I have been mulling for some time on our definitions of success in ministry. I think about these things because I am wired to win and to help the organization I lead make the largest mark for Jesus that it can. But where do the societal and biblical definitions of success overlap and where do they differ? Or is there a difference since often there does not seem to be any?
How we frame the question has a lot to do with the answer we get.
For instance, if my definition of success is doing better than my peers in ministry what I am really doing is competing with others according to their definitions of success. I see a lot of that among pastors and ministry leaders who love to compare attendance, budgets, staff, facilities and programs - which could simply be different language for sales, market capitalization, employee count, dividends, and new product in the pipeline. Again, where do societal and biblical definitions of success overlap and where do they differ?
Many leaders like visibility and believe we have something to say so we speak, write books, and often try to get into the "right circles" where we belong (of course) in our drive to accomplish great things. How many leaders do you know who run on fumes? If my definition of success is making a mark then I suppose these activities contribute to it. Leaders are visible, after all, and leaving a mark is often seen in that light. So in the business world, you might make the cover of Fortune and in the ministry world, a Christian publication, maybe CT! But these do not satisfy my soul nor do they seem to be consistent with Scripture.
Here is how I frame the question of success: When I see Jesus, what will He value and commend me for?
Here is what I know about that question. What Jesus will (and does) value and commend me for is very different than what society generally values and might commend me for. So I need to make a conscious effort to focus on those things that are important to Him rather than those things that are important to me or to those around me.
It seems to me that His definition of success will look something like this:
- A deep abiding relationship with Him that defines my life
- Being a Christ like husband, father and grandfather
- Focusing on becoming ever more transformed into His image
- Deep Humility
- Using the gifts He gave me to their fullest
- Having the greatest influence for Him that I can
- Being faithful in good times and hard times
- Treating those I lead with dignity, love and respect
- Being willing to suffer hardship for Jesus
- Developing, empowering and releasing my staff as He did
- Aligning my life priorities around His priorities
What is interesting to me about His definitions of success is that they differ radically from how success is defined in our world and by many who serve in full time ministry but are infected by a faulty definition of success (all of us are vulnerable on that). Jesus is deeply interested in the person I am and become, how I do what I do, the motivations behind it and how I interact and treat people.
It would be sad to get to the end and realize that what we had been chasing after so hard was not what God intended us to chase after. And that in succeeding, we had neglected the things that meant the most to God.