents on the sideline screamed and clapped and cheered. From the reaction it was obvious that the children playing the game were stunned. The coach saw recognition dawn on the faces of his players. Putting the ball in the net is what the game is all about. The coach had assumed that they understood that. The kids had missed that point. They saw success as running up and down the field, kicking the ball around. Although that is part of the game it is not the whole deal. Success is putting the ball in the net.
Going to Bible classes, having people come to church, meeting budget and all the other things we associate with ministry are certainly part of the deal. Having your children believe in and follow Jesus is certainly a part of what it means to be a successful parent. But they are not, “putting the ball in the net”. Those are more like the running up and down the field part of the game. Jesus gave us what success looks like. He said “going into all the world, make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you, an I will be with you to the end of the age” Matthew 28:19-20. Success is living a life that shows other people what it means to follow Jesus. It is an ongoing thing. He literally said, “as you go”, meaning that as you go through life, live out the truth in radical ways so others follow too.
This is not a new concept with Jesus. In Deuteronomy 6 it says that we are to speak of the truth of God, as we walk along the road, as we rise up and lay down, as we eat, we are to tell it to our children in all these cases and even as we enter and exit our homes. In other words, you pass on the faith to your kids by being a living demonstration of what it means to follow God.
All of that is well as good and certainly many would say that they are doing just that. Many churches would say that they have programs that are accomplishing all this through evangelism and discipleship. But this is often just more, “kicking the ball up and down the field”. There is one more passage that we need to focus on that ultimately defines success for the Christian. In 2 Timothy 2:2 Paul says this to Timothy; “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others”. It was at a conference in India that I was confronted with the power of this verse like never before. As I spoke with Christians who were having incredible impact among Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists I heard this verse over and over again. What they said was that you are not successful unless your ministry goes to the fourth generation. You are the first, those you train are second, then there are those who they pass it on to who in turn pass it on to others.
Far too much of what we do as Christians is a “one-off” dead-end. Preachers give the message to a congregation and we think we have scored. Parents see their children confess faith in Christ and they shout, “GOAL”. The real test of success is not that my kids all have faith in Jesus. The real test is have a demonstrated a faith that they then pass on to others who pass on to others? The test is not did the message impact the congregation and inspire them. The test is, are they taking it to others who are passing it on to others?
The kind of four generation success that real discipleship produces requires investing your life in people everyday. It is as you are going. It is not a program. It is a passion. It pours out of you and into others and it overflows from them to the next generation and beyond. Christians in India are reaching hundreds of thousands of the most resistant people on the planet. They are doing it to the fourth generation because they have marked that as real success.