Each week in the Eastern Baptist Association one of the Regional Ministers will share a ‘Thought for the Week’ and some prayer requests. This week it was my turn and I thought that in the interests of recycling I would share it with you too. It was written to Ministers but may have a wider application. (Apologies to any of you who got the ‘Thought for the Week’ too).
Recently I have been pondering again how to measure success in a church. The traditional, and rather crude, measure of success is the number of people attending Sunday services (or “bums on pews” if you are less cultured). That may give attendance figures but is that the same as success? I don’t think so. We are certainly encouraged when will people turn up, especially if we are preaching, and even more encouraged if new people turn up and come back again the next week. We are rightly pleased when people come together to worship God, meet with him and encounter him. But again I don’t think that his success: it’s an aspect of Ministry. But I remind myself that no matter how many people turn up on a Sunday there are still many more who have not darkened the doors of the church for months, years, or perhaps even at all.
So what is success in Ministry? What does it look like? Do we think we have had a successful meeting if everybody has agreed with the final outcome? Was it a successful visit if we had chocolate biscuits alongside our cup of tea? Were we successful in preaching when everybody smiled and said thank you at the end? Is balancing the budget a measure of success, or increased giving? There are many possible measures.
One of the difficulties is that success in Ministry is not easy to measure because we are talking about God at work in people’s lives. In fact often what God is doing is hidden in the lives of those with whom we Minister and serve so we don’t ever find out about it. We often do not know the full impact for them of a visit to someone who has not been able to get to church. We usually do not know the significance of what we might have said in a sermon through which God spoke to somebody. God is sufficiently gracious that we may see some of the answers to our prayers but many will remain hidden from us (and anyway it was his answer not our prayer so can’t really claim success for it). We may not know how the way we led a funeral may have blessed the bereaved family. We do (please God) have the joy of seeing people come to faith and baptising them but many times will not know the full extent of the part we have played in someone’s journey of faith or to faith in Jesus.
If we’re being honest with ourselves and with God from time to time we would like to know that we are doing okay and would like to think that we are being successful in the Ministry to which he has called us. And, if we are being honest, sometimes it is rather annoying that we can’t measure it ‘successfully’.
But, and this is what I keep reminding myself, Jesus never called us to be successful. He called us to be faithful. He called us to be servants. He called us to be prophetic (and think how unpopular the Old Testament prophets were!). He called us to teach. He called us to make disciples. And he uses all of that to transform lives and bring people into the kingdom of God (his job, not ours). But (unless you know better) I don’t think there are any passages in the Bible where Jesus told us to be successful.
It may be semantics or perhaps a nuanced distinction but for me there is a difference between seeking success and receiving encouragement. Jesus has given us his power and authority and partners with us by his Spirit in the process of making disciples, baptising them and teaching them. That is our aim, that is what we are called to do, with his power and authority. Any encouragements we receive along the way are a blessing from him. Treasure each encouragement he gives you as you continue to fulfil his Ministry and thank him for them without yearning for success.
I hope and pray that you are encouraged this week.