While I intend for my book Thirty True Things Everyone Needs to Know Now (TTT) to be relevant for everyone and not just for Christian believers, this article taken from the first part of the 27th chapter of TTT (and found in full here) is primarily about Christians (for good or for ill). But I trust it will also be of interest and instructive to those of other faiths, or of no faith.
Failure is a word we hate to hear. During their school days, little seemed worse for most people than getting an “F” on a test or on their report card.
And in real life, failure is a fear for those who go into business for themselves as well as for those who go into non-profit service activities. Failure for either usually means loss of income as well as loss of self-esteem.
Since in the world of religion this seems to be more of an issue for Christians than those of other faiths, this article/chapter is mostly about success and failure as related to Christianity.
Because of the fear of failure, through the years there has been a spate of books, many from a Christian or semi-Christian perspective, written about how to succeed. Some of the most widely read are Acres of Diamonds (1915), Think and Grow Rich (1937), The Power of Positive Thinking (1952), The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1989), and The Success Principles (2005).
Success, as we who live in the United States all know, is often measured either in terms of dollars or in terms of numbers of people. In the business world no one who has not become fairly wealthy would be considered a success.
In the Christian world, successful churches are generally considered those that have had considerable numerical growth and boast large attendance at their regular meetings, and the pastors of such churches are generally considered successful.
Most people in the U.S., for example, would consider Joel Osteen, pastor of the Lakewood Church in Houston, a huge success.
The church of which Osteen (b. 1963) is pastor is the largest in the U.S. In 2017 the weekly attendance of his church was 43,500. Moreover, his ministry is said to reach over seven million broadcast media viewers weekly in over 100 nations around the world.
Not only is Osteen successful, but he seeks to help others achieve success also. He also has written several books and regularly posts articles on the Lakewood Church blog.
Some of his articles, especially in past years, were expressions of the so-called “prosperity gospel,” according to which financial success can be expected to result from proper or adequate faith—although many have serious questions about that understanding of success.
Years ago I heard, and agreed, that the New Testament word for success is faithfulness. Certainly the NT does not speak about success as being defined the number of dollars one has made or the number of members attending a given church.
Many of the great Christian missionaries were quite “unsuccessful.” That is how Francis Xavier thought about his work in Japan in the years following his arrival there in 1549. (Many later missionaries, though, thought he was quite “successful.”)
For many years following his arrival in India in 1793, William Carey was “unsuccessful”—as were Adoniram and Ann Judson for years following their arrival in Burma in 1813.
But they all realized that the New Testament word for success is faithfulness—as did Mother Teresa of Calcutta. So I close this article with her oft-quoted words: