Pastor…What is Success?



Success is the attainment of your objective as measured by your value system.


A Case Study

Old First Church had suffered a lack of growth and had attributed it to the leadership of the former pastor, now retired. In seeking a new pastor, they give him their expectations of growth, immediately, if not sooner.

Pastor Johnson wanted to set a spiritual basis for his ministry and felt that growth would come as a result of God’s providence. The barriers to immediate growth were considerable and at the end of the first year, the pastor gave his estimate of the average worship attendance on Sunday morning to be 450. (Actually, it was only 372.) The Sunday School general director wanted his organization to show support and he  counted the “hall-walkers’ class” and other associated persons in the building, plus an estimate of how many probably were present, but not counted. These totaled 465. (But only 384 really were in classes each week.)

The leadership proudly called attention to the “significant growth of our church during the last year.” The
membership was pleased at the announcement. Reverend Johnson had some pinches of his conscience, since he felt pretty sure that there was not much growth, if any. Yet, pressured by the church’s expectations, he let the people enjoy their moment of success for a season.

The following year did not hold much more promise or statistical increase. Johnson began to press his leadership for more attendance. The staff was told in no uncertain terms that they must record thirty visits each week. Sunday School departments were assigned goals by the general director. The pastor did not expect others to do what he was unwilling to do, and he tried to make at least forty prospect visits each week. Because of many other responsibilities, the pastor and staff made their visits brief, somewhat impersonal, and occasional by counterproductive.

The Sunday School staff got the message and redoubled their efforts to raise the average attendance. Spending considerable time in prospect and absentee visitation, they had to let something go undone. That happened to be their formerly well-prepared lessons and fellowship cultivation of the regular attenders.

Lo and behold, at the end of the year, the average worship attendance as guesstimated by the pastor was 500 (actually, only 395.) The Sunday School reported 545, by their own methods. Note, there was some real growth, in addition to the statistical wishful thinking.

Several years have now passed. There is no rebellion, but no enthusiasm either. Perhaps the attitude would best be described as the Laodecean blahs. Into that vacuum marched some inquisitive minds wondering what was missing in their church life. The inevitable happened: a committee was appointed. Here is what they discovered.

1. The actual count of morning worshipers that year averaged 372. The pressure on the pastor for member increase had shown up in his lack of sermon preparation.

2. The Sunday School averaged only 365. The peak year was 435, but attendance began to drop when members attending were becoming bored with poor content and methods of learning. Then, too, the general secretary counted only those who were actually in class.

3. The deacons were noticing a lack in their spirit, as was the staff and other church leadership. Evidently, the pressure for numbers and too many half-hearted visits had sapped their spirit. And where was that former general secretary that had inflated the figures?

4. The pastor was depressed. He wondered just what had pushed him from his pastoral life-style to be driven to show a Madison Avenue life-style. The staff felt their calling had been derailed into a promotional rut.

Each person of the committee capsuled their opinion. Jake said, “He who lives by statistics will die by statistics.” Jane commented, “It matters not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.” Ed countered with, “It matters not how you play the game, but whether you win or lose.” Dan summed up the
matter when he facetiously stated, “Only the bottom line counts.”


Locating the Traps

Major Trap-Only the bottom line counts. Everything else is secondary. You can say what you want, the church is expecting growth, big growth. By that they mean numerical and financial growth. Don’t
worry about such things as spiritual growth and maturity or about caring for needs of persons. Just keep those cards and letters and members and dollars coming.

If you think this trap has been overdrawn, overexposed, and overextended, you may be under-informed. It only looks so crass because several years of life of a church have been capsuled into a few sentences.

Where did we get such ideas and models? Straight from our television sets via Madison Avenue. Straight from the business world via Wall Street. Straight from government via city hall. The advertisers have convinced us that “more is better.” Corporate presidents have taught us that the only concern of our organization is “the amount of profit.” The mayor agrees with the chamber of commerce “that we must grow at any cost.” Altogether, they have convinced us that we must accede to the standards of others even if we lose our souls in the process.

Perhaps the most poignant illustration can be drawn from the recent best-seller, All the President’s Men. It does not compare one political party’s ethics against another as much as it compares human standards against God’s standards. One scene takes place in the newsroom of the Washington Post. James Dooley, former head of the Committee to Reelect the President, has just come in and said he needed to talk to someone.

