On Tuesday evening, I watched John Campbell’s interview with our re-elected (for a third term) Prime Minister John Key on TV3’s “Campbell Live”. Having pointed out the unprecedented huge voter support for John Key and the National Party, Campbell asked him “what do you want to be remembered for?” In a broad and somewhat less-telling response, Key reiterated the sentiments of former Prime Minister Sir Robert Muldoon: “I want to leave the country in better shape than when I found it.” Teasing this out a little, Key added: “I want to be remembered for lifting our confidence as individuals and as a nation to how we see ourselves in the world.” By this, he explained about creating opportunities to improve and prosper ourselves both locally and internationally. In a nutshell, we can be defined by our successes.
Key’s response is very much tied to economic improvement and prosperity. Some may take the view that such improvements can also have a flow-on effect into other areas such as housing, social development, and justice. If our economic situation improves then that might provide more choices for us to further enhance our lifestyle. This can be seen as a very good thing. But a danger can be the extent to which economic improvement drives the view that having more is better. So when is enough really enough?
As a church, perhaps we could ask, what defines us as being successful? Perhaps we could also ask, what might a better life for us look like? Our answers may depend on what drives us or what we believe is our core value. A better life might include having a bigger membership which, in turn, could improve our finances and, therefore, create new or different choices/opportunities to further increase our membership. If the cycle continues, then the logic that more is better could enable us to become a mega church. Some might see that as a sign of success and, therefore, a good thing. But what is at the heart of our motivation? What is so important for us that it defines us?
In the kingdom of God, numerical increase does not always equate with what is better. Just last week, we heard from the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Mt. 20: 1-16) that those who worked more and thought they deserved better did not necessarily get that. Economics in the kingdom of God is viewed differently as upside down or back to front when Jesus concluded “So the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Mt. 2016). A lesson from the parable is that success is not based solely upon what we can do for ourselves; rather upon the generosity we exercise in relationship with others.
The core value upon which we build our lives together as the church is the love of God in Jesus Christ. Our response to this is also one of love – to God and neighbour as one’s self. I believe our true prosperity as followers of Jesus is our willingness and ability to love one another as our Lord commanded (Jn. 13:34-35). This is not only a mission mandate for us, but also what defines us: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Whether we grow bigger or not; or whether we grow richer or not, we are defined by the generosity/love/grace we exercise with others as God has done for us. This will be the measure of our success.
It’s true that First Church of Otago has an identity grounded in historical roots and traditions with the Free Church of Scotland, and that our beautiful church building is iconic in reflecting such a heritage. Yet, we as the church today are much than that. So, what is the measure of our success as its people – the living church? If John Campbell asked us as a church, “What do you want to be remembered for?” what would be our response?