The False Gospel of Visionary Success

“The whole problem is that churches don’t operate like businesses,” the businessman explained. “If they did, we’d all be a lot better off.”

I can’t remember what prompted this discussion, but I heard it a few times from this man and others. Pastors should look to business leaders for inspiration. Churches should adopt business practices. Churches should also teach their people how to do this so that they know how to really live well in this world.

It’s widespread. It’s the false gospel of visionary success. I hear it often, even from pulpits, and it’s robbing us of a better message that we need to believe.

The Lies We Believe

In This Is Our Time, Trevin Wax asks, “What if we are living according to the myths of our culture without even questioning them?” He helps expose some of the lies that we’re tempted to believe, and shows how the gospel tells a better story.

One of the lies we’re tempted to believe comes from business:

  • Set a vision for your life and your church, and if you’re a pastor, help your people do the same.
  • Become a great leader and overcome any obstacles that stand in the way of our success.
  • Learn from whoever you can in order to attain your goals, especially those who’ve achieved business success.

There’s some truth in these statements. Some ministries need a clearer vision. Some organizations need better leadership. And we can learn from anyone. But the problems with this approach are many.

These lies are more aligned with a North American vision of the good life than Scripture. They offer a vision of the good life that the writer of Ecclesiastes found empty. They assume we have more control than we actually do. They elevate one set of skills (visionary leadership) over skills and gifts, and elevate these skills over character. They put relentless pressure on pastors and individuals to succeed. They label some people who’ve succeeded in God’s eyes as failures. They give primary authority to business sources, pushing Scripture to the periphery. They pressure us to use Scriptural leaders — even Jesus — as illustrations of best and worst practices rather than characters in God’s ongoing story of redemption.

The false gospel of visionary success promises much but leaves us feeling pressured and empty if they don’t succeed, or even if they do.

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Source: Church Leaders