Monday, August 5, 2013

Exiting from the Success Superhighway - Guest Column by Chuck Legvold

October 2011 was an extraordinary to supernatural adventure in Montana for four covenant brothers spending a week with Eugene Peterson.  While you've often read references to that time from moi, here's another harvest from His seeds through him.  BTW, you may wanna read Matthew 15 and 23 before or after being blessed by the Lord through the vision entrusted to Chuck!

Exiting from the Success Superhighway
By Chuck Legvold
July 21, 2013

It’s been almost 38 years since I heard the call to pastoral ministry, during my first semester in college.  I’ve spent 8 of those years preparing for the work of ministry, and almost 30 years “practicing” it.  But the Spirit finally got it through my thick skull and thicker ego this week that I’ve been following a poor model for ministry, one that broken me, wounded me, and made me want to quit more time than I can remember.

From the very first sense of call to ministry, I had big dreams.  Even as my major changed and I began to pursue a course that would bring me to ordination, I was quite sure that my future held greatness.  I would preach to large congregations, be asked to speak to large conventions, write books with large circulations, and be known as one of the great ones, the tall-steeple guys.  After all, when you attend a spiritual hothouse like ORU, where the motto is “make no little plans here,” I was sure that the big, the bright, and the successful were right before me.  I just had to get on the road.

For most of the three decades in which I have been honored to be an under-shepherd, I have pursued success as much as I pursued excellence.  I made the right choices, got to know the right people, attended the right programs and, in some cases, it actually worked.  Given the measures of ecclesiastical success being butts (attendance), bucks (offerings), and buildings (structures), I’ve had more success that failure.  I should have been aware that attention to such matters fed my pride more than my humility, and that which feeds our pride is rarely the work of God.  But I didn’t see it…primarily because I had bought into the cultural mandate that says that success in measureable areas is the true indicator of whether or not God is blessing you, whether or not you are in the middle of his will.  It just isn’t true.

My first clue was the growing recognition that the programs I thought would work to bring up the numbers where I currently serve were not working.  Increased numbers of worship services, attempting to launch new small groups, reorganizing the form of government, and constantly realigning staff just didn’t work the way it should.  Numbers stagnated, then slipped, and my anxiety increased 100-fold.  Harder work and longer hours made no difference.  Surveys and assessments didn’t make a dent in anything but my sense of success.

My second clue that something had to change came in a visit with author and pastor Eugene Peterson almost two years ago.  Though a prolific author and effective preacher, Peterson demonstrated a stress-free life.  Though he could have commanded the attention of thousands, he purposefully worked in a congregation that was never more than 500 or so members in size.  You cannot be an effective pastor, he told us, if you do not know your flock, and you cannot know your flock if it gets much larger than that.  Successful by some standards, he has eschewed the trappings of numbers, favoring being intimate with Jesus and the flock with which he was called to work.  Prayer, not popularity, has made him what he is.

But the big, old exit sign from the success superhighway came for me in the passage from Acts 7 and 8 from which I preached today.  There we find Stephen stoned and killed for telling the truth, the apostles choosing to live under constant threat in Jerusalem for the sake of the wounded church, and many disciples abandoning their comforts, homes, and perhaps families to flee to other parts of the world as persecution swept down upon them.  There is nothing of worldly success in the death, terror, and dispersion in this story.  But there is a far more important thing:  faithfulness.  Stephen’s faithful devotion to Jesus, even in his death, infuriates the man who would become the apostle to the Gentiles, but his witness will weigh heavy on Paul’s heart and influence his conversion and subsequent mission.  The popularity of the apostles in Jerusalem wanes, but they refuse to leave their remaining flock to the wolves—some must stay in painful places faithfully.  And the good news of Jesus is carried out into the world by fearful, yet trusting people, who suddenly have no program, no structure to lean on; all that is left is Jesus.  Their witness has changed the world.

So today I have hit the turn signal and veered off of the success superhighway onto the exit labeled faithfulness.  I leave behind the traffic devoted to bigness in favor of the bumpy roads of daily shepherding.  I leave behind the stress that I have seen claim many colleagues, and way too many of my friends, and which has threatened to claim me, too.  I leave behind self-imposed expectations in favor of just trying to please Jesus and loving those he loves, in the way he loves them.

I’ve left the success superhighway…for good.  And I urge you to get off at the next exit as well.

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