“Success, in God’s Kingdom, is about living more of a responsive life than a life of self-driven initiative. Ultimately, how success is defined in your life depends on your unique, God-given destiny. Success is met by following the Father, down whatever road he leads.”
– Dave Gibbons, Pastor and Author of Xealots: Defying the Gravity of Normality
It is always a challenge to define “success” in ministry. Is it the number of kids we get to a huddle? Having consistent parent and pastor volunteers? Coaching our leadership students to a certain standard? What about heart transformation? How do we measure that? Commitments to Christ? How about follow up?
When working in the realm of the spiritual, the “bottom line” is often hard to define and even more difficult to measure. Dave Gibbons was the pastor of a mega-church in Orange County for years before he realized that God was not asking him to pastor thousands upon thousands of people. While Gibbon’s dynamic and ever-growing church would certainly be seen as a success in the eyes of the world, he became convicted that he was leading a congregation he had not been called to lead. Gibbons now pastors a substantially smaller church in the heart of Santa Ana that focuses on serving the community in which it is planted. It is evident to all who visit Gibbon’s church, that they are walking in the path the Lord has set before them.
During my time with FCA, I have learned that “success” looks very different on each campus we minister to. Every September I set goals for each school, and by this time in the year, I realize that God’s vision is often different than my own. This year, I started huddles at Costa Mesa High School believing that numbers would be small. We had ended the previous year with about 15 consistent students, 10 of which were graduating. The Lord has continued to surprise me by bringing up to 50 kids to certain huddles, and never letting our numbers drop below 10. We’ve seen genuine commitments to Christ and a Spirit-led movement towards unity among students who wouldn’t normally interact.
Despite the manifold hardships that we still encounter on that campus, all of these things would be considered great successes. And they really are. Beyond any empirical evaluation, God’s hand has truly rested on Costa Mesa’s campus and we can see the many ways he is working in and though FCA.
However, last week, an event occurred that really opened my eyes to God’s purpose for FCA at Costa Mesa High School. At the beginning of the year, there was a girl who came to no more than three huddles. As soon as she walked in the room, you could tell that she carried a heavy burden thinly veiled by a tough-girl exterior. I connected with her enough to develop an easy rapport, but never broke below the surface of her pain. Then, she disappeared. She stopped coming to huddles and I had no way of following up with her.
That was 7 months ago. Last week, she walked through the door during our FCA meeting and without a “hi” or “how have you been?” asked to talk with me outside. Weeping, she told me that she comes from a single parent household and that her drug-addicted mother was diagnosed with cancer. Her father is completely out of the picture, and she is left caring for her five-year-old half brother, whose father is also absentee, while her mother continues in self-destructive behavioral patterns. I held her close and prayed for complete healing in their family. For not only physical healing form cancer, but for the repair of deep emotional and spiritual wounds.
The point of this, is that this girl had no where to turn. She doesn’t come from a healthy home and she isn’t plugged in with a church. I can guess that the brokenness hidden by a hardened exterior has caused problems in school, and she had no place to lay down her burden. I certainly am not qualified to counsel her through this kind of pain, but, through the ministry of FCA, I have been present on that campus. And for whatever reason, when she needed a place to be vulnerable and express her anguish, she felt safe at FCA.
This might not be a “success story” by the world’s standards. I wasn’t able to fix any of her problems and I may never see her at huddle again. But, one of God’s daughters was hurting and she knew she would find shelter at FCA. To me, that is the greatest success we could ask for. To be present on these campuses and known by the students as a place they can experience God’s comfort and encouragement. Our huddles at Costa Mesa are humble to be sure, but in moments like these, I know we are walking in the “unique, God-given destiny” for FCA on this campus.