Our call is to faithfulness, not success

7/15/2008

Editor’s note: Last in a series.
By Lamar Massingill
Guest Columnist

It's a sad state of affairs, and we created it. The only way out that the church has is to start unlearning some things. Perhaps we could begin trying to re-perceive success in the context of the church, and not the culture.

This, to me, means seeing success in a light which illumines self-worth rather than darkening it; to see it in a perspective of faithfulness rather than accomplishment; of “being” instead of mere religious activity that grows out of the emptiness of anxiety. Doing grows out of who we are being, but who we are being does not grow out of what we do. In this area, as the old saying goes, we get the cart before the horse. All the activity in the world does not mean necessarily that we are being the church. All of the great things our Lord did grew out of who he was, and even he experienced failure with several in scripture.

In the gospel lesson appointed for June 15, Jesus tried to teach his disciples the inevitable downfall of the anxiety of accomplishment. I’m sure Jesus sensed this in them, so as he was preparing them, I don't see anything which implies that they are to win and be successful in our cultural sense or in theirs. I see everything, however, that implies they are to be faithful. In other words, in grace and mercy not comprehended by us, Jesus allows realistic room for failure as well as success. The implication was that his disciples would have success in some places and failure in others, but always, they were to be faithful: “If a town refuses to hear your words, shake the dust from your feet and move on.”

Far from being negative, I think the intentions of Jesus were utterly positive. It was his way of saying, “Listen, you can't win them all. You're not going to hit it off with everybody. Don't stew over it. Take your leave gracefully and move on.” Jesus gave his servants their peace. He took into his own keeping the success which was not theirs to command, but God's. Said Jesus: “If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.”

It must have been good news to those disciples that no matter what people or towns thought of them, peace was theirs. Pass or fail, their value and worth to God would never change. Thankfully, our Lord recognized that we are not going to make every circumstance into a success. 

I am not enthroning indifference and apathy regarding church programs, rather, I am simply saying, “Don't waste precious energy on impossible situations. Sever your losses. Move on gracefully, and find something that works or someone who will hear the good news of, not what the gospel has enabled us to do, but who it has enabled us to be.”

It’s the message of the gospel, and it is indeed good news for the church: We are not required to succeed; we are expected to be faithful.

Massingill is minister at The United Methodist Church of Richton and religion editor for the “Magnolia Gazette.” His latest book is “Soul Places.”