Sometimes I wonder if we’re trying to get to first place by our own power. Let me explain. We look around at all the other churches and we see what they’re doing and we wonder why we can’t be like that. We see that this one has a school, or that one has a great youth program, or this one over here has a popular family ministry. We see all these external things and we wish that we could be like them.

It’s easy to get lost in all the possibilities for church ministry. I get emailes telling me exactly what we needed to do to be a successful church, a guaranteed plan for growth and active ministries. It’s tempting to chase after those things because we desperately want to be successful. We desperately want to show God we can run a church. But these noble intentions quickly lead to feeding our own appetites. And our eyes become more interested in our own accomplishments than in what truly matters. We seek our own glory.

Why are we trying to look the best? Why do we have this desire to achieve glory for ourselves? Why do we need to prove to other people that we are a successful congregation, that we are successful Christians? We don’t need to do any of that. We don’t need to because we are close to the cross. The cross is what makes us successful. It is Christ who leads us and Christ leads a first-place church. He leads you and me to be the kind of church that excels in service and the kind of church that welcomes gospel progress. We don’t need to be told we’re successful by the people of this world. We only need to remember how Christ has already made us successful with his cross.

The church is all about how Christ served us with his perfect life and his perfect death. His service paid the awful price of sin: the price that we could never pay if we would suffer a hundred eternities. It is the price of the blood of the perfect Lamb of God, shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins. It is the price of his body, given for you, for the forgiveness of sins. Shed, given, poured out, offered—none of these are encouragements for us to do, but encouragements for us to receive. We are served by Christ’s perfect death that atones for our sins, that pays the guilt price of an eternal death that we could never pay.

So if your church is centered on the cross, then you are the Church that Christ leads, a first place church.