He told reporter Woodward that CRP had rigged station WTTG’s poll on whether the people supported the president’s decision about the Haiphong mining. The media had asked people to send in cards indicating whether they agreed or disagreed with the president on the mining. Sample ballots were placed in advertisements in the Post and the Star.

Dooley said that the CRP press office ran the rigging. Everyone employed was expected to fill out fifteen postcards. Ten people worked for days buying different kinds of stamps and cards and getting different handwriting to fake the responses. Thousands of newspapers were bought from the newsstands and the
ballots were clipped out and mailed in.

Dooley indicated that at least 4,000 ballots supporting Nixon’s decision were sent from CRP. The television station reported that 5,157 agreed with the president and 1,158 disagreed. Had the CRP ballots not been sent in, the president would, at best, have lost by one vote-1,158 to 1,157.

Woodward called a CRP spokesman and asked if the poll had not been rigged. “When you’re involved in an election, you do what you can,” the man replied. “We assumed the other side [McGovern forces] would do it also, On that assumption, we proceeded. I don’t know if the other side did.”

Following it down to the end, Woodward called McGovern’s former campaign aide. “We didn’t do it,” he said somewhat incredulously. “It didn’t occur to us, believe me. These guys are something. They assume we have the same sleazy ethics as theirs.”

A recent quote from the world of athletics brings the price of success into focus for the believer. Conrad Dobler is an all pro offensive lineman formerly with the Saint Louis Cardinals’ football team. He had gained the reputation of the dirtiest lineman in the league. Such a reputation seems to have served his advantage in publicity and intimidation of the opposition. In an article in Eastern Airline’s Review (November 1977), his mother is quoted as being unconcerned about his image, saying, “If that helps bring in money to the stadium, well . . .” Linda Dobler, Conrad’s wife, occasionally worried about the effect Conrad’s reputation would have on their son, Mark, but the boy seemed to be able to differentiate between
Number 66 on the field and the person who was his father. Once when Mark was being taunted by a schoolmate about his father’s play, Mark ended the discussion by saying, “He’s only doing his job.”

That seems to be a heavy price to pay for success.

The age-old philosophy of, “The end justifies the means” might have some merit, if the “end” were what God would have us do. Yet, is it possible that God would have us do anything to achieve his ends if our means were less than righteous?

Look at the other side of that argument. The means are not the end. You can do many things well and noble and still not achieve your end (objective). This is the old problem of managing by activities and not by objectives.

You can twist these words in any shape you want to, but it seems that God is going to expect performance in both “means” and “ends.” Actually, “only the bottom line counts” is the only real measurement for the Christian church or leader if (and that is the biggest two-letter word in administrative rationale) God determines what makes up the bottom line and if Christian leaders seek the Spirit of Christ in trying to achieve a “successful” bottom line.

Sometimes Christians use the phrase, “Beyond the bottom line.” They explain that their immediate objective could be attained plus a closer relationship to God in the process. Often we think of corporations as being coldhearted, interested only in the dollar. Yet, in a recent financial page of the Atlanta Constitution was this concept. The lead article’s headline read, “Corporations are interested in more than profit and loss.” It went on to say that profit only aids a business to do other things.

Minor Traps-There are so many of these, they are called Legion. Only seven are listed here, with a biblical
illustration. Every case cited is a person who probably thought he was doing the proper thing, something approved by his peer group, and condoned by the culture. He had molded his life-style around his value system and ultimately he fell into the trap of false success. Do you recognize these traps?

1. Materialism. Look at the rich young ruler and the rich farmer. They had set out to achieve things through wealth. They had arrived. What more could they want. (This is a great temptation today in our affluent society.)

2. Fame. Remember Herod Antipas? He had notoriety and was ruler over Galilee for over thirty years. Everyone knew his name, and most people trembled at the mention of it. Yet, when he came face-to-face with Jesus, our Lord would not even dignify Herod’s questions with an answer. (What one of us has not
wanted to see our names and pictures in the local or religious newspaper?)

3. Power. Consider Caiaphas. Even the Romans recognized the power of the high priest. Ultimately, he had the power to influence the sentencing of Jesus to the cross. (If monetary gain is not the aim of Christian leaders, oftentimes we succumb to the power syndrome.)

4. Intellectualism. Visualize Nicodemus, educated, bright, a lawyer, and a leading citizen of Jerusalem. He had reached the top: president of the chamber of commerce, director of the educational television station, WJEW, chairman of the United Way campaign. Yet, he knew that he had the wrong bottom line, the wrong concept of success. (In our search for knowledge, we may come to be educated fools.)

