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?


10 Responses to “Being a “Successful” Pastor”

  1. mwpatrick

    This has been interesting to read. I agree with your deductions that success (church/pastor) is measured or should be measured by faithfulness. Faithfulness requires reciprocity-i.e you have to get and good as you give and vice versa) This to me is a by product of relationship, intimacy, connected-ness and yes, faithfulness. Well said.

  2. Sydney Weaver

    How do I define success in my ministry?

    I believe I can answer this through 2 scrippys. The 1st scrippy speaks on success – the 2nd talks about the ministry (and a part entrusted to me) 🙂

    Interestingly, Joshua 1:8 is the 1st and only place we see the word ‘success.’ This is what I strive for.

    This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. Josh 1:8 KJV

    Here, the church – the living, breathing organism…Jesus!….I see the ministry! One body working together. The pastor has a part in helping to perfect me (one of the members) so I can WORK. It’s important to see in context as this is how we grow up, this is how we work as a body, joined together to establish His work of love to each other and the lost.

    And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:

    That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:

    From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. Eph. 4:11-16 KJV

  3. Sydney Weaver

    Oh Bryan…I meant to say that I agree that ‘faithful’ defines our success as ministers of the Gospel.

    The servants that did something with the talents given them, he said ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things.

    Sadly, the one who was afraid and hid his talent, did not hear the same words!

  4. Dan Martin

    Yes, Bryan, “faithfulness” is a major key. I would add “discipleship.” Are you one, and are you making some? Not just for the “pastor” but for all of us.

    • bryanmarvel

      Darrell – That is a great question. I don’t want to simply pop off a quick answer. I have a few initial thoughts in mind, but let me think about it for a little while before I get back to you. I would love to here how you would answer that question.

    • bryanmarvel

      Darrell – After giving it a little bit of thought, my first response was that I am not sure that faithfulness can be measured. However, after thinking about it some more I am not sure if that is true. Thinking back to the parable in Matt. 25 it seems that the Master does measure the faithfulness of the servants based on what they do and what they produce. However, I don’t think that faithfulness is measured in quantities. It’s not that one servant is more faithful than the other because he produced more than the other. Rather I would say that faithfulness is measured first by obedience and then by perseverance.

      So a few simple questions come to mind.
      Are doing doing the things God is calling you to do?
      Are you following the Lord in the ways he is leading you?
      Are you staying the course even when it’s not fun and challenging?

      What are your thoughts?

  5. ktsavage

    Success = (Col. 1;27) “Christ in you the hope of glory”…. Faithfulness / Belief / Prayer etc. etc. etc. are all fruit but still “works.” “…The father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” Mark 9:24….that father had “unbelief” and Jesus still performed the miracle. We focus so much on a “formula” for success as the world does, but look at the Disciples, all except for John killed at a young age….some have very difficult Churches to work with. Success is dying to self and allowing Christ’s will to be done no matter how it “appears” to men.

  6. Covenant Prayer |

    […] with the question of what it means to be successful in ministry. (Most recently I wrote about it here.) Intellectually, I know that God desires faithfulness more than fame, fortune and celebrity […]


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