I remember getting stickers when I was a kid. You did something good, you got a sticker. You made a good grade: sticker. Colored stars and animals and jet planes, cartoon characters and apples, all immediate acknowledgement of success. Those were good simple days. Success is such a confusing term, nowadays, I’m not even sure how to think about it.
I have always been the kid with great potential. “One day,” they would say, “Jason will go far and be very successful if he will ever work/live/aim up to his potential!” I don’t know if ‘they,’ whoever they are knew anything at all. I do know that they were both wrong and right.
Truth is, I’m a talented and intelligent guy. I’m a pretty good speaker, a pretty good actor and great with words in general. I have an open mind that sees from a very different perspective. When I surrendered to the ministry, it was a forgone conclusion that I would do great, again, if I would ever work/live/aim up to my potential. That keeps coming up.
See, the other side of the strength coin is this: I’m a rebellious, intellectual elitist snob with a strong desire to take the path of least resistance. Sometimes the word lazy has been thrown about; sometimes it’s the right word. I have plenty of weaknesses that I won’t even list here because I’m sure you’d give up on me, and I’m not so sure you’d be wrong to do so.
It’s tempting to glorify my weaknesses by saying that I’m an eccentric who just does things a different way, hears a different drummer, etc. And you know, sometimes that’s the truth. But sometimes it’s not, and I can’;t always tell which way is what. But I know this for sure: They don’t give stickers out for every little success anymore. Maybe they should.
Sometimes I have flown to the sun as the golden boy, and sometimes my wax wings have melted and I have plummeted back to Earth in a heap. I’m not any different, really, than anyone. We all have been there, or at least understand it. My most ‘successful’ years of youth ministry, I barely knew what I was doing. I just held on for the ride as a group of phenomenal kids pushed towards God and occasionally ask me questions. It wasn’t my best work, just the most recognized.
My best working years in youth ministry saw me watching my numbers go down, had me constantly in front of the personnel committee, and were frustrating beyond belief. But we did magnificent things, in the long run.
My years as a church planter and pastor have been the same. When we were most successful, it was pretty formulaic. We were popular, we worked within our demographic, we had good people and we thrived! it wasn’t my best work, but we prospered. No, my best pastoral work was a single work of repentance and restoration because of a moral failure in my leadership team. That work, to save a family and some broken individuals was mostly successful, but nearly cost the very existence of our church. It has been, to this point, our defining moment, the moment our little church contained within itself the fullness of Jesus, as it says in Ephesians, and sacrificed to seek and to save that which was lost.
The survival of that time period, recovering from my own depression afterwards, and the subsequent rebuilding and training have been my greatest work as a pastor. But you get no stickers for that.
No, in the church today, stickers are reserved for the fast growing suburban churches. Stickers are reserved for the overnight success stories that become or dream of becoming megachurches. Stickers are for winners and my work isn’t winning any stickers lately. Now that sounds bitter, but it’s not.
I would rather not have the stickers.
I have a trunk full of medals and trophies from High School and College in storage. I won’t get rid of them and I won’t display them. It’s a conundrum. I won’t get rid of them because they carry memories and hopes in their cheap constructions of celebrated victories. Theater, Speech, Band and even a Fencing trophy from a small tournament I won, they are an eclectic collection and represent a lot of hard work, great camaraderie, and a dash of luck. So they are still around.
I don’t display them because they are liars. They lie about the importance of recognition. They lie about the myth of ability and talent. They even lie about hard work. They lie about their own significance. The truth is, none of my best work ever resulted in real, measurable, worldly success. Truth is, they get my eyes off of the correct definition of success.
As a disciple of Jesus, I have to realize, especially in difficult times when it feels like someone keeps moving my cheese, I don’t have the big picture. Not only are there things that are much more important than the elusive successful ministry, whatever that means, but I don’t even really know what all the important things are! It’s important that I love my wife and raise my family. It’s important that I live my life, as Rich Mullins once said, as an arrow pointing to God, but I have no clue on a day to day basis what is going to make a difference in the big picture.
There’s this guy in the Bible named Ananias. He lived in Damascus. He comes up one time in the bible for a few short verses where he is given a command by the Holy Spirit, he argues about it briefly, then does what he’s told. Then he exits the scene and we never hear from him again. Totally a supporting character; an NPC. What did he do? Well, he baptized a dude from Tarsus named Saul or Paulus that was coming to persecute and imprison all the Christians he could find in town. This guy, Ananias gets one scene in the grand story of God and he only converts one guy that we know of and…….well, it’s Paul of Tarsus. the author of most of the New Testament, our first huge doctrinal light and thinker and possibly the greatest evangelist to have ever lived. Ananias deserved a sticker!!
You just can’t measure success in spiritual life the same as everything else. There are people who will argue and say I’m making excuses. My honest belief? Anybody who tries to tell you their path to success and doesn’t include a whole lot of shoulder shrugging and ‘I was in the right place at the right time’ is defending their own ego. Stay away from those guys.
And give yourself a sticker!!!