5. Pseudospiritualism. Behold the Pharisees. If you don’t think they felt they were the alpha and omega of God’s plan for his people, just ask them. No need for modesty-if you’ve got it, flaunt it. Yet, Jesus was most severe in his judgment against them. “Snakes-whitewashed sepulchers-hypocrites!” just observe those looking down their noses who seem to think they have a corner on the Truth.)

6. Playing Games and Surviving. Pilate is the epitome of this trap. He could play games with the Jews and the Romans, the rich and the poor, the religious and the vulgar, all at the same time. He just kept changing the ground rules or changing  audiences. If he could just be the winner of the current game, he thought he would be the champion of all. At least, he would survive in the hellhole of the Roman Empire. (What are those games we play? with our church? our denomination? our peers? our associates? our families? Worst off all, with ourselves? If we play these games, who is kidding whom that we are really surviving? surviving what?)

7. Ladder Climbing. See Saul: educated under Gamaliel; the rising star on the intellectual horizon of Judaism; zealous defender of the faith; persecutor of those heretical fanatics called “Christians.” He practiced the dangerous game of getting ahead by stepping on others. He forgot the advice to be nice to others on the way up because you never know who you will need on the way down. (Is it possible that we confuse our ladder climbing with Jacob’s ladder experience? When we get to the top of our “ladder,” will we really be where we want to be?)


Value Preference Chart

Rank the following according to your real reward system. (Give number one to the most important item.) As you consider the elements that make up your bottom line of success, be honest with yourself. God already knows how you feel. The value of this emotional exercise is to help you objectify your real goals in

30,000 worth of life insurance
Supervising three persons
Stylish clothing
Own your home (debt free)
Feeling fulfilled in your occupation
Well-known author
A “born again” believer
Good health
$30,000 annuity at age 65
Abundance of food
Happy family life
Multitude of friends
Fruitful witness


How to Avoid the Success Trap

This may well be the hardest trap of them all to avoid. It is lodged somewhere between the will and the ego. Temptations are everywhere beckoning us to “come right this way. ” Among them are our bank account, peer approval, consumerism, self-satisfaction, status, survival need, security, and their first cousins. Like all other traps, one does not realize the danger until it is too late. Pogo’s famous tactical quote seems to apply here, also. At least Pogo recognized the enemy. Sometimes that is our basic problem.

What is success? Take another look at the definition on the chapter title page. If that does not meet your concept of success, then write your own definition on that page. Maybe we can more easily characterize what success is not.

From the Christian perspective, success will differ from the world’s value definition in terms of what is measured. In either case it is achieving your desired objective. By the world’s value system, success is temporal, sensual, emotional, and physical. It is something that makes you feel good now.

Christianity has both a here and hereafter aspect to it.

We judge our success by how it feels now and will feel later, and forever. How does it please me? my family? my community? most of all, my God? How will it appear in the world and in heaven?

Church people talk much about life hereafter, but they act like there is only death hereafter. We quote Scripture about how this world’s life is but a twinkling of an eye, but we live like it is the only life that counts. We have a theology of eternity but a “practology” of threescore and ten. Our orthodoxy counsels people to lay up for themselves treasures in heaven, but our “orthopraxy” teaches to store everything we can in our barns, for tomorrow we die.

If we could just marry our Sunday concepts with our weekday precepts, we could avoid these traps. Or, we would knowingly seek them out as our haven of security in this world. (The reason I am so familiar with the traps and these inconsistencies is that I have been there.)


Biblical Guideposts

What does the Bible have to say about success? Jesus’ entire life is a model for us. His first quotation in the Temple at age twelve indicates that he was aware of the difference between the world’s standard and his standard. While his parents wanted him to conform to the pattern of all other Jewish boys, he knew that he must be about his Father’s business.

More traditional models of Christ’s concept of success show him washing the disciples feet, not desiring public acclaim, and the ultimate model of his atoning death for friend and foe alike. Since Jesus always practiced what he preached, we can rely upon his spoken word to teach us the true meaning of success. In researching these texts, many more were found, but these seven should provide us with ample cognitive reasons to see how Jesus differentiated his value system for those of his world and of ours.

“For who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the waiter? Is it not the one who sits at the table? But I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27, Berkeley).

“Unless your hearts are changed and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3, Rieu).

“Whoever humbles himself like this child is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:4.)

“What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8:37).

“But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first” (Matt. 19:30).

