WARNING: You have a definition of ministry success and it drives everything you do!
In this lesson, we shift our focus from the church leaders’ public ministry to their private lives. When the Apostle Paul knew he was meeting for the last time with the church leaders with whom he had planted the church in Ephesus, he chose his words very carefully.
One of the final challenges he gave them is recorded in Acts 20:28 when he said,
“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.”
Notice the first thing the Apostle Paul encouraged them to do was to care for themselves, then to care for the church members. In a similar way, we often hear that in a flight emergency, always put the oxygen mask on yourself first, then you can help others.
It’s with this in mind that we are going to do a survey of some of the common lessons that many church leaders have learned in their private lives, often the hard way, while developing their public church ministry.
The first lesson is understanding the importance of having a Biblical view of success.
The gospel of Luke tells us Jesus sent out 70 of His disciples, two by two, telling them that, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, ask the lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Now by anyone’s standard, their ministry was a raging success. As they spoke in Jesus’ name and ministered to people, God’s power fell on them in an astonishing way. They were not only surprised; they were obviously thrilled and elated. In Luke 10, Verse 17 we read,”And the 70 returned with joy saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.'”
Their enthusiasm was obvious. God was mightily at work through their lives doing great and miraculous things, so they rejoice, and why shouldn’t they? Even the demons were subject to them, just as they had been to Jesus, but right in the midst of all their elation and rejoicing at how God was working so powerfully through them, Jesus spoke these sobering words. He said,”Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.”
Here, Jesus makes clear to His disciples that their source of joy in their lives and in their ministries must not be found in what they do for Him but in who they are in Him.
Jesus knew that there would soon come a time in all of their lives and ministries when there would no longer be great signs and wonders to encourage them, but instead, there would be hardship, trials, persecution, sometimes death for His name, times when they would feel in subjection to the demons rather than demons being in subjection to them.
At such times, Jesus did not want His followers to be robbed of joy, so He taught them to find their true source of joy and fulfillment in something other than what some would call ministry success. Instead, Jesus wants His followers, then and now, who either in the face of what many would call ministry failure, to be the kind of people who find lasting joy in their knowledge of the good news that their names are written in heaven.
In the trenches of all the hard work necessary for developing a church, it’s very easy for church leaders to become discouraged and depressed. Hundreds have left the field over the years, convinced they are failures because of their lack of what many would call ministry success.
Now whether you realize it or not, you have a very specific definition of personal success in ministry, and that definition of success greatly affects your life. It affects what you worry about, your stress levels, and your sense of personal fulfillment.
False views of success are usually quantitative, not qualitative.
They’re built around things like career achievement, professional recognition, church attendance. According to scripture, success before God is measured in terms of faithfulness to Him. Success has been defined as faithfully pleasing God with the resources and responsibilities that He has given you. In the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25, we find that Jesus rewarded each faithful man the same, even though one was actually given more than the other and even though one actually produced more than the other. They were rewarded the same.
The Biblical view of success is radically different from the world’s view.
It is qualitative, not quantitative. Its emphasis is more on faithfulness and relationships than measurable accomplishments and achievements. Now does this mean that goal-setting and strategic planning is all wrong? Not at all. With the Biblical view of success, you will often work just as hard, but you are working for a different set of reasons, with a different underlying motivation. You still set goals and objectives, but your self-esteem and your view of success is not inordinately tied to achieving those goals. Never forget, true success in God’s eyes is not measured by mere external ministry results but by faithfully pleasing Him with resources and the responsibilities He has given you.
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