Can You Count Your Way to Success?
The elders recently invested two days into some pretty intense meetings, working through a SWOT analysis of Trailhead’s discipleship culture and systems (SWOT is an acronym that means Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats). At the end of it we identified three ways we could try to leverage our strength and address our weaknesses while taking advantage of the opportunities and avoiding the threats.
We’ll be discussing the results of the SWOT at our next Town Hall meeting and sharing our three leadership goals (see the announcement below for Town Hall details). One of the coolest things to come out of the time we invested together was a renewed focus on why we exist and what we are trying to achieve as leaders in this community.
In our culture we tend to measure success by what is measurable – it counts if we can count it. As a result, churches often fall into the trap of thinking “success” has to do with the size of the audience or the size of the budget. There is some truth to the saying “heathy things grow” – but that is far from the whole story. Unhealthy things grow too, often faster.
Not surprisingly, the true measure of “success” in church leadership is both easy to define and hard to measure. The apostle Paul defined “success” for Timothy, his coworker in church planting, in this way:
The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Timothy 1:5)
Read that again. Think about what it means.
The AIM of our CHARGE – Paul is saying, we’ve been given a charge (a command, a mission, a calling) as leaders of God’s church and as members of it. And that charge fixes our aim to a specific destination. It sets our true north. If we keep our aim right, our efforts will keep us moving in the right direction. If our aim gets off, no matter how hard we work, we’ll end up in the wrong place.
So, what is that true north?
LOVE – the single greatest and most important goal, the center of the target, is love. Love that we receive from God and love that we give to others. Paul is simply reminding Timothy of the greatest command: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all of your soul, with all of your strength, and with all your mind and love your neighbor just like you love yourself. Love – that’s the center of the target. That’s the true north of our spiritual journey.
But what kind of love? Not just the warm and fuzzies that come having positive feelings toward someone. No. We’re talking about a very specific kind of love. It comes from three sources (that are actually one source):
That issues from a PURE HEART – we’re not talking about affection that flows from a place of self-serving manipulation and self-gain. No, that kind of “love” flows from a heart polluted with selfishness. No, Paul’s talking about a love that flows from pure motivations, a desire to see the one loved blessed regardless of whether that person can or will bless you in return. A love that flows freely regardless of whether the person deserves it, provokes it, or makes you feel good about you. It is a love that flows from a pure heart made generous from a genuine experience of grace.
And a GOOD CONSCIENCE – there are a number of ways we can fake love, and our conscience will tingle with our violation of truth as a result. These fake expressions of love are shortcuts that come from a desire to avoid discomfort (so I approve what I shouldn’t) or to experience pleasure (so I do what I shouldn’t). True love is a response to God’s love and as a result will always seek to honor him in its expression. It will flow from a conscience that is resting peacefully in the truth of who God is and how God has designed us to image him.
And a SINCERE FAITH – What does faith have to do with love? Everything – because the kind of love we are talking about here flows from a heart at rest trusting the God of love. The love of God leads us to trust in God and our faith in God leads us to love those whom God loves.
This is a simple and clear definition of where we as a community and we as leaders in this community are trying to go. Easy to say. Devilishly hard to measure because they are qualitative instead of quantitative. But it must be our aim – it must remain the center of our efforts to engage people, build systems of support and growth, and start and invest in initiatives.
I do find it especially compelling that the context of Paul’s simple statement shows that even in Timothy’s day, one of the primary things that could take the believers (and even the whole church community) off course were “vain discussions” (1 Tim. 1:6) that seemed to be important and weighty, but were actually just a bunch of posturing and wasted effort.
Paul is reminding Timothy, and us, that everything that moves us toward our goal of LOVE (from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith) is faithful to our charge. Everything else, no matter how seemingly important it is, is a distraction and will actually in the end harm the mission of the gospel.
Let’s seek to stay true in our aim and on mission with our charge.