HOW DO YOU MEASURE SUCCESS IN THE MINISTRY
By R.S. Taylor
No man or woman called of God to the pastoral ministry plans to fail. The desire is to succeed in the eyes of leaders, people, family-and most of all in the eyes of God. And God has planned for us to succeed. A call to the pastoral ministry is an assurance that God sees the potential for success- As Ethel Waters used to say, “God don’t make no flops.”
Yet some do fail. In some cases they fail in their first pastorate-but succeed thereafter. Some fail in their first and second and third-and by this time they are “out.” Some struggle with a level of success which in the light of their potential is itself a failure – Others fail to round out a full lifetime of ministry and drop out years before they are of retirement age.
Causes of failure are really not many. They are weaknesses in a few critical areas, which could have been corrected. A chapter in this book will be devoted to identifying these. More frequently the cause of failure is an attention to superstructures to the neglect of foundations. The underlying principles of the ministry have not been learned.
DEFINING SUCCESS SOUNDLY
The first principle is the imperative of entering the ministry with a biblical philosophy of success. Some pastors’ concepts of success are unrealistic. They are shaped by the big dramatic success story of some super church that has grown from a membership of seventeen to two thousand in four years. With such yardsticks the vast majority of pastors will be struggling under a sense of failure, even guilt, all their lives. There is nothing worse than the tyranny of a false measure of success. To be inspired by what others do is good, but to be intimidated by it is paralyzing, especially if the example becomes a standard by which our ministry is denigrated.
Let us begin, then, with a Christian mind-set. Since the ministry is a service profession, success must be related to effective service. Since the ministry works with people at the cutting edge of life, and deals with invisible and intangible realities, success cannot be quantified in terms of sales or balance sheets. The pastor is stretched upon a cross of heaven-and-earth tensions that are staggering in their eternal issues. For him there is a cosmic dimension in this word success, of which the secular world knows nothing. His wares are God, the gospel, and eternal souls.
Furthermore the pastor is just one in a vast interplay of spiritual forces, including the whole of Christendom and reaching back to the Cross and beyond. He builds on other men’s labors. Jesus said to his disciples, “I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor” (John 4:38). In no calling therefore is humility more appropriate than in the pastorate, and in no calling is pride more odious.
Because the pastor is God’s servant, not his own, he cannot selfishly angle for position. He knows that he cannot be promoted from the center of God’s will. His Christian scale of values assures him that there are no “unimportant” churches, any more than there are “unimportant” people. We dare not become pagans by measuring success in terms of “moving up” to a bigger church or “moving down” to a smaller. As Jesus would say, that is the way the Gentiles think.
And the most obnoxious poison is cynicism about this. Of course there are human dimensions as well as divine, and of course there are blunders and inequities. Many things happen in the ministry which are not fair, but neither was the Cross. A Christian is one who believes that God is greater than man and conducts himself accordingly. Let the pastor be a Christian. Only as a Christian, with a thoroughly renewed mind (Rom. 12:2), will he be able to think straight about success.
THE DIMENSIONS OF SUCCESS
There is a quantitative dimension to success, but other dimensions are interlocked with it in such a way that the quantitative finds its true meaning and validity in them.
The spiritual dimension
Success in this dimension is the most difficult of all. But the pastoral ministry finds its crux right here. Peter was commissioned:
“Feed my sheep” (John 21:17). Years later Peter himself exhorted, “Be shepherds of God’s flock” (1 Peter 5:2). Having a church so large that the pastor must operate as a “rancher” is a false mark of success, if being a “rancher” means he feels he has graduated from the need to be a shepherd.
Sheep and shepherding are alien concepts to twentieth-century urban sophisticates. We are much more at home with the concepts of promotion and management. Yet the pastor who is a great manager but aloof from his people, and who does not teach and nurture them in their spiritual life, is not a success but a failure at the level of his primary obligation.
A pastor who leaves behind a spiritually healthy congregation when he moves to another charge has passed the most fundamental test of success. Under his ministry there should have been a growth in the sturdiness of his people’s walk with the Lord and a development in their understanding of truth. Their grasp of the Scriptures should be more mature than when he first began to serve them. They should be more resistant to the spiritual diseases of occultism on the outside of the church and carnal strife on the inside. They should manifest a growing capacity for unselfish, outgoing service, and a deepening concern for the salvation of souls. Faithful and joyous stewardship should be a way of life.