“Never blow your own horn in public, as the hypocrites are in the habit of doing on the street corners” (Matt. 6:2, Williams). Jesus included this advice for praying, alms giving, and fasting:

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36).

If you wish a longer discourse on the characteristics of the kingdom citizen, read the entire Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7. Measure these ideals against your ideas of success.

Three other biblical quotes are pertinent for this foundation. “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich” (Rev. 3:17-18).

“For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Ps. 73:3).

“Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches” (Ps. 73:12).

Perhaps the most pointed of biblical warnings is Paul’s: “The love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Tim. 6:10).

Maybe we could paraphrase that and say that the love of money and egotism is the root of all pseudosuccess.


Contemporary Landmarks

Aside from these basic biblical injunctions, there are a few contemporary helps. First, defeat can be a great education. Do you know anyone who has succeeded before the experience of some failure? Can you really say that you have learned how to do it right? (Your first attempt that succeeded may have been just plain luck. After you have failed, you will know for sure when you have at last succeeded.)

Second, “big shots” are usually little shots who kept on shooting. A friend of mine is the president of a large textile mill in the South. His Sunday School friends would tease him about how lucky he was in his business life. His comment seemed classic to me: “It’s strange, but the harder I work the luckier I get.”

Third, stopping at third base never adds to the score. You can do many things perfect, but if you do not follow through to your intended objective, it is mostly in vain, exercises in futility. Many a lover did everything right except to lead his intended bride to the altar of God to be his mate. The dating and engagement periods are only prelude to the wedding rites. Analyze your failures and see if some of them were caused by stopping at third base.

Fourth, William E. Holder said, “Success is good management in action.” It seems that there is merit in
translating , this from the business world into the church and home environment. Apply the principles of this book into your everyday life, and see if you do not feel a sense of success that you did not enjoy before.

Fifth, Owen D. Young advised that we must be willing to pay the price.

There is a single reason why 99 out of 100 businessmen never become leaders. That is why unwillingness to pay the price of responsibility. By the price of responsibility I mean hard driving, continual work . . . the courage to make decisions, to stand the gaff . . . the scourging honesty of never fooling yourself about
yourself. You travel the road to leadership heavily laden. While the nine-to-five-o’clock worker takes his ease, you are “toiling upward through the night.” Laboriously you extend your mental frontiers. Any new effort, the psychologists say, wears a new groove in the brain. And the grooves that lead to the heights
are not made between nine and five. They are burned by midnight oil.”

Sixth, Rothchild gave seventeen rules for business success. While Rothchild was a noted businessman, he was not writing for a Christian theological journal when he outlined these rules for success.

1. Carefully examine every detail of the business.

2. Be prompt.

3. Take time to consider and then decide quickly.

4. Dare to go forward.

5. Bear your trouble patiently.

6. Maintain your integrity as a sacred thing.

7. Never tell business lies.

8. Make no useless acquaintances.

9. Never try to appear something more than you are.

10. Pay your debts promptly.

11. Learn how to risk your money at the right time.

12. Shun strong liquor.

13. Employ your time well.

14. Do not reckon on chance.

15. Be polite to everyone.

16. Never be discouraged.

17. Work hard and you will succeed.

Seventh, do not commit yourself at too dear a price for success, for it will either be too costly economically,
emotionally, and spiritually, or will not produce a significant dividend.

Here are ways to improve your chances of success as a manager. Assuming that your value system is in good working order, these may be helpful in your daily administration of your work. These are edited from an article in Advanced Management Journal.

1. Developing Self-Insight. If you are truly interested in your own growth as a manager, you must begin by objectively as possible sizing up yourself in terms of personal strengths and limitations, your goals and developmental needs. Mere critical self-awareness is only the beginning of functional self-insight. With awareness of one’s need for attitude or behavior modification must come the desire and will to change.

2. Become People-Oriented. The main job of a manager is to work for, with, and through others to achieve
organizational goals. To effectively manage people, one must be aware of his impact upon them, and the real skill of the effective manager is that he is able to get others to accept his ideas and at the same time keep their own sense of participation, involvement, and accomplishment.

3. Assuming, Rather than Merely Accepting, Responsibility. The successful manager does not merely accept an assignment,  fulfill it to the best of his ability, and then waitfor another  assignment. He is constantly and aggressively working to expand  his role and influence in the organization.

What enables him to be so effective is directly related to his attitude toward his job responsibility. He has developed that attitude that it is his obligation to relieve his superiors of as much of their workload as possible, not egotistically to expand his role at their expense but to free them for even bigger responsibilities.

