Success or significance?
Editor’s note: The clergy members under appointment in the Oklahoma Conference meet twice a year for a one-day event called Orders Meeting. They gather for worship, Holy Communion, and education. Due to a high number of requests, Bishop Hayes’ sermon at the Aug. 16 meeting is being published here.
By Bishop Robert Hayes Jr.
Jim Noble is a pastor and a renowned chef living in High Point, N.C. He owns four very exclusive restaurants in the Charlotte (N.C.) area. By every definition we choose to use, Jim Noble is a very successful person.
Almost two years ago, he decided to open a nonprofit restaurant called The King’s Kitchen. One-hundred percent of the proceeds from the meals served in that establishment go to feed the poor of Charlotte. Last year he donated over $50,000 to projects that support food banks and social service agencies. In that same facility, he provides job training and a number of other programs that help people get back on their feet.
CNN decided to interview Jim Noble, to do a story on this ministry that nourishes the soul; you can see the interview on YouTube.
When asked why he opened a restaurant where everything he took in would go to feed poor people, his reply was, "At some point, you have to make a distinction between success and significance."
When I heard him say that, I jumped out of my seat and shouted, "My God, that man has found a great secret to life; he has discovered the essence of living!" (I also said, "There’s my sermon for Orders meeting!")
I can’t think of two better words that identify our common struggle as pastors and co-laborers with God in the ministry of Jesus Christ.
Success or significance? From the moment we are brought into this world, we are programmed to be successful.
Parents want to proclaim our genius by teaching us to read before we can talk. They will stand in long lines for hours or pay exorbitant fees to enroll us in the best schools. Proud fathers will sign fantasy football or baseball contracts before their sons are 10 years old, and immodest mothers will do everything to have their daughters become the essence of grace and charm at a far too early age.
It’s a way of life—we are taught that the purpose of life is to be successful, and throughout our lives the road to success is paved with high expectations and intense pressure to be first and best in everything we do. Success is the goal and, whatever it takes to get us there, our society is willing to pay.
But success is not all it’s cracked up to be. It’s truly an elusive thing. The road that leads to it is full of hazards and unforeseen consequences.
Some people are so driven by it that they abandon all ethical, moral, and social conduct to get where they want to be. Others will not mind stepping on you or over you in their quest to achieve. And yet, when many arrive at the pinnacle of accomplishment, they encounter an empty, haunting feeling. They ask themselves, "Where do I go from here?"
In Japan, at the end of every school year, hundreds of high school kids commit suicide because they fail to achieve the expectations of their parents and peers as they seek to enter college. Here in our own country, being Number One has become the most prized obsession for countless millions.
Unfortunately, this mindset has found a place in ministry as well.
I have always believed that, as pastors, we are engaged in one of the most competitive and stress-filled vocations you will find. Our success is measured out in ways that other professions are not.
Some of us—if not most of us—seem to gauge how successful we are as pastors by the size of the church we serve or the height of the steeple or how many people sit in the pews on Sundays. Even the sermons we preach from week to week have so much to do with how successful we feel about ourselves and our ministry.
(This sermon will continue in the next two issues of Contact.)