A successful church?
We studied the letter to the church of Smyrna in our Tuesday Night Bible Study this Tuesday (Revelation 2:8-11). We used the Inductive Bible Study method, which really forces you to grapple with the text of Scripture.
What I came away with was the uncomfortable realisation that God's view of a successful church, and his methods for getting there, are very different to mine (or most human beings).
The church at Smyrna is one of two out of the seven that receives no criticism, and yet they were poor, suffering, and slandered. In response to this oppression, Jesus warns them that more is coming, so that they might be "tested." There is no suggestion that they should complain to the authorities or vigorously defend themselves. Sounds harsh, right?
But Jesus encourages this church in many ways: he reminds them that he is the first and last (he was there at the beginning, and he's in charge at the end); that he died and rose again (he has control over death itself); that they need not be afraid of the suffering (because he's in control of it); and that, if they are faithful, they need not fear the second death, but will instead receive a victor's crown of life.
In contrast to human leaders--who use great messages, good community, uplifting worship, etc. to try to build the church--God uses (in Smyrna's case) poverty, suffering, and slander.
God's idea of success is not a bustling church with a noticeable presence in the community. His idea of success is a community of believers who are unflinchingly faithful to him in the face of poverty, persecution, and slander, even to the point of death.