“It is a very difficult emotional experience to go through . . . a very devastating experience when it happens. Some people can deal with it, some people can’t.”
George Lucas, quoted above, realized he couldn’t deal with it. Caught in the middle of his Star Wars and Indiana Jones trilogies, Lucas was newly minted as a multi-millionaire and gaining traction as the force to be reckoned with in Hollywood.
There was more to his triumph than the actual films, of course. He owned several companies revolutionizing how film was edited, how it sounded, and how it was merchandised. Lucas was the architect behind the state-of-the-art Skywalker Ranch. Movie posters emblazoned with his name drew both investors and moviegoers alike.
But George Lucas’ self-created empire of success would strike back, throwing Lucas into a tailspin like a gunned-down X-wing. Success must not be for everyone. Maybe it’s not for me, or for you. And maybe we should praise God that this is so.
THE PROBLEM WITH QUANTITATIVE METRICS
Those of us who serve in ministry usually believe we are the kind of people who are able to “deal with” success if it comes to us. We see more people, more money, more space, and more programs as evidence of the Lord’s favor. We believe God is “blessing” a ministry when we have to put out more chairs than anticipated or when the church calendar is full.
We pray for more, because we think more, bigger, and louder will bring us closer to where God wants us to be. But what if “more” actually hinders our ability to draw near to him? What if, like Lucas, success actually makes our work harder, and our hearts more prone to wander?
I recently attended a conference where the speakers discussed the life stages and health of a local church. They argued that congregations that are “subtracting” (losing attendance) or “plateauing” (staying neutral in attendance) are clearly not healthy, sustainable forms of church life.
It’s no secret that we are called to make disciples, which means we should not be shy to pursue addition and multiplication in our church bodies. But this “more or bust” view of disciple-making is too quantitative. When Jesus called the twelve to go and make disciples, the instruction was not “bring them to your gatherings and fill the pews,” but rather to be a sent people (Matt. 9:38; Mark 3:14, 6:7; John 20:21).
Their work was primarily to baptize and to teach (Matt. 28:19-20). Gathering believers is obviously not the enemy (see the book of Acts), but it is also not the goal in and of itself. Disciple-making in the Gospels is thoroughly qualitative; it seems more concerned with depth than width.