The novelist Walker Percy often said that the trouble with most people is that they are not up to anything significant.
Bob Buford once wrote a book titled “Halftime: Moving From Success to Significance” in which he suggested that many of us come to a point in our lives when we realize that we have been in a futile pursuit of success and what we desperately need is significance.
I believe the same is too often true of churches.
To ask each other to sacrificially give our money, time and energy so that we can take care of one another or be bigger and more comfortable is a short road to frustration and irrelevance. That is giving ourselves to a shallow notion of success.
Congregations who are self-absorbed find that they can never provide enough of anything. There is always an appetite for more programs, facilities or events that never quite satisfy our hunger for entertainment, nourishment or both.
Staff are seen as being present to meet our expectations. When they do, we take great pride in them. When they do not, we critique them with brutal tactics.
Instead, I believe we are called upon to give ourselves to something of great significance. What God has called us to join him in creating is nothing less than his kingdom work here on earth.
We mindlessly pray it when reciting the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done here on earth as it is in heaven.” When we give ourselves fully to that significant task, real success is inevitable.
Here’s a prediction: Over the next few weeks, thousands of youth and adult mission trips or endeavors will take place across our nation. From congregations of all sizes and shapes, we will send out teams to selflessly do the work of the Kingdom.
At no small sacrifice, a small army of men and women, boys and girls will fan out around the globe on a mission from God. Some will do great good while others will try and not inflict too much harm. In the end, most of them will share a common experience.
What their home congregation will hear when the team returns is something like this:
“I didn’t really know what to expect, but I went anyway. The food was strange, but I ate it anyway. The people were different, but I loved them anyway. The idea of helping others in Jesus’ name was new, but I tried it anyway. I am a different person than when I left here. I am so thankful to be part of something that truly makes a difference, something that is actually significant!”
At that point, everyone and every church will face a spiritual dilemma that has profound implications.
Will we simply revert back to a life focused on success (as defined by our culture), or will we continue to explore what a life focused on significance might look like?
Too often, our everyday lives are lived outside the arena where God is at work. We busy ourselves with our consumer lifestyles, pursuit of pleasure and drive to appear successful.
Part of our journey toward being a vibrant and alive church is to remind each other of the things that are truly significant. For too many of us, we are engaged in the pursuit of happiness to the exclusion of the pursuit of significance.
What our mission projects and trips remind us of is what life in the Kingdom is intended to look like.
Less about us and more about others. Focused not on what we want, but upon what God needs. More interested in serving than being served. Giving rather than getting.
Jesus made it as simple and as clear as he could: You find your life when you give yourself away (Matthew 16:25).
Alas, we are slow learners. We have been immunized to the power of these life-giving words by a steady diet of consumerism and self-absorption.
This summer, I hope you and your church will heed the repeated illustrations God is sending you that reinforce this essential trait of significant and abundant living.
Give yourself away and find yourself. Not just on a mission trip, but on your street, in your home, in your school, at your job. It’s your mission and your calling from God.
We have more than enough success stories to go around. What our world desperately needs is for you to live a significant life.
Bill Wilson is president of the Center for Congregational Health in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Bill Wilson is president of the Center for Healthy Churches (CHC) housed at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.