Defining Success

Over the past few days, I have visited a number of blogs that have addressed the expectations that are placed upon those in ministry. These expectations can be placed by the members of the church where one ministers, or can be placed upon oneself by those who are laboring.

Cameron Cloud, Ken Fields, Steve Sensenig, and Ray van Neste have been doing a great job of evaluating the problems that arise from pastors and church staff trying to meet the unrealistic expectations that culture, both secular and church, place upon pastors.

The question that I would like to ask is this, why do we pastors, knowing what we should do, allow those who have not called us to ministry shape the way we do it? I think the answer lies in our desire to be successful, or at least be perceived as being successful. We live in a culture that is increasingly becoming results oriented. “What have you done for me lately?” is the motto that drives many.

Those in ministry are easily sucked into this whirlpool. We are motivated to present a healthy bottom line. “Budgets, buildings and baptisms,” become our focus rather than obedience and faithfulness to God’s calling. When we fall into this pit, we find ourselves in bondage to the expectations and restraints that man places upon our ministry.

Oswald Sanders denounced ambition in the service of God as being evil. God forbid that we should ever seek to “climb a corporate ladder” in the Kingdom of our Lord. Young preachers entering the ministry are often counseled to devise a “career map” that charts goals to be achieved by certain points in time. Unfortunately, most of these goals are usually based upon performance, size of ministry and salary rather than upon submission to God. Brothers, We are Not Professionals, by John Piper is a book that I would recommend to every minister.

How then should we define success? After all, no one wants to be a failure in the service of God. I think we should draw our definition of success from simply being obedient to what God calls us to do. If this seems overly simplistic, I am sorry to disappoint you, but if it is God who calls us, and God who holds us accountable, then it is God who should be able to define our measure of success.

Consider Philip, in the midst of the great days of the early church, people are being saved in droves. Churches are springing up in various places. God is giving revelations of doctrine, miracles are being performed and the civilized world is being turned upside down for Christ. Sounds like the place to be, right? (After all, this is where God is blessing!) God yanks him up and drops him in the middle of the wilderness to witness to ONE Ethiopian eunuch. Does this contrast with the modern definition of success? Preaching to one instead of thousands?

Junior Hill made the statement, “Men of God must be able to pass the test, not only of notoriety, but also of obscurity.”

Vance Havner is quoted as saying, “If you please God, it doesn’t matter who you displease. If you displease God it doesn’t matter who you please.”

Men of God, let us lay aside wicked ambition. Let us humble ourselves before God and submit to His plan for our ministry. Let us not be slaves to the whims of man. Let us be true to the calling of which we are accountable to God.


9 responses to “Defining Success

  1. Vance Havner knows how to say it, doesn’t he. Thanks for your thoughts, Gordon.

  2. I would like to say that, as one who is not in “full-time” ministry, I can take almost all of what you wrote and apply it to my own personal ministry.

    I think it also helps those of us who are not in “full-time” ministry to be aware of who it is our ministers REALLY answer to. And you’re right. It ain’t us.

    Great post, Gordon.

  3. It is so good to know there are pastors in other states who are standing on God’s Word, God’s call, and God’s will and not the words of men, nor the call of mom, nor the will of church members.
    Great article.

  4. Thank you for this encouraging post. We all need to be reminded that faithfulness to Him who called us IS success.

  5. Oh, brother! What powerful encouragement to so many who struggle with our American version of Christianity, ministry and success. such an awesome and frightening truth..”we are NOT professionals” Jesus Himself did only what he saw His Father do…Let us take note and do likewise.

  6. this is a good post gordon, even for those of us not in full time (or even part time)ministry.

    Cameron defined success well a littl while ago when he said he would be delighted if the only accolades he ever recieved were the words “that’ll do child, that’ll do” spoken by our Heavenly Father.

    anything here fades away anyhow.


  7. Hi Gordon ~~ I enjoyed reading some
    of your posts. Thank you for the birthday wishes and your visit to my blog. Take care, Merle.

  8. Gordon – Thanks for posting your insights here. I’ve always thought that if we can get to the heart of people through a devotion to His word and to prayer, the results will come. Let’s just get to the hearts and forget about trying to manuever numbers/stats.

  9. kinda like ruckman, God called him to preach, not his wives, and ruckman just has to make sure he is pleaseing God, not all of his critics

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