How do you measure success?
Depending on what you do, that can vary quite a lot. If you’re in investment banking, maybe you’re successful if you help your clients make more money. If you’re in the widget-making business, maybe you’re successful if you sell more widgets. If you’re in health care, maybe you’re successful if you increase people’s overall wellness. If you’re a performer, maybe you’re successful if you get a full house to see your show.
During a leisurely afternoon together recently, a friend asked me, “Jeff, how do you measure success in what you do?”
I paused, looked at him intently, and said, “This is not easy; I see myself as being successful if the people I serve look more like Jesus today than they did yesterday.”
That really isn’t easy. Money can be counted. Widgets can be quantified. Health, while more general, can be measured. Heads can be numbered. But spiritual development? That’s harder.
When someone buys a box of widgets, it’s pretty simple to measure the success involved, even when you factor in the overhead, cost of development and manufacture, and warehousing, because for each widget in the box, and each box of widgets, those costs are all consistent.
But people mature spiritually at very different rates and in very different ways. One person’s baby steps in the Lord may take that person to a different place than another person who takes the same baby steps. All of this makes the work of ministry very hard to quantify.
When my friend asked me how I measure success, he was hoping I would give the answer I did. But there are some who assume that the success of ministry can be measured in more typical ways, either through dollars or bodies. While I think that a ministry that is seeing spiritual growth will also see numerical and fiscal growth, there are many factors involved that make it very difficult to analyze.
There is very little instant gratification in being in leadership in the church of Jesus Christ. This is true in much that matters in life, though we live in an ‘instant’ society that does not like waiting for things.
People with a preference for the instant generally don’t make very good gardeners or farmers. These folks plant seeds, or small plants, and wait for them to yield, all the while watering and fertilizing and praying for the growth to happen. Someone (I think it might have been John Maxwell) once said that having vision means planting a tree under whose shade you will not sit. That sometimes happens in ministry, too. One leader may plant a seed of an idea, but it may be another leader who brings it to fruition. And that’s all good, because it’s God who gets the credit and the glory, not the leader.
The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow” (1 Corinthians 3.6, NLT). That’s a comforting thing about being in the spiritual development business: ultimately, the work is God’s. When you’re a widget-maker, you and your employees do the work, but when you engage in the cure of souls, the human leader plays only a supporting role. God does the real work.
So, if you’re in leadership in your church, be encouraged: the work belongs to the Lord, who will use us as he sees fit to serve his plan. And if you’re not in leadership in your church, offer a word of encouragement to your church’s leaders, in part by seeing that indeed, true success in the life of the church is measured almost intangibly – that is, until we see people bearing the fruit of the Spirit. Nothing beats that!
P.S.: It’s Vacation Bible School season in churches everywhere, including St. Paul’s, Nobleton next week. Please be praying for all children’s outreach ministries this summer, that seeds of faith will be sown, and spiritual fruit borne!