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David Platt: ‘Church leaders, What is success?’

NEW ORLEANS (BP) — David Platt posed a question he called “critical” for church leaders to answer in a Founders’ Day chapel message at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

“What is success for you?” Platt asked. “How do you define success in your role as a leader in the church?”

Platt, former president of the SBC International Mission Board who has moved to a northern Virginia pastorate, spoke at a special evening service marking the conclusion of the New Orleans Seminary’s yearlong centennial celebration. The service followed NOBTS President Chuck Kelley’s announcement that morning of his retirement at the end of the academic year, July 31, 2019.

Kelley first delivered his news to the board of trustees as they met for their annual fall meeting on campus. During the 11 a.m. Founders’ Day chapel service, he made the announcement public.

Platt, an NOBTS alumnus and former faculty member, began the evening message by saying he sensed God’s urging to change directions with his sermon after hearing of Kelley’s announcement.

Turning to Kelley, Platt said, “I stand in a long line of men and women who are indebted to God’s grace in your life. Thousands of men and women who have walked the halls of this seminary have been shaped by your life and leadership, by your love for God, your love for His church, your love for this city and your love for the lost.”

At the end, Platt tied the impact of Kelley’s ministry to the question he posed at the start. Noting that the chapel audience was filled with church leaders, he drew from 1 Corinthians 4:1-2 to underscore the importance of defining success correctly.

Pointing to the text, Platt stated that church leaders are “servants of Christ” and “stewards of the Gospel,” and he asked what success meant in light of those tasks.

“Is success seeing a certain number of people come to Christ? Is it a certain number of baptisms? Is it a certain number of disciples made?” Platt asked, listing other possible indicators of success as church growth, reaching an unreached people group or church multiplication.

“I propose to you tonight that success is none of the above,” Platt said. “God requires one thing of you … that you be found faithful. That’s it. Faithfulness.”

Platt pointed out that the biblical text says nothing about the leader being “clever, creative, innovative, strategic, brilliant, slick or strong.” He then added, “not even fruitful.”

Because fruitfulness is not the requirement the apostle Paul gives in 1 Corinthians 4:2, indicators such as church growth, baptisms or reaching the lost cannot define success, Platt said.

“One requirement is given,” Platt reiterated. “Faithfulness.”

Threats to faithfulness

Reminding the audience that an “adversary is at work” to hinder believers, Platt outlined several threats to faithfulness that Paul addresses.

— Underestimating the power of God and overestimating the power of man hinders a believer’s faithfulness, Platt said.

“We too often speak in dismal terms about how hard it is to reach this or that kind of person in our culture today or in cultures around the world,” Platt said. “We will not be faithful church leaders if we talk more about how hard the ground is than we talk about how great our God is. We must not underestimate the power of God.”

Platt pointed to Isaiah 6 where God warned the prophet that no one would listen and reminded the chapel audience that “no amount of action on Isaiah’s part would change that, which is why we don’t judge success by fruitfulness.”

— When God’s holiness is trivialized and when man’s praise is sought after, success is hindered, Platt said. “We are guilty of taking sin so lightly and in the process treating God’s holiness so carelessly,” he said.

Pointing to himself, Platt said that being “consumed” by what others think is easy to do in leadership. “Faithfulness means anchoring our confidence, anchoring our hearts completely in the Christ-bought, ultimate approval and unqualified acceptance of God Himself,” he said.

— Holding too loosely to God’s truth and holding too tightly to our lives also can interfere with a believer’s faithfulness, Platt said. He told of an NOBTS alum who with his wife and children served an unreached nomadic people in Africa. The man returned home for a crash course in dentistry in order to make an opportunity for the Gospel. When forced out of the country, the family moved to a war-torn region. Today, the couple ministers to refugees in the “hottest, remotest, hardest and poorest” of places where “they’ve seen such horrors,” Platt said.

Platt warned against giving in to the “tantalizing temptation to twist God’s Word in an attempt to make our sermons more palatable and our strategies more successful — we must not do it.”

In conclusion, Platt thanked Kelley for modeling a biblical understanding of success and thanked him for his faithfulness in loving the church, the lost and in faithfully leading the seminary.

“Success is holding loosely to our lives in this world, spending it however God wants to spend it for the spread of His Gospel and the glory of His name, no matter what that costs us,” Platt said.

One day all will stand before God and give account not only of their lives, but of their leadership in the church, he reminded.

“So, on that day, what do you want to hear?” Platt asked. “Not well-done good and clever servant; not well-done good and popular servant; not well-done good and prestigious servant. May God say to you and me on that day well-done good and faithful servant.”

Videos of Platt’s sermon and Kelley’s “Walk through the Presidents” presentation on Oct. 2 are available in the archives section of nobts.edu/chapel.

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  • Marilyn Stewart