What does it mean to be successful in the ministry?

imagesThis morning I started re-reading “Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome by Kent and Barbara Hughes.  In the first two chapters of this book, Kent shares his experience with ministry burnout.  Anyone who has been in the ministry for more than a couple of years can relate to what Hughes writes about the turmoil that enters into the soul of the Pastor/Minister who buys into a worldly definition of success in the ministry.  The sad truth is that we have made success in the ministry everything but what God says that it should be.  We have made it about numbers — we sometimes jokingly call this the nickels and noses syndrome— but God has defines success in less quantifiable but far more important terms.  In God’s economy success is more about things such as faithfulness, service, and holiness for more than how many people we had in Sunday School last week.
Every Pastor who has been in the ministry for more than six months knows that we have a tendency to do this, but we give very little attention to why this is such a trap.  Let me give you three reasons I believe that we tend to fall into the trap of defining ministry success in such worldly terms:
1.) We still struggle with sinful pride.
No Pastor ever likes to admit it, but we all struggle with sinful pride.  If you don’t believe this just go to a Pastors conference and listen to the conversation around the dinner tables.  We love to try to find comparisons between ourselves and other Pastors that make us look good.  Numbers prove to be very tempting in these kinds of discussions.  Believe it or not, I have even heard Pastors brag that their church wasn’t declining as fast as someone else’s.  The best thing we could do it to simply acknowledge that this is a problem, confess it as sin, and then war against it when it rears it’s ugly head.  But what we usually do is to try to mask it in false humility or spirituality.
2.) We live in a fallen world.
We live in a fallen world where the true qualities that define ministry success are not highly esteemed.  The world exalts leaders but seldom acknowledges servants.  The world exalts in things that are large but misses that sometimes small things make the greatest impact.  But in the Kingdom of God the very attitudes and qualities that the world sees as insignificant are actually considered blessed (see Matthew 5:1-11).  The world creeps into the church in a million different ways and one of the most significant is in the ways we define success.  The answer, of course, is to dig deeper into the word of God and allow it to form our definition of success rather than the world.
3.) Satan influences the way we think.
One of Satan’s greatest tools against us is to simply get us to think in a manner that is contrary to the character and will of God.  This is what he did to Eve in the garden of Eden and it is what he continues to do to Pastors this very day.  By getting us to define success in ministry in a worldly way Satan draws our focus away from the things that are really important and onto the things that we have little or no control over.  He gets us chasing numbers and spending all of our time on the the things that produce the least amount of true spiritual fruit.  By chasing after world success we end up being failures in the things that are really important.
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