Defining Success

Have you ever asked this question in a group of church people? “How do you know if the church is being successful?”

Generally there is silence and a perceived need for clarification, so let’s rephrase the question: “How do you measure the success of your ministry?” Generally more silence. Either people are afraid to say what they think, or they have no definitive answer.

We’re wired with a desire to succeed, whether it’s a relationship, the classroom, the marketplace, the athletic field, or ministry. Since success is so important to us, we should have a way to measure it.

Consider these four questions, which are intended for every believer, not just pastors and church staff, because God wants us all to pursue success as He defines it.

Question 1: Are You Being Faithful?
I read a book long ago called Liberating Your Ministry from Success Syndrome. In that book the author challenged the reader to step away from the numbers game. Pastors love to play this game at the Convention… “We grew by 55% this past year,” or “We baptized 30 new believers.” But the pastor of a small church who faithfully preaches the gospel, witnesses in the community and shepherds his local congregation year after year with little results, what about him? The numbers indicate that he is not successful like these other churches.

I suppose that we would declare the apostle Paul as unsuccessful… after all, he was a jail bird who was run out of town on several occasions, causing riots and turning the world upside down. But I suspect that none of us would classify Paul as a failure.

We all want to hear God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Hearing those words would shout success. In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), it’s profound to note that the master commended faithfulness: What did you do with what I gave you? The second servant received the exact same commendations as the first servant, even though he produced less of a return. Jesus is making the point that being a faithful steward of what you’ve been given is what matters most. Are you being faithful?

Question 2: Are You Bearing Fruit?
In John 15:1-11, Jesus taught that it’s God’s will that we bear much fruit. As we do so, God is glorified, and we prove to be Christ’s disciples. The New Testament speaks of two kinds of fruit:

  1. The fruit of Christ-like character (Galatians 5:22-23). The fruit of the Holy Spirit includes nine characteristics that should fittingly describe those who call themselves Christians.
  2. The fruit of Christ-like influence (Acts 10:38). We’re called to make a difference in the world in the name of Jesus.

So, are you bearing fruit?

Question 3: Are You Fulfilled?
My dictionary defines fulfill as, among other things, “to make full.” Is your life or ministry making you full of joy. Looking again at the parable of the talents, the master told his faithful servants, “Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21, 23). Joy is one of the primary blessings of faithful and fruitful service.

This is exactly what Jesus indicated as He concluded His remarks in John 15 about fruit-bearing: “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (John 15:11). Jesus taught them to bear fruit so they would know His joy, and experience it in the fullest way. Are you fulfilled?

Question 4: Are You Making God Famous?
God wants us to be faithful, to bear fruit, and to experience fulfillment (his joy) in a way that makes him famous. Peter teaches that the faithful exercise of our gifts is “so that in all things God may be glorified” (1 Peter 4:10-11). Jesus tells us, “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16). Are you making God famous?

Imagine for a moment what your church or ministry would be like if every believer was successful in biblical teams: faithful, fruitful, fulfilled, and engaged in making God famous. While such an objective may not be as quantifiable as other measures, it’s worth pursuing because it’s God’s measurement of success.

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