As a Director of Missions, I work with pastors every day. It’s a common issue for pastors to struggle with the meaning of success. A proper understanding of success can be healthy. It helps us identify areas where we have excelled. It gives healthy targets for life and ministry.
On the other hand, inappropriate views of success can drive us into a miry pit. It can push us to adopt unrealistic measurements of success. For instance, the pastor of a small rural church cannot be measured by numbers, budgets and congregation size. If he starts comparing himself to the mega church pastor who ministers to thousands, he will quickly fall into self-pity and self-condemnation. That is so unfair.
The success discussion is often fueled by society’s measuring sticks. In our society we measure success by buildings, budgets and the size of the crowds. I believe the church growth movement, in an unintentional way, has fueled this discussion. Most of the “Top 100” churches are in thriving metropolitan areas. For a pastor to compare himself to those churches is just groundless. However, in subtle ways pastors are forced into making that comparison.
You have probably heard and read about the success discussion many times. I believe it is a discussion that should not be ignored. Every Monday morning there are men who crawl out of bed feeling as if they are a miserable failure as a pastor.
The longer I live the more I believe Paul gave the right definition of success. He said, “It is required in stewards that one is found faithful.” (I Cor. 4:2) Faithfulness is such a huge measuring stick.
The lonely missionary who struggles in a hostile environment, sees very little response, and has no church building as a sign of progress is a success.
The rural pastor who has faithfully served that small rural church for years with no explosive growth, no large crowds, and feels as if the world has passed him by---is a success.
Consider Paul’s context when he wrote I Cor. 4. Paul said the apostles… are “men condemned to death: for we have been made a spectacle to the world.” (vs.9) “To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless.” (vs. 11) To make matters worse Paul had to support himself as he labored under this heavy burden (vs. 12).
As you read these words, pastor friend, you will be measured by a greater standard. Have you been faithful? That is the greatest measuring stick!