Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Success or significance?


Philippians 1: 1-11: "Paul and Timothy, both of us committed servants of Christ Jesus, write this letter to all the Christians in Philippi, pastors and ministers included. We greet you with the grace and peace that comes from God our Father and our Master, Jesus Christ. …

Every time you cross my mind, I break out in exclamations of thanks to God. Each exclamation is a trigger to prayer. I find myself praying for you with a glad heart. I am so pleased that you have continued on in this with us, believing and proclaiming God’s Message, from the day you heard it right up to the present. There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears. …

It’s not at all fanciful for me to think this way about you. My prayers and hope have deep roots in reality. You have, after all, stuck with me all the way from the time I was thrown in jail, put on trial, and came out of it in one piece. All along you have experienced with me the most generous help from God. He knows how much I love and miss you these days. Sometimes I think I feel as strongly about you as Christ does! …

So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus would be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God."

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.

Part 1

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.)


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