Success and Ministry

Cross & Clouds

Quick. Name the most successful pastor you know.
Was it a pastor from a large, large church? Like Rick Warren? Bill Hybels? Rob Bell? Adam Hamiltion? Joel Osteen? To name a few. Or a pastor who have written best sellers? Like… the pastors I just mentioned…

Let’s face it. When push comes to shove, we tend to base success on numbers. The bigger the church, the more successful we think the pastor is.

The dirty secret is, numbers are a the driving force of “success” in my denomination.
Of course, we say it isn’t. But numbers (membership and giving, particularly apportionments) can help or hurt the pastor’s tenure at the local church.
That’s why you see pastors fudge numbers here and there, making their churches look larger on paper when they report to the Annual Conference.
Or, you hear stories of how churches, if they don’t like their pastor, would stop attending and stop giving so that the numbers decrease making their point of asking for a new pastor more valid to the District Superintendent. 

When talking to people about the churches they attend to, the size of its membership comes up. And, if you were to ask any United Methodist church person about the size of their church, they’ll most likely tell you how many members are at that church. But if you ask them what’s the average attendance, more often than not, you’ll get a fairly different (usually lower) number.

It’s just easier to identify a successful church with numbers. Attendance, giving, etc.
Success is an “intangible” thing, so we try to define with tangible things; things that everyone can see.
Big houses. Fancy cars. Expensive clothes and accessories.
… Well, perhaps not in ministry. Or, perhaps in ministry, also.

But, really: what is a successful pastor? What does it mean to be successful in ministry?

All of us in ministry have one time or another (or continually) fallen into the bigger is better mindset.
I mean, let’s be honest. Who wouldn’t want a church that is big and growing? Who wouldn’t want to pastor a church with a huge and accommodating campus?

But we play a dangerous game when we make numbers the goal and focus of our ministry.

Jesus had a different definition of success, when it came to ministry.
My dad told me about an article a pastor in Korea wrote. The article talked about the last phrase Jesus uttered on the cross, “It is finished.”

The phrase “It is finished” wasn’t some resignation or said in defeat, but a triumphant declaration, It is finished!

It’s the phrase of mission accomplished; goal achieved; a phrase of success.

And Jesus said those words on a cross. On that Friday, there was not a single human soul watching Jesus and thinking he succeeded. Even back then, that’s not what success looked like.

Having a big church is great and a blessing.
So is having a small church.
In fact, just being a pastor is great and a curse blessing.

Being a “successful” should go beyond the size of the church s/he is pastoring.

I don’t think Jesus cared about numbers.
He saw people who followed him.
He saw many who walked away from him.
But, his goal, I believe, wasn’t trying to get as many followers as he possibly could.
His goal was to show the people that God was with them. Right here, right now. And that God loved them.

And that goal led him to the cross, to which Jesus triumphantly said, “It is finished.”

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