Last year at our minister’s retreat a pastor I hadn’t seen in a while came up to chat. During the course of our conversation the question came up? Why does this question always come up? “How many people are you guys running on Sundays?” I gave him our average number. He responded with a frown and “Really? I thought you guys were much bigger than that!”
I don’t know why, but for the remainder of the retreat I was discouraged. I couldn’t get his response out of my mind. In fact, I began to agree with his response…why aren’t we bigger than we are? Later that night I began to think about success. When does a pastor become a success?
I have talked to enough pastors to know that I am not the only one who struggles with defining success in ministry. When does a pastor become a success or how do we know if we are doing a good job? Is it about the number of attendees? Converts? Baptisms? The size of our buildings? Is success really just about being faithful?
Can I confess a secret? I really want to be a success. I remember thinking as far back as middle school… “I just want to be really great at something!”
It’s true. I want to be a success. I want my church to be larger. I want to make a bigger impact in our community. I want our budget to grow. I want to have more staff. I want to give more to world missions.
Is there a problem with this desire? It’s a problem when my motives become misaligned.
I remember praying once about all the things I wanted to do for God, and how our church would impact the world. I clearly heard the voice of God challenge my desires. God gave me two words… “selfish ambition.”
When my desire for effectiveness and growth in ministry become all about me, my identity, personal satisfaction, or recognition, I cease to serve for the glory of God.
So, what is success anyway?
The dictionary defines success as: The accomplishment of an aim, purpose, or goals; the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like; the achievement of a desired result.
Well, I’m not sure that helps us much as pastors. Most pastors work hard, pray hard, expect a lot, but don’t always see the fruit they hope for. As a result, we become discouraged. At least three factors contribute to this discouragement:
1. Comparison - Why does the pastor across town have more people than we do? How are they able to build that new building?
2. Insecurity - Many pastors feel inferior, inadequate, and insignificant.
3. Lies we believe - If my church gets bigger, I’ll be successful. The church across town is growing because they have compromised the truth. The growth of our church is dependent solely on me.
We need a better definition for success. I like this one: Success is being where God wants you to be, doing what He wants you to do, when He wants you to do it. (source unknown)
Anytime pastors discuss success or effectiveness in ministry, the topic of faithfulness comes up. Someone will say, “God doesn’t call us to earthly success, but God honoring faithfulness.” I agree, but shouldn't we also consider what it means to be fruitful? Matthew 25:14-30 and John 15:1-8 seem to indicate that our faithfulness should lead to fruitfulness.
I’ve decided to let these questions frame my view of success in the ministry…
Pastor, remember this truth: only eternity will reveal the true impact of your ministry. God has promised His word will not return void.
Let’s be faithful and fruitful as we fulfill our calling. We always seek God’s glory, not our glory. We build God’s kingdom, not our kingdom.
Question: Have you struggled with the idea of being a “success” in ministry? What has helped you? Comment below.
Hi! I'm Loren Hicks. I am follower of Jesus, a husband, a father, a friend, and for the past
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