Friday, November 7, 2008

Defining Success

One of the issues that many pastors struggle with is an appropriate definition of success with which to gauge their effectiveness as a minister. All professions wrestle with this to one degree or another, but ministers must wrestle with it according to different rules. The rules differ in how they must be biblically derived, account for the complexities of the human condition and keep in mind the sovereignty of God who still is in charge of the whole enterprise. For this reason, the appropriate definition of success for Christian ministry can be illusive, and difficult to nail down.

A easy way this is often achieved is to simply count heads. If there are more people attending the church, faithfully contributing to its mission this year than there were last year, then you're succeeding. If, however, there aren't, then you're not. This method may solve some problems of gauging "success," but it fails to account for other important factors though. How do the growing numbers represent the spiritual maturing of people? Is the work divided well among those that are maturing? There is definitely more to consider. Nevertheless, though many more factors must go into gauging the "success" of a Christian ministry, numbers always play a role of one type or another.

What, then, of the ministry that is shrinking in numbers? Can the non-numerical factors be given such importance as to still claim success without corresponding numerical growth? This is difficult, yet necessary for the minister of a shrinking ministry in order to stave off feelings of failure. This is not to encourage such a minister to so "spin" the intangible factors as to make numbers irrelevant.

Executive Officer: "Captain, the ship has struck an iceberg and is sinking!"

Captain: "Don't be negative X.O. The brass is all shined. The crews' uniforms look sharp. I've never been prouder."

We chuckle at such comical denial on the part of command, but then how do we account for the intangible factors without sounding like "spin?" In ministerial settings, it's necessary to remember that the mission of the Church is to make disciples. It does not necessarily follow then that the mission of any given church is to make a certain number of them. In truth, The Church may very well be growing even if a specific local church is not. A pastor may lament a seeming lack of success, but must maintain an awareness that the One in Command ultimately assures Himself success.

So then, how does a minister assure himself that he is contributing to the success of the One in Command (God)? The primary way this would seem possible is to perceive what is the mission that Command gave to you. If indeed a minister can evaluate his efforts as being faithful to the mission, then he can be confident that he has contributed to the success of The Church.

All sorts of World War II films come to mind at this moment; the ones wherein the mission was accomplish though the players did not return from it. "The Bridge on the River Kwai" or "The Great Escape" are good examples. However, few captured this better than "Saving Private Ryan." This story begins with an Army company participating in the invasion of Omaha Beach at Normandy. Their mission is to contribute to the winning of the war. Shortly after taking the beach though, they receive a strange and different mission from Command ("this one comes all the way from the top"). Several in the company object to this "side mission," not seeing how it contributes to their desired misison of winning the war. As the story unfolds though, staying faithful to the mission given them from Command, though they are stripped of all outward symptoms of success, ultimately makes a major contribution to the first mission: winning the war. The Grand mission succeeds because the various and sundry parts of the Army stay faithful to the sub-missions assigned to them.

For a minister then, if he and his church stay faithful to the sub-mission given them, he must think himself successful out of faith that it contributes to the success of the Grand mission. By faith he must retain confidence in Command, knowing that the orders must make sense when "this one comes all the way rom the top." This definition of success does not ignore the tangible factors, nor does it look merely at numbers. It defines success in a way that those with vast or limits resources available to them may both have a reasonable claim to success.

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