Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

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. Due to a high number of requests, Bishop Hayes’ sermon at the Aug. 16 meeting is being published.

Part 2

By Bishop Robert Hayes Jr.

How many of us have had those Sundays when what we thought was a good or decent sermon just didn’t get off the ground? We have all experienced those times when it just didn’t happen from the pulpit.

I don’t know about you, but it takes me several days to get the feeling of a regretful sermon out of my system. It’s like a bad taste in my mouth that I just can’t rinse out. It usually takes me until Thursday to get over it, and by that time I’m raring to get back at it so I can make up on Sunday for the disappointment.

Following a sermon that doesn’t connect, it’s so amusing to hear the comments of the parishioners as they meet you on their way out. They say, "Preacher, you gave a good talk today!" Or they say things such as, "Pastor, you almost got me there this morning."

Or they don’t say anything at all, which is almost as bad, because the silence is deafening.

The other side of this issue is when you think it was a good sermon and something must be wrong with the people!

One of the most treasured illustrations I’ve come across in the last few years has to do with Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887), who was a powerful, dynamic preacher, nationally known in his day. It is written that Beecher, one night in the Midwest, decided to attend a revival service. At the church, the young, self-assured pastor and the entire congregation recognized Beecher.

Surrounded by a group of people, the pastor asked, "Dr. Beecher, how did you like my sermon? Did you get anything out of my sermon?"

"I did," Beecher confessed. "Three weeks ago I heard Phillips Brooks preach, and his message was so powerful I went away vowing never to preach again. But after hearing you, I have changed my mind."

Success for us often can be measured one sermon at a time, and when we view ourselves from the world’s perspective of having to be better than everyone, so often we come up disappointed in ourselves and our ministry.

But I want to suggest to you that there is a choice you can make. You can jog along on the treadmill marked "success" that doesn’t really take you anywhere—or you can choose to be significant.

Significance is what happens when you forget about trying to be successful and you step out in faith to make a difference in the lives of people around you. That’s what Jim Noble meant when he said that at some point you have to make the distinction.

What better time than now for us to ask ourselves this question! Do we want to be successful, or do we want to be significant?

It’s a legitimate question that begs for an answer from each and every person. It’s also the message Jesus spoke in so many places throughout the New Testament.

If anyone knew about the human desire to be first, to win at all costs, it was Jesus.

His words of warning, "The first shall be last and the last first," ring in our ears. "He who humbles himself will be exalted, and he who exalts himself will be brought down" shows where Jesus stood.

Significance is what he preached in so many places, and it is something all of us can achieve. It doesn’t have to be voted on by an Administrative Board; the Trustees don’t have to approve it.

Significance is doing something that makes a measurable difference in the lives of people. It is the art of meeting the needs of people wherever and whenever those needs happen to be.

I marvel at pastors who say to me, "My church doesn’t want to go on mission trips or pay Apportionments." I scratch my head and I say, "What about you?"

If no one in your church wants to go on a mission trip, you go! And when you return, tell them what you saw and what you experienced. If you do it often enough, someone will go just to see if you’re telling the truth!

If no one wants to pay Apportionments in your church, you tithe your salary to an apportioned item, and I can assure you that will send a clear signal to your members.

If no one wants to go to summer camp, you go as a counselor whether or not you have someone in your church going!

Be significant and you will feel so much better about yourself and your ministry.

(This sermon will conclude in the next issue of Contact.)


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