What is Success?
Easy question to ask. On the surface that seems to be an even easier question to answer. In the ministry world we’ll quickly utter well-trodden answers like … “faithfulness” or “doing whatever God tells me to do” and so on. However, in those quiet moments just before we drift off to sleep, in the middle of the night, or first thing in the morning our answers aren’t so guarded and filtered. Particularly in church planting what we actually say versus what we actually believe are light years apart.
To be fair, that question is one that plagues the sensitive conscience whether you’re in ministry, medicine, marketing, teaching, sales, and more. Each industry has their own metric to judge what success is. In ministry, well, our metric is simple … numbers. In church planting that is the ONLY metric you’re measured by. It’s what we celebrate and continuously affirm. How do I know? Who’s on the stage at any event or conference? Those who’ve been “successful” at somehow attracting crowds to their church. That’s it. Nothing else. Then we assume they must have something to say so they’re invited to speak, publishers fight over to get them to write books, and of course they blow up on social media.
Sigh. It felt just as yucky to write that as I’m sure it was to read it.
What then is success? How will we know if we’ve “arrived” and have reached some semblance of it? Will we feel a certain way? What will we notice? If we simply removed the one metric (numbers) that EVERY church planter is measured up against then how else would we define success? Sure, Jesus attracted crowds when he was giving away bread and fish or confronting the Pharisees with his teaching. However, as soon as he dove deep into what it meant to follow him then all of a sudden people left. They wanted a bread king, not a King.
Would we follow Jesus if we never saw any kind of worldly (ministry-wise) success? Would we labor anonymously and in obscurity? Would we plant our lives, a church, and the gospel among people who don’t look that great on social media regardless of what filter we use or preset on Lightroom? Would we deem our ministry a success if our church never hits that nebulous and elusive “self-sustaining” metric? Would we be a success if we have to be bivocational or even trivocational? Would we be a success if our life didn’t even seem that noteworthy to post and share on social media?
When it comes to that line of questioning most of us would bristle and in a gruff humph under our breath mutter something like how success is tied to faithfulness and then we may even quote an old dead theologian or our favorite Reformer. But again, at those last moments before you drift off to sleep or first thing in the morning before your quiet times and coffee (when you’re too tired to insert your filters) what do you really believe? At those moments platitudes go limp and useless.
That lone question will haunt you … and should. What is success? Unless you place it in anything other than your naked identity in Christ and his calling on your life (whatever that may look like) then everything else is but a cheap imitation. I’m afraid too often we’ve settled for grasping for this imitation. We’re reaching for the Hillbilly Holler and not Mountain Dew (yes, Hillbilly Holler is an actual generic off-brand version of Mountain Dew at some grocery stores). That’s why it’s easy to bail on church planting, avoid crappy parts of the city or uncool rural communities, and prop ourselves up … because we’re looking for … hoping against all odds … that our church plant will “pop” and it will launch us into that rarified air of “success” in ministry. If that then is success then almost all of you are horrible failures and probably should pack it up and pick a new career path.
So how will we stop believing this narrative of success? What will it take for us to stop dancing this jig that Jesus never called us to dance?
Written by Sean Benesh
Director of Intrepid