Let Us NOT Praise Famous Men: Success in Ministry

Today’s guest post comes from ANDREW T. KAISER, PhD, author of Voices from the Past and The Rushing on of the Purposes of God, has been living in Shanxi with his family since 1997, serving the people of the province through professional work and public benefit projects.

As we turn the corner and enter the Year of the Rooster, it is natural to look back on the last year and take stock of one’s service. Are you succeeding in ministry?

Photo Credit – Author

Photo Credit – Author

For North Americans in particular, our models of successful ministry are typically “big name” Christian celebrity pastors. Even on the field, our organizations parade “success” stories before us at conferences, presenting stories of growth and expansion as the exciting testimonies they are.  By all means, we should rejoice and thank God for these blessings; but this emphasis, when unchecked, shifts our understanding of what it means to be successful in ministry.

And so in mission as in the church, success is often seen as being a leader, reaching larger numbers of people, growing an institution, receiving lots of invitations, and selling more books.  And, by extension, to pass up an opportunity to do any of those things can only be foolish. By these standards, are you a success?

Success that honors God

These measurements of success (“bigger is better”, “if you’re not growing, you’re dying”) seem to have more to do with North American business culture than the Kingdom of God.  Many of the Old Testament prophets labored alone. Few people responded to their message, and yet they are still praised for their ministries. Likewise, God is surely honored when one of his servants perseveres in faithful pulpit ministry in a small church in a dying community. Even Jesus started with twelve disciples and ended with eleven!

Measuring a servant’s faithfulness by the size of the harvest ignores Paul’s teaching that “neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Cor 3:7).

Credit: Flickr/Keith Williamson

Credit: Flickr/Keith Williamson

Certainly, Jesus says you can recognize a tree by its fruit (Matt 7 and 12). But in these cases, he is talking about character, about the relationship between our hearts and our words—about the presence or absence of the fruit of the Spirit as evidence of the indwelling of that same Spirit.

Which brings us to the true measure of success. Numbers aren’t bad. Nor is growth a sign of sin. Numbers and growth, however, are God’s doing—blessings he chooses to bestow when and where he sees fit.

Our job? To serve faithfully wherever he put us, to water and/or plant as we have opportunity. The true measure of Kingdom success lies not with treasures stored up on earth, but with hearing the Master pronounce us to be his “good and faithful servant” (Matt 25).

Have you been faithful?

As you review your past year’s service, don’t get bogged down in the numbers game or the competition for the approval of this world.

Instead, ask yourself a different set of questions:

  • Have you been a faithful steward of the resources he has given you? We must not squander the time, coworkers, money, visas, and other resources he provides for our service.
  • Have you been a faithful steward of the gifts he has given you? We must not squander the abilities, skills, and spiritual gifts that he builds into us.
  • Have you been a faithful steward of the opportunities he has given you? We must not squander the possibilities inherent in the places he puts us in and the people he brings into our lives.

Work diligently and faithfully in the field you have been given. Trust the Lord of the Harvest to produce whatever fruits he chooses to grant.

May he remember (纪念) you and your service in the Year of the Rooster (鸡年)!

ANDREW T. KAISER, PhD, author of Voices from the Past and The Rushing on of the Purposes of God, has been living in Shanxi with his family since 1997, serving the people of the province through professional work and public benefit projects.

 

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