Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Review of Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome - Part 2

The second part of Liberating contains 7 chapters. Each is entitled ‘Success is…’ and then identifies an aspect of biblical success. Each draws on personal anecdotes, illustrations from church history, and biblical exegesis. Much of the exegesis is from character studies of Old Testament saints, but generally avoids the ‘X did this, so too should we’ kind of approach.

The first chapter addresses the heart of the issue – success is faithfulness. They observe that the Bible speaks of God being concerned with his people’s faithfulness rather than their success. Central to this is knowing God’s word, and not only knowing it but doing it (cf. James 1:22). Obedience is vital – they link it with glory: ‘Never are we greater, never do we know greater joy, never are we more successful than when we are obedient to his will’.

I felt that the glaring omission here was that success is not grounded in being united to Christ by faith. I think, to be fair, that this is assumed, and indeed is addressed in later chapters, but it would have been good to have it stated explicitly here, particularly given the stress on ‘doing’ God’s will. It seems that the difficulty arises because while the chapter starts by stressing faithfulness, this quickly moves to obedience. While the two are related (and indeed can’t be separated), by introducing obedience so quickly one wonders if the door is opened to the kind of ‘I do – God responds’ kind of thinking. Clearly the Hughes don’t go this way, but more time spent on the relationality of communion with God might have reduced this potentiality even more. One also has to keep in mind that they have already addressed and discounted (in part one) the idea that when we do things God rewards us with ‘success’. Rather, and here is the heart of the chapter and the truly liberating point – they want to stress that faithfulness is success. This liberates not only ministers but all Christians from a ‘if only I do this, then God will…’ kind of thinking. Faithfulness doesn’t bring success – it is success.

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