There has been a debate on whether we are called to be successful in our lives and ministries or simply faithful to what God has called us to do. For pastors, we often view success in terms of numbers; we are successful if the numbers increase.
I read a book by a guy named Kent Hughes called, “Liberating Your Ministry from Success Syndrome.” Imagine a pastor of a small church in a transitional community who faithfully preaches week after week, cares for the congregation, invests in leaders, witnesses regularly, and serves the community; but the numerical growth is just not there. At the Convention he hears stories from other pastors with churches experiencing tremendous growth. The conclusion is often, “I’m not successful in what I am doing. Maybe I should be in a different vocation. God has not blessed with response to he must not be pleased with me.”
So, we beg the question, “Has God called us to be successful or faithful?” Sometimes we see both; but often we have to resign to the fact that even with the hardest work and best laid plans, God is the only one who can bring about growth (1 Corinthians 3:6, 7).
Check out what God says to Ezekiel:
“He said to me: Human one, listen closely, and take to heart every word I say to you. Then go to the exiles, to your people’s children. Whether they listen or not, speak to them and say: The LORD God proclaims!” (Ezekiel 3:10-11)
Getting people to respond to your ministry is hard. If we are doing it in our own strength, it is sure to fail (John 15:5), but even when we rely upon God to make it happen, we must faithfully do our part and leave the results up to him. Let’s look at evangelism as an example.
Most Christians know that they should be sharing their faith with others, that it is part of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. But, most Christians feel very uneasy about doing it. Many Christians rarely share their faith with others.
- Some don’t because they don’t want to look foolish in the eyes of their co-workers.
- Others hold back because they don’t want to offend someone.
- Many believers choose not to share their faith because their afraid they won’t do it right.
- Others fear they’ll mess up the message or be unable to answer unexpected questions, so they don’t talk about it.
If you can relate to these statements or if you’re someone who keeps the lid on our faith because you’re afraid of what might happen if you talked about it, then you’ll be encouraged and challenged by Ezekiel 3:10-11. In this passage, the Lord told Ezekiel to take his word to heart and then to share it with the Jewish exiles in Babylon, where Ezekiel was himself an exile. God told him to speak, “whether they listen or not” (Ezekiel 3:11). In other words, Ezekiel’s calling was to be faithful, not successful.
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with success, whether in life or in serving the Lord, but our chief calling as God’s people is to be faithful to him, to serve him with excellence, to obey him wholeheartedly. If God chooses to bless our efforts with success, that’s great, but many times we cannot guarantee success. We should always choose to be faithful and do what God tells us as well as we can.
How do you feel about sharing your faith with others? What about seeing the fruit of your labor (like success)? What do you find uncomfortable about this? What about setting goals and action plans to reach them? What encourages you to continue serving the Lord even when it does not appear to be successful? What would it mean for you to be faithful as a servant or witness for Christ?