Whether explicit or implicit, there is a common theme in church circles as to how the success of a church is determined and measured. It is what I commonly call the “3 B’s.” The “3 B’s” stand for buildings, butts and bucks. It is common for people to look at the size of the building, the number of butts sitting in the seats in the sanctuary and the amount of the offering to determine how well the church is doing. Why else would the number in attendance in worship the previous Sunday be publicized? In reality, it’s a way to either make us feel good (“Hey, look at us! We had ____ in worship last Sunday. We must be doing something right!”), or to inform how unsuccessful we are being.
At multiple occasions, I have experienced (and have, regrettably, participated) in what is known as the “pastor pose off.” Just like a body builder posing to show how much bigger his muscles are than another, the “pastor pose off” is where pastors brag about the size of their congregations or worship attendance, the size of the offering or the size of the building in which the congregation worships. All of this reveals a worldly mindset which the church has adopted. The church has commonly adopted this business mindset where it’s about these “3 B’s.”
The problem with the “3 B’s” and the “pastor pose off” is that they just are not biblical. As I look at the New Testament, as I look at the ministry and teaching of Jesus and that of the apostles, and as I continue to get more intimate in my relationship with God as I spend more and more time with Him and understand His heart, motives and desires better, I have come to the conclusion that there is only one number that concerns God – transformed lives.
Transformed lives include people who have encountered the presence and lordship of Jesus for the very first time and have given themselves to Him. Transformed lives also include those, no matter how long ago, who have already given themselves to Him continually being transformed more into His image. The struggle with this is that it is not as nice and neat to determine how well we are doing as it is if the “3 B’s” are used. It’s messy.
As a pastor, I continually ask myself how well we are doing. In one way, it’s easier to determine part of this number – how many are making initial decisions to give him/herself to Jesus? The second part, that of continual transformation into the image of Jesus, is much more difficult to determine. I often wonder how much transformation has occurred in those who many years ago gave themselves to Jesus. Even I, as a pastor, continue to ask myself what kind of transformation have I personally experienced recently.
It is my fear that there are many who sit in a pew in a sanctuary on a Sunday morning who have not experienced any transformation in a long time. I’m sure a variety of reasons are the cause of this, but, nonetheless, the lack of transformation is there. This is why I think that many churches have, for all intents and purposes, have become in reality nothing more than a service club.
It is time that the focus of the church truly becomes lives being transformed, both initial transformation and continuing transformation, not on some other numbers that make us feel good, but give a false indicator as to how well the goal is being achieved.
So, let me end with a question for anyone reading this. How have you been transformed by the Holy Spirit in the last week, or last month, or last year? I’d be interested in hearing your answer if you so choose to comment.