Is it based on job performance? Perhaps for some it is the kind of job one has. Or for another, the level of income or property one holds. A few, wiser than most, may measure success by the heritage left in their descendants. Are these true measures of one's own personal success? It may be that any or all of them contribute to the appearance of success, but are they valid measurements?
Success, at least for those claiming to follow Christ, must be measured in the degree to which one becomes like Jesus (Colossians 1:28-29). I am not making claims for perfection or negating the benefits of grace (Philippians 3:8-16), but I am pointing us toward the real values — values which the Savior placed in the forefront time and time again (Luke 9:23-25).
Is it any different when we seek to measure the success of a congregation? I think not. Over and over I hear or read of some preacher of a church that is touting its method of attaining success. All too often the evidence of that success is measured in growth in size and/or monies involved. Don't misunderstand me, I am not against growth and liberality. What I question is whether that is a significant measure of the success of a church. Like the individual above, should not the measure be the depth of soul rather than the size of soil?
Spiritual giants are measured by service and heart. I list both, because one without the other has little value. The apostle Paul makes that very clear in his famous chapter on love (1 Corinthians 13). He lists great areas of sacrifice or accomplishment, but finds them of no effect unless they are motivated by the heart. Unfortunately, most of us are well aware of the pride which great acts of service can produce if not tempered and motivated by a heart of love.
In addition, fidelity to the perceived doctrines of the faith tend to puff up rather than build up (1 Corinthians 8:1; Revelation 2:3-5). Jesus revealed the "greatest commandment" as "love God with all your heart" and adds, the second is "love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:36-40). He points us clearly to these real values.
For his disciples who are to be the leaders of Jesus' new emerging church, the Lord takes a towel and a basin of water and washes their feet (John 13:12) and reminds them that they must do for each other what he has done for them (John 13:13-14). He reaffirms a principle he had repeatedly taught them earlier, "He who will be great among you will become the servant of all" (Luke 22:26).
In the wonderful and terrifying scene of the final judgement that Jesus shares in one of his parables, the Lord makes no mention of wealth, power, or doctrine. The measure of the true child of God is found in whether or not he responded with a servant's heart when he encountered the needs of his fellows:
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me (Matthew 25:35-36 TNIV).
Whether as an individual or as a church, God judges our hearts based on our service and our service based on our hearts. Can we pass the test? Maybe even more to the point, are we willing to use it as the measure of our success?