The Cross and Ecclesiastical Success
It should be clear to any individual reading the canonical gospels that our formulation of a ‘successful ministry’ was foreign to Jesus. Perhaps we had better restate that; it was not foreign to Jesus in that He was unaware of the concept, but rather in that He explicitly and repeatedly rejected such a concept of success. Jesus deliberately rejected fame and the approval of the crowds,38 He hid from people who wanted to be with Him,39 said and did things that made people leave,40 and used a metaphor of torture and death for discipleship.41
12) Carrying the Cross – Our Master has made it clear, by personal example, and plain teaching, we must embrace suffering, and die to self. This stands in direct contradiction to the stated aim of most Church programming. A friend attributed the following anecdote to pastor Rob Bell (Mars Hill Bible Church, Grandville, MI): He was asked by a visitor, “what programs do you have here to meet the needs of me and my family?” If only more pastors would give this response, “we only have one program here, ‘Come and Die!’ “
13) Identification with the Broken – If the Cross is the center of the Church then we should share the same passions as the man who hung from that Cross. We should find, welling up within us, an attraction to those places where we might encounter hunger, danger, injustice, addiction, oppression, or poverty. This is the shame of the Western Church, we have retreated from the brokenness of the world, and then congratulated ourselves on how well our programs work without those broken people. We must reverse the trend of Christians emigrating to homogenized suburban communities pursuing idols of safety and security.
14) Necessary Failure – If the Cross is our Victory, then we must reexamine our language of ‘success.’ For Jesus, success, was abandonment and failure. We must think through our use of language; we say, “healthy things grow,” but Jesus said, “unless a seed dies, it will produce nothing.”42 Our yearning for success has more in common with the gospel of prosperity, than the gospel of the Kingdom. We must create contexts where failure is a part of our culture, where our failure and that of others is a normal occurrence, and where polished presentation is not the sign of God’s presence.43
Of course none of this is a repudiation of God’s good creation. Embracing the Cross is not an end in itself; but rather the only road to Resurrection and New Creation. Rebellious humanity needs to be crucified with Christ, not because we are human, but because we are rebels.
God has glorified Jesus and has promised to glorify us in Him. His very promises of justice are an affirmation of creation. We must prevent, however, an attempt at justice that does not involve the Cross, for that would not be justice. Resurrection is on the other side of the Cross. We must embrace the lessons taught by suffering, we must submit our egos to death, indeed, the motive behind our lust for success is simple pride.