Basically this spiritual dimension of success includes the pastor’s skill in leading his people into full heart holiness and helping them to become established therein. A truly Pauline pastor will share Paul’s passionate concern for the entire sanctification and preservation of his people (1 Thess. 3:10; 4:3-8; 5:23-24).
But experiencing the blessing is not enough. A concerned pastor will not be content until his people are so well indoctrinated in the concepts of full salvation that they can testify clearly and learn to articulate their beliefs to others, thus multiplying the pastor’s ministry.
What kind of a person is apt to succeed in the spiritual dimension of ministry? He or she will exhibit four marks:
1. Saintliness. P. T. Forsyth said, “My first obligation to my people is my own sanctity.” A pastor must model holiness. His people must see in him Christlikeness of spirit and motive, in all places and circumstances. He must be a growing Christian. His personality should exhibit the joy of the Lord. A pastor should pray earnestly to be like Paul in his ability to say, “Imitate me” (1 Cor. 4:16).
2. Understanding. The pastor needs to understand the Bible, Christian doctrine, and people. To acquire such understanding he or she will have to be a thinker, an observer, and an avid student. He should read until he is theologically knowledgeable, and live in the Bible until, in the apt words of Forsyth, he can “wear it like a glove.” His success in the spiritual dimension of the pastorate will be determined by his degree of competence in these three areas.
3. Teaching ability. This is a biblical requirement (I Tim. 3:2; 2Tim. 2:24). If a pastor would succeed he must learn to articulate truth clearly and effectively, both in the pulpit and out of the pulpit. His sermons should inform and edify as well as inspire. But his teaching should not be confined to preaching. A substantial portion of his total program should be devoted to discipling. When his church becomes too large for him to do it all himself, he must train laymen to do it or employ professionals who can. At this point the concept of “rancher” makes sense.
A one-track evangelistic style can militate against success as a teaching pastor. In one of my early pastorates I preached urgent
evangelistic and searching sermons morning and night. One day a “mother in Israel” said gently, “Can’t you give us an orange once in a while?” Only gradually did her meaning dawn on me. It was a turning point in my pastoral ministry. She was pleading for nourishment. And please, let it be a sweet orange rather than sour.
4. Wisdom. Some pastors are walking encyclopedias of academic knowledge-even psychological theory-but they are not wise. Wisdom involves pedagogical skills. It also perceives where people are in their spiritual journey and the kind of care they need at this point. Wisdom exposes people to the right books and the right speakers. It knows when to confront and when to confirm. Better yet, it knows how to make even the confronting confirming.
The denominational yardstick
While some churches are independent, most belong loosely or closely to a denomination. In this relationship they have obligations to other components of the system. Their obligations are financial, for one thing, and involve missionary budgets, perhaps educational or other types of commitments. A denominational relationship not only imposes obligations but limitations. Most denominations have a “discipline” by which some degree of moral, doctrinal, and structural control is exercised in the interest of unity and strength.
It is a poor brand of ministerial success which operates as an island rather than part of the mainland. A pastor should be big enough to work comfortably with the whole field and teach his people to do the same. If he is small-minded and afflicted with “localitis” and, worse yet, “egoitis,” his people will shrink in vision and shrivel in soul along with their leader. Selfish indifference to obligations outside of one’s immediate circle is self-defeating, for the ultimate result cannot but be stagnation – spiritually, financially, and numerically. The spring of generous giving which is walled in from others will eventually dry up even for the local church.
A successful pastor builds a world consciousness into his people. He educates them in the ethos and programs of the entire denomination. By example he inspires delight in being a part of zone, district, and general activities. A sense of fraternity and loyalty-even church pride-is properly encouraged. Church periodicals will be seen on family reading tables. Missionary books will be read. Awareness of far-flung church enterprises will be increased, and the people will share in the victories elsewhere. Missionaries will be frequent guest speakers, sparking warm personal ties and inducing a deeper ministry of intercession.
The result will be an informed, involved, cooperative, enthusiastic laity, with horizons beyond the local church. They will be larger in soul. Budgets, rallies, assemblies or conferences, superintendents, mission fields, publishing houses, schools and colleges, will all seem like friends and be embraced in the broadening prayer-bonds of growing Christians.
