Have you ever wondered: Is anything I’m doing making a difference? Does anyone notice my sacrifice? What am I really putting in all of these hours for? Are these people I pray for and give to and reach out to ever going to make any progress – spiritually, physically, financially?
These are all vital questions as they revolve around the issue of ministry ‘success.’ What is success in ministry? And how will we know when we see it? We need to know what we’re aiming for so that we can celebrate when we hit the mark and so that we can make necessary directional changes when we keep missing the mark.
As I read it, Jesus’ primary aim in his ministry to others was simple: to help people grow in knowing (John 17:3) and loving God and others (Mark 12:28-31). We, too, then, can use this as a measuring stick for our ministry ‘success!’ Let’s try it on for size…
First things first: Is this growth in knowing and loving happening in our own lives? Do you know God more intimately than you did one year ago today? We absolutely can’t give to others what we don’t possess ourselves.
Second things second: Is our focus in ministry to others on an actual, real-life individual human being and his/her journey toward God? Are we making progress toward actual, transformative life change? Are we seeing a greater, more expansive living out of Jesus’ brand of sacrificial love in those to whom we minister?
I must confess that I often accidentally make the wrong things the measure of ministry success. Of course, it’s almost never bad things that I want to measure, it’s just good things rather than the best things.
Here are the top 3 good measurements that I am often tempted to make the best measurement:
Efficiency. An essential tenet of the American dream. A perfectly good value to consider when approaching the sustainability of a ministry or mission project. However, anyone who has worked with people for 5 minutes or who has done their best to love someone for longer than 5 minutes knows that people and love are, perhaps, the least efficient things on our entire planet.
Stewardship. I am a self-identified saver, and therefore, this is a very high personal value for me. I hate waste! Therefore, I love all of the Bible passages that tell us that we ought to plan and prepare (Prov 6:6) and count the cost (Luke 14:28) and save wisely. But, then there are all of those Bible passages that say to give generously beyond my calculated means (Ps 112:5; 2 Cor 9), the example of the emptied life of Jesus (Phil 2:7), and all of those stories of money apparently ‘wasted’ (Luke 10:25-37; 15:11-32) on – you guessed it – people.
Effectiveness. It is easy for me to look at the crowds who gathered around Jesus as the ideal measurement of successful ministry. If lots of people are coming, whatever I’m doing must be effective, right? Yes, maybe. But not always. Indeed, as he always does, Jesus seemed to see it another way. Many times, he welcomed the crowds (Luke 9:11). But, he also often withdrew from the crowds, spent intentional time away from the crowds to ensure that his few dedicated disciples were really understanding his difficult message, and was critical of the shallow and wayward hearts of those just jumping on his bandwagon (Matt 11:25-26; Luke 11:29; 5:15-16; John 6).
Actual, transformative life change – particularly toward a greater knowledge of and love toward God and others – in the individual lives of each of his disciples was his obvious aim and priority. Let it then also be our measurement of success in our spiritual lives and ministries.