To Be Successful or Faithful?

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?

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How Paul Shared His Faith

There is a debate about what people call success. In the church, we often look at success as bigger and better; the numbers will determine how successful we are. After reading a book called, Liberating Your Ministry from Success Syndrome, I tend to see success as faithfulness in following God’s call on your life. Paul wanted to bear fruit in Jerusalem more than any place else on earth, but he found greater opposition and struggle than anywhere else on his journeys.

At first the commander thought Paul was a terrorist from Egypt (Acts 21:38), but he was actually an ambassador of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:19, 20). These people beat Paul with their fists (Acts 21:32) and all he wanted was to share his testimony (Acts 21:39). Acts 22 has a great model for sharing our faith in Christ.

Paul communicated simply and clearly: He spoke to the commander in Greek (Acts 21:37) and to the Jews he spoke Aramaic (Hebrew dialect, Acts 21:40, 22:2). Few of us are fluent in more than one language, but here Paul demonstrates his ability to communicate in at least two languages. As a Roman citizen, I can imagine he spoke Latin as well. As Christians, we often have our own language (church-speak) that people on the outside just don’t understand: salvation, regeneration, justification, born again, conversion, burden, atonement, walk the aisle, prayed the prayer, was baptized, body of Christ… you get it… but many people don’t.

Paul honestly described his former conduct (Acts 22:3-5): We lose our listeners when they sense an attitude of superiority in us. We must be careful not to magnify the former life with details, so generalizations are best. Let’s have people focus on the Savior rather than the behavior.

Paul related his experience of conversion (Acts 22:6-11): This is where we tell others how we actually came to know Christ. It need not be dramatic because the same blood rescues each of us. Like the Prodigal Son, who was involved in wild living (Luke 15:29-30), the faithful son needed salvation just as much.

Paul shared how he received his commission: He was clear about the purpose God had for him (Acts 22:12-21). Lots of people will not come to Christ believing their is too much to give up, but I submit to you that we need to tell people all that we have gained.

Once Paul mentioned he was appointed to reach the Gentiles, he lost his audience (Acts 22:22). Was he a failure because they rejected him? Was his testimony shared in vain? He did not plant a church, start a small group, or even leave behind any discipling relationships, but they heard his message (otherwise they would not have responded to violently). There is freedom in following Christ. We are to be faithful in our serving and testimony, but must always leave the results up to the Holy Spirit. We are not called to be the Holy Spirit in someone else’s life. The Spirit convicts of sin.

Application: If you are a child of God, you have a story worth telling. Are you exercising your witness? Have you practiced sharing your faith with a brother in Christ? It is only after you practice in private that sharing in public with a lost person becomes easier and more natural. Consider writing out your testimony using these steps:

My life before I met Christ:


How I came to know Christ:


The difference Christ has made in my life:


Planning, preparation, practice and presentation lead to the progress of the gospel. We are called to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8) and be ready at all times to give an account of the hope we have inside us (1 Peter 3:15). How can the Men of Steel help you become more faithful, and even more successful?