In no aspect of church life will the adage be more fully demonstrated-“like priest, like people.” A big-minded, world-visioned, leadership-respecting, budget-paying pastor will just naturally produce this kind of people. If he is a booster, they will be. But the rewards will be sweet; for if he boosts those above him, those below will boost him because they will catch his spirit. Magnanimity begets magnanimity.
The material dimension
At this point our concept of success must be expanded to cover the whole gamut of the modern pastor’s functions. He is not only a preacher and teacher, not only a liturgist; but he is the legal head of a corporation. As such he is a planner, promoter, organizer, manager, advertiser, delegator, supervisor, and diplomat. Success in the pastoral ministry requires some degree of skill in every function.
Managing the physical and financial side of the church has been the Waterloo of many a pastor. Large churches have business managers, but approximately eighty-nine percent of Protestant churches in North America have an average Sunday morning attendance of 225 or less (Lyle Schaller). The great majority of them cannot afford full-time business managers. The responsibility therefore in most cases is squarely on the pastor’s shoulders.
Great sermons will not compensate for unpaid bills. Fervent piety will not cancel the bad impression of peeling paint. The first church of one seminary graduate was near a secular college. Hundreds of students walked by the property every day. Friends had expected this brilliant student and strong preacher soon to pack the church. But the pews remained unfilled. Neighbors and students couldn’t get past the uncut grass, neglected shrubs, and the ragged, sagging sign, “Jesus is the Answer.” The brilliant seminarian did not last long there. Someone failed to tell him that property preaches also.
Not only must property be maintained, but a way must be found to pay the pastor and staff, to pay local accounts promptly and honorably, and to discharge faithfully the obligations of the church to the various entities of the denomination. Everything is at stake – credit, reputation, influence, the honor of Christ, souls. Methods cannot be discussed here. A smart pastor can always learn how to get a handle on finance in harmony with the procedures and restrictions of his own church.
What kind of man is most apt to succeed in this area of the ministry? Fundamentally it will be one who has a very high sense of personal responsibility and a keen awareness of the priority such matters claim in the integrity of the work. If he has a business background or a natural aptitude in practical management, so much the better. But at the very least his IQ needs the ballast of common sense. Some of us who by temperament are “eggheads” and hardly know the business end of a hammer, will have a rougher time, but the obligation is equally upon us. As a beginner I wanted to take my ministry out in praying, studying, preaching, and as little calling as I could get away with. Administration I abominated. But I soon learned that that also was my job, and I learned that if I organized carefully, planned far enough ahead, and enlisted others wisely, I could do it. I even learned to enjoy it.
INCLUDING CHURCH GROWTH
What is church growth? Fundamentally it is the increase of regular born-again attenders in the regular services, validated as authentic church growth by their active participation in the life of the church. True church growth is more than the aggregation of the unsaved, it is the growth of the kingdom of God, consisting of men and women and boys and girls who have been brought to Christ. As such, it is the kind of growth which has a built-in impetus toward further growth. If this enlargement is sound and well-managed, it will reflect itself in membership statistics. But a swollen membership roll in and of itself does not prove healthy church growth. Some churches keep adding names to the roll, but new members drift or move away, and the actual attendance and participation remain static.
In pushing church growth we must avoid the grave peril of making it an end in itself. We can learn from the remark of Henry Ford: “Try to run a business solely to make money and the business will die.” Making money, he insisted, should be a by-product of providing a service. The service must always be kept center stage. Likewise, in the pastor’s mind the simple task of winning men to Christ, teaching them to live holy and useful lives, and finally get to heaven, should be the unshifting focus. His success in doing this will spell church growth. But if his focus is on church growth per se, he will inevitably measure the importance of this or that prospect not in the light of his own eternal need but in the light of his potential as a church growth asset. This mania-as it can easily become-will tend to dictate methodology, with the result that the church growth he succeeds in achieving may not be church growth with integrity.
Nevertheless, real church growth, as properly defined, should be the normal expectation. A pastor should have no intention less than reaching the lost for Christ and bringing them into the church. Any other plan will mean a dwarfed ministry and a stunted church. There is something defective in a pastor’s godliness if he is content with zero growth. For at the heart of true godliness is a love for souls, not only the sheep in the flock, but the lost sheep, and the potential sheep, for whom Christ died, and who so desperately need the Savior.
