Last week’s announcement that Soul Survivor will close in 2019 took me by surprise. The festival has been a blessing to many people – including members of our own family and church. So the news was surprising mainly because Soul Survivor is so successful – why would you want to stop doing something which is going well? The answer from their leadership was simple: this is what we believe God is telling us to do.
In most contexts, and sometimes even in church, success (usually measured by amounts of income or numbers of participants) is seen as a sign that things should continue. After all, however big we are, there’s always the opportunity to turn ourselves into a truly global brand!
How refreshing for Soul Survivor to show us a different way, to follow the example of John the Baptist who realised that his ministry was not about himself, but about Jesus – who in turn rejected worldly success for the path to the cross.
What a challenge to all of us to slay the counterfeit god of success in our lives and ministries – recognising the warnings in God’s word that success often leads to complacency and pride, and draws us away from God (e.g. Deuteronomy 8:10-18).
So if we need to be careful not to be seduced by success, how might we handle failure? What about the many people who throw their lives into faithful service over years and even decades – simply because they believe it is what God has called them to do – and yet they see little or no signs of success?
If followers of Jesus are to be people who avoid paying too much attention to apparent success, we should also be careful not to over-react to weakness and failure. The Apostle Paul had powerful experiences of the glory of God, but then he was struck by an acute form of torment – a thorn in his flesh. And as he wrestled with God about this, the message he received was:
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.
Don’t mishear me: success can be good and failure can be a sign that we need to change tack. After all, our God is a God of victory. But the point is that our perspectives of success and failure are not necessarily God’s. Our job is to listen to him (not to ourselves) and to be faithful to him (not to other people's expectations).
Is your life a triumph or a disaster? Actually, it's probably better not to ask that question. Treat those two imposters just the same, and recognise that the only assessment that matters is God’s.