Sitting out on the patio of my usual Starbucks with a fresh cup of blonde roast coffee in hand and my ear buds inserted into the side of my head, I’m chatting with four familiar faces on the screen of my laptop. It’s my weekly virtual pastors coaching meeting with a handful of pastors from across the country. In the meeting are pastors from the California Bay Area, Washington State, Vancouver, Canada, South Carolina and myself in Atlanta.
As the conversation begins, we check in with each other on how our week has been. As we move around the virtual circle, one of the pastors begins to tell us that he has had a real difficult week. Just a few days prior, he and his wife made the decision to close up shop and call it quits. Not quit the weekly coaching meeting, but close down his small church plant he started four years ago.
As we inquired about what lead to the decision, his response was layered with pain, sorrow and embarrassment. In the midst of mourning the loss of a dream, he was also wrestling with whether or not he had failed at the Calling he had received from the Lord to plant this church. As we processed this decision with him, a conversation about success in ministry surfaced.
How do you know that you are a “successful” pastor?
Is it determined by how many services you hold on a weekend and how many people attend your church? Is it decided by how many best-selling books you publish and how much traffic you get to your blog? Is it based on your ability to raise funds and build a state of the art facility? Is it measured by getting on the conference speaking circuit dispensing your pastoral wisdom about how you built the church, wrote the book and are now ten thousand plus in your weekend services?
In other sectors of society, success is often measured in quantity. We naturally connect that bigger = better. AT&T is currently running a series of commercial spots communicating this very thing. Take 30 seconds and watch this.
It’s cute right? But notice the tag line at the end of the commercial. Success in this story is measured by quantity. In the church world, this gets translated to bigger buildings. More money. Lots of people, multiple services, being multi-site, etc…
Success is also measured by quality. Think of fine dinning. My cousin’s husband is a chef at one of the top restaurant in Washington D.C. There’s only one location and it’s small, really small. The restaurant has no more than 7 tables and has only two seatings per night. And to get reservations you have to call months in advance. It may not be big, but literally, there is no better food in the city.
In the church world success as quality gets translated into valuing excellence. Hang around enough church staffs and you are bound to hear the language of “excellence” used to describe their music, preaching, programs, etc… Now, I have no problem with excellence, in fact when I preach I want my sermons to be excellent. But sometimes this notion of excellence can move from being something we value to a law, “It has to be perfect or it’s not allowed here.” As we know from scripture the law does not give freedom or life, the law enslaves and kills.
So if success in the church isn’t measured by quantity (bigger is better), and if it isn’t measured by quality (excellence), what is the measure of success in a local church?
I would contend that success in ministry is faithfulness. In Matthew 25, Jesus tells a parable of a master who entrusts his resources and wealth to his servants. The master goes off on a long journey and tells his servants to put his money to work while he is gone. When the master returns, each servant brings a report of what they did with his money while he was away. Upon hearing the report, the master isn’t so much concerned with how much money each servant made, but rather whether or not they were faithful with what they were given. The phrase that he uses to commend his servants for a job well done is, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (italics added)
Even though I am seduced by cultures idea of success and long to see it realized in the ministry I lead, God is continually reminding me that his measures are different from the worlds measures. God owns the cattle on a thousand hills and he isn’t impressed by “bigger and better” things. God desires people who are faithful to the work he has given them to do, who ultimately trust him for the results.
How do you define success in your ministry?