4. Becoming a Calculated Risk-Taker. The successful manager realizes that he is expected by both superiors and subordinates to have the knowledge and experience required to make definite decisions and to see that they are implemented and executed. Calculated risk-taking is not gambling but is rather having the confidence that one has the ability, experience, knowledge, and acumen that will allow the organization to act and react so that its competitive position is protected and enhanced in the marketplace. The successful executive is well aware that calculated risk-taking is not intuition alone. He makes good use of the modern tools of administrative control exemplified by management information systems which provide on time, accurate data and intelligent information.

5. Becoming Results-Oriented.

The results-oriented manager is constantly trying new ways to improve efficiency and productivity. He is not satisfied with the status quo; he is very receptive to new ideas, methods, procedures, systems, and techniques. However, unlike his less successful colleagues, he does not get bogged down in these means but keeps himself steadily oriented toward the end, cutting through the red tape that keeps him from realizing his objectives. He has no patience for bureaucratic paper shuffling; instead, he follows up and audits to see that the systems being used are producing results. If they are not, he finds innovative ways of overcoming the roadblocks.

6. Developing Generalist as well as Specialist Skills.
The successful manager is constantly endeavoring to broaden himself beyond his technical specialty. He may do this through continuing his business education, learning new management methods and techniques. He may want to learn the functional responsibilities of his fellow managers, appreciating the
interrelationships of departments. He can seek out and profit from constructive criticism and develop as much mutuality and rapport with fellow managers as possible without neglecting his own assigned responsibility.

7. Identifying with Organizational Goals. Identification means considering one’s self part of an integrated team whose members are working with mutual confidence toward common objectives, The complexity of modern business dictates the integrated team approach, but each member must pull his share of the load.

We would add a postscript for the Christian manager. His prayers should be generously with, “Teach me Thy ways, Lord;” “Give me wisdom, Lord; and “nevertheless not my will, but Thy will be done. ”


A Case Study

During my lifetime, I have had five pastors. Each has made a significant contribution to my spiritual growth, as well as having taught me some of the administrative truths shared in this book. My present pastor, William Self, is a communicator.

J. T. Ford is a planner. Dotson Nelson is a decision-maker. Adiel Moncrief is an evaluator. The late Geoffrey Swadley, pastor during my high school and young adult years, taught me how to strive for success, as measured by my value system.  Pastor Swadley came to our conservative church in 1939.

The congregation lived in a lower to middle economic neighborhood. Some of our more vocal members majored in hating, rather than loving. Others felt that God had given them the only “official” interpretation of his Word. My parents were somewhat uncomfortable in such a setting, but they persevered and
insisted that I do likewise. It was not an exciting scene for a fourteen-year-old boy.

Enter Dr. Swadley, perhaps my most unforgettable character. He was then approaching forty, with a wide grin, a Midwestern mountain twang, and red hair. He had to have an artistic bent to have wound the lengths of his hair around the top of his head to disguise his onsetting baldness. Something attracted me, but what was it? Surely not his academic preparation,  although it was far ahead of his time, and light-years
ahead of our congregation. He wasn’t an athlete and thought the Kansas City Blues (baseball team) was a jazz tune from one of the emporiums on Twelfth Street.

After eight years of listening to his preaching and observing his life, it became obvious that I was impressed to follow his leadership because he was real. During this time of graduating from high school, serving in the Navy, choosing a vocation, selecting a wife, and changing my vocation from marketing to religious education, he taught me some powerful lessons in life. Here are a few of them, couched in their settings.

1. Love Your Enemies, World War II was not a popular time to preach this supreme example of love. While the newspapers preached hatred via propaganda, Swadley prayed for the Germans, Italians, and the Japanese as much as for our Allied forces. When his fellow pastors snickered at his “pacifist learnings,” he maintained that peace should prevail over war-thirty years ahead of his time.

After hearing his sermon, I was a confused seeker. Even though Jesus said it, I couldn’t accept loving enemies into my emotional system. So I went by his house and quizzed him about it. That didn’t help much. However, in the next few years, he showed me by his actions. Our church must have had too much of  his “far-out Christianity” because it eventually fired him. He reacted by calling the people together to pray for them-sincerely to pray for them.

2. Love Your Wife. During our premarital counseling, he shared the depth of his giant heart regarding his boundless love for his wife. He interpreted the love chapter