A preacher’s guide to idols: success

In his book, Preacher, keep yourself from idolsDerek Tidball suggests that preachers have to live in a degree of tension with the age, in that they must engage with it and understand it, while keeping a distance and being critical of it.

So we must engage with, but remain distant from, the culture to which we preach.

The first of four ‘idols of the age’ that Tidball considers is the idol of success.

He does not allow a division between success and fruitfulness (how many pastors have sought to defend the decline of their churches by blaming the decline on ‘society’ while claiming that they are simply being faithful?). He proposes that ‘faithfulness will normally result in fruitfulness’, that it is wrong ‘to oppose faithfulness to fruitfulness.’

In an attempt to arrest the mid-twentieth century decline, people turned to the Church Growth Movement, and to seeker-sensitive and mega-church models. ‘These movements put “success” unavoidably on the map of ministry.’

Success, however, has its dangers. We are tempted to arrogance and to forget the grace of God.

And when success… becomes the objective to which everything else must bend, rather than the natural by-product of faithfulness to God, it has truly become an idol.

Among the critics of ‘the professionalization of the ministry’ and the popular preaching that has come with it, have been David Wells (No Place for Truth), Anthony Thiselton, who has contrasted the preaching of Paul and today’s popular forms of preaching, Ian Stackhouse and David Hansen.

Hansen has claimed that ‘preaching our visions and ideas for the church is cheap leadership, and it is not preaching.’

And further:

Preaching clever ideas, church programs, politics and heart-warming stories is thin soup.

The point is not to ty to revert to the past, to attempt to batten down the hatches against storms of cultural change, or to revive traditional forms for their own sake. God is not captive to any culture.

Tidball suggests four ways we can move forward:

  1. We should begin by minding our language, suggesting that we do well to speak of fruitfulness more than success
  2. We should live in the tension between faithfulness and fruitfulness
  3. We should cultivate a firm grasp on God’s sovereignty
  4. We should understand the basis on which God works.

If ‘success’ is what drives us, it has become an idol. Ambition, fame, drivenness, a desire for being ‘where the action is’ and success – all these need to be sacrificed on the altar to God.



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