Striving For Success
Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord. Habakkuk 3:17-18
Success in terms of ministry and spiritual life is highly celebrated but often hard to clearly describe or quantify. Often we allow others to measure our success for us. When attendance is up and the offering plates are filled it’s easy to feel accomplished. However, when the majority of our North American churches are plateaued or declining it is rarely encouraging to ask a pastor, “How many are you guys running lately?”. While all pastors would agree that we are all playing for the same team it sometimes feels as though we are in competition for the starting position on the varsity lineup. And when I compare I often feel like I am riding the bench on the junior varsity practice squad. Now, I am not advocating that we stop counting noses and nickels. Rather that we stop using those as the solo measuring stick of success.
When I operate within the wrong definition(s) of success I can find myself too busy to spend time dedicated to prayer and the study of the Word. I find myself coming home from work late and missing precious time with my children. I find myself basing my mood and my worth on how many people come to our worship service and I find it difficult to worship if the sanctuary feels empty to me. I find myself seeking the approval of man. So, what is the correct definition?
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the founder and perfecter of our faith. Hebrews 12:1-2
I achieve success when I align my spiritual life and ministry with the race the Lord has called me to run personally and not allow myself to get distracted by other people’s callings, critiques or criticisms. As long as I run toward his goals and calling on my life, I will have achieved the goals that He has purposed for me. When I take time to align my heart with God’s definition of success I find myself at peace regardless of the circumstances. I relish sweet times of prayer and personal study. I find myself having more compassion in my heart for my church family and families in my community. I find myself wanting to disciple my children and lead my wife toward holiness. I work hard toward the prize like Paul. I desire to build great ministries that move people along a process of discipleship that glorifies God rather than use people to build great looking ministries that glorify me.
I love the definition of success that Mark Clifton gives in his book on church replanting, ‘Reclaiming Glory’. He says that our churches are successful when we are making disciples that make disciples that make the community noticeably better. Strive for success, just make sure you have the right definition.