It is true that bald statistics can never measure the undercurrents of the kingdom of God. Well known is the story of the couple in Louisiana who saved their money to bring a prominent evangelist to their community, expecting to have a great revival. Only one fourteen-year-old boy was converted. Outwardly the effort seemed like a failure. But that boy was Roy T. Williams, who became one of the great holiness leaders of this century. The real success of that meeting should be counted not as a mere one but a multitude.
Furthermore, no pastor’s success should be evaluated by the occasional statistical reversal. Economic upheavals can decimate whole communities, reducing church rolls as well as population. Epidemics or weather can play havoc with attendance records. An honest clean-up of the membership roll (perhaps removing names of persons long since dead or long since moved away with whereabouts unknown) can result in a net loss, even though new members have been received. Such a loss is a credibility gain, but it will not show on the records.
It is also true that some churches have less potential for growth than others. This may be due to external conditions over which the church has no control, as in the case of a radically changing neighborhood or perhaps a disappearing population. “Growth potential,” observes c. Peter Wagner of such churches, “is near zero.” Then he mercifully adds, “Churches with terminal illnesses do not need to be loaded with more guilt because they are not growing; they need to be cared for and counseled.” And some noble soul needs to shepherd them without being made to feel inferior.
Another kind of external condition which impedes growth is a location which serves a highly mobile population, as in a military or college community or even in an inner-city mission setting. As Wagner says, “Many of these churches have excellent outreach programs; they are leading large numbers of unbelievers to Jesus Christ and folding them into the church, but year after year the church just stays about the same.” This is real growth in the kingdom, recorded fully and joyfully in heaven. But these churches will never make good illustrations for books on church growth. This may help us avoid a tunnel-vision approach to the whole matter of church growth-defining it exclusively in terms of statistical enlargement.
But by far the most prevalent impediment to church growth is lack of motivation. The potential is present but the desire is not. Such churches are content with their size as they are. Wagner speaks of them as “single-cell.” Lyle E. Schaller calls them “fellowships,” and likens them to cats with their nine lives and benign independence.” Members of these fellowships actually prefer the comfortable security and intimacy of a small church. Too many outsiders make them uneasy. This may be a normal sociological trait, but it also constitutes a spiritual problem, for such churches enjoy themselves in selfish indifference to the unsaved and unchurched all around them. A pastor of such a church needs to understand the psychology at work here-and be part of the family-yet never succumb to it. He should be forever leaning against it, seeking to awaken his people to a vision which sees beyond their own pew.
Hence numerical growth as a criterion of success includes more than a bare increase in membership and attendance. It includes the successful inculcation of a passion for soul winning in the congregation. The mood of complacency needs to be replaced by the excitement of outreach. Part of pastoral success is one’s skill in turning the attention of his people outward until they become imbued with the understanding that we are saved to save others. Even preaching holiness should be a means of deepening and cleansing the church for its mission of evangelism. A sanctified church will reach more people for Christ than a carnal, worldly-minded church. The supposed “power” of a professed Spirit-filled life is spurious if at its heart is not the power for witnessing which Jesus promised (Acts 1:8).
What kind of a pastor will most likely have a growing church? First, he will have staying power. He will stay long enough to earn the right to lead. Second, he will succeed in awakening in his people enthusiasm for growth. Third, he will lead them to mobilize their resources for evangelism. Fourth, he will know how through discipling and assimilating to consolidate his gains.
This will be easier for some persons than others. The pastor who temperamentally is a shepherd at heart and loves the quiet pace and the human relationships of a family-style church will not do so well as the pastor who by temperament is a task-oriented, dominating leader.
Probably Timothy was the first kind; nevertheless Paul admonished him, “Do the work of an evangelist” (2Tim. 4:5). While there is a limit to which we can expect a square peg to learn to fit into a round hole, and we must acknowledge and respect different pastoral types, no one should be encouraged to excuse himself from winning at least one person to Jesus in a year’s time and bringing him into the church. Even the shyest preacher can do at least that much if he prays enough, puts his mind to the task, and goes at it in desperate earnestness. His church growth may not equal another’s, but it will be better than stagnation.
Finally, church growth in any degree presupposes the necessity of learning the principles and skills necessary to success.
(The above article was from the PRINCIPLES OF PASTORAL SUCCESS)
Christian Information Network