February 2, 2023

What is Success in Ministry?

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Recently, I sat down with a young, struggling pastor. He had taken a new role as youth pastor at a church and was dealing with a decline of attendance of young people after he’d begun. He explained to me that the youth group had been fun beforehand; lots of silly games and hanging out and not a ton of reflection or spiritual growth.  His vision was to keep the fun, but add more depth. He didn’t want to just babysit. His main job, he told me, was to help these kids establish a strong relationship with Jesus.

The Unseen

It’s difficult when you feel like you are doing God’s work and nothing seems to be growing from it. That day, my young pastor friend and I turned to stories from the Bible. I asked him, “Was Paul successful?” He said, “Yes, of course. He planted many churches.” I asked, “What about the fifteen years between his conversion and his work with Barnabas?” At that time, there was no measurable success, in fact, we don’t know much about what Paul was doing during this time. There was no growth that others could see, and I’m sure Paul and the people around him occasionally wondered if he was failing his mission. Of course, we now know he’d go on to plant many churches and that his writing during his time in jail would become part of the Bible. The question of his success would be better put as, “Was Paul doing what God wanted him to do?” And the answer was yes. 

The Importance of the Measurable and the Immeasurable

Do we ignore the numbers? No. They are a practical necessity in our line of work. We need a congregation to grow. We need money to continue to have staff, care for our building and help our community. When it comes to success in ministry, it’s hard not to focus on the numbers. Growth of a congregation is one of the few physical signs of health we can use to assess our progress. It is a kind of evidence that we can point to when people ask how our work is going, and, to be honest, numbers do matter. 

However, some of the work we do is immeasurable. How many people have we brought to Jesus or helped through difficult times in their life? Those are harder numbers to ascertain. We can’t point at someone’s soul to prove we are succeeding. Success isn’t always measurable, especially in the world of ministry. If we are doing what God wants us to do, we are succeeding in our work. God will bring health to our work and healthy things will grow. 

Reflection Questions: 

  • What do you believe is the work God means for you to do? Do you feel you are doing it? 
  • What other Biblical examples can you find of immeasurable success? 
  • Where do you see transformation in the people around you?
  • Who can help you see God’s work more clearly? 
  • Who can help you succeed in both measurable and immeasurable ways? 

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