Am I successful?

Defining success proves challenging, as its meaning varies among individuals. Commonly, it is perceived as achieving goals or fulfilling potential, yet the nature of these goals differs widely. In Western traditions, success is often tied to wealth, power, and position.

Ruth Haley Barton recently wrote an article on re-thinking success. She quotes a pastor sharing his experience: “I retired a year ago from one of several consecutive positions as associate or senior pastor.  I retired not because I didn’t love the people, the missions, the act of preaching and the way weekly preaching shaped me…No, it was because I was never able to navigate through the expectations of my church, both at the local level and from the hierarchy, that I would attract more and more money and bring in more and more members.

“By the time I decided to retire, these two components of ministry became the only validations of effective ministry in my denomination.  Conducting ministry by such a method was mind-numbing and soul-draining.  I tried my best, and in the end I left.  Today I guest preach and lead retreats only occasionally.  Mostly I spend my time in utter joy, compiling my journal entries and letters from my first year as a solo pastor in England.  At long last, I have time to reflect.”

As a missionary, we are under constant pressure of performing. How many people are coming to know Jesus, how many staff do we have in our community, how many students do we have attending our courses, and project innovative become the yardsticks of success. Then there is the comparison game – do I measure my success by comparing myself to other community leaders? Many leaders are comparing their breadth of ministry – the size of their team, the numbers in their conferences, the bigness of their budgets and the followers of their social media and blogs. Jesus didn’t seem to go for the breadth but for depth. He focused on a small core team of 3 and then the 12. He continually encouraged people not to broadcast his miracles. He spent time with individuals and small groups in homes and over meals. His ministry was cut off after 3 years, his right-hand man denied him and only John from the 12 apostles was seen at the cross. Would we count his life as a success on the face of it? There were 120 left waiting for the promise of the Spirit in the upper room but even that seems a fairly small number when we consider this was Jesus, the messiah.

So how do we measure success? Perhaps it’s not even a Christian word as the New Testament doesn’t seem to mention it. As I scrolled online, I came across ‘Five Things Successful People Do.’ – work hard, focus on what is important, keep looking for ways to improve, don’t be afraid to fail, and commit for the long haul.  This doesn’t talk about setting larger and larger goals for ourselves but setting our priorities on the things we are gifted in and doing the best we can.

Our church has a simple benediction that is shared every Sunday as we leave – love God, love people and tell the story. The great commandment – love God and love others and the great commission – love the lost. So if we are fulfilling these three things are we successful in life?

We just visited a dear friend in a hospice who has had a heart for hospitality and loved Jesus and people all her life. There has been a constant flow of family and friends looking in on her and saying their goodbyes affirming her and blessing her for the influence she has had over their lives. I would call that a successful life.

What a relief to recognise that we are not all called to the same ministry. Yet people put expectations on us to be all things to all people. If you are a leader you are expected to be visionary and take your people into the next innovative projects and raise the funds for all the projects that are being pioneered. Then you must be skilled in pastoral care and be full of empathy and words of encouragement. And of course you need to feed the people with eloquence and the word of the Lord, with growth taking place in all aspects of the work.

Leadership is a team ministry, so let’s make sure we build the team with the variety of gifts needed. Then we can focus in on the calling that God has for us personally and be successful in giving our time and attention to that alone. There’s a time for being spread thin to identify our gifts, but once we know what they are, lets focus on them and in that way be a success.

Perhaps the bottom line to success is this – Am I becoming more like Jesus every day in my love for Father God and the time I spend with him, the development of my character and growth in wisdom, my loving relationships with others and my commitment to the assignments that God has called me to? 

Ruth Haley Barton concludes her article with this thought: I am convinced that one of the things we can do to save our souls in ministry is to re-think our definition of success and to be vigilant in rejecting the subtle seductions of the ego in this regard.  Mother Theresa’s perspective helps me to stay grounded in the deepest truth about what success really is; it rescues me from my own inner strivings when I need rescuing. She says,

I was never called to be successful; 
I was called to be faithful  
and in my striving to be faithful 
my life will be fruitful

and because it is fruitful    
you could say I am successful.”

Amen and amen!

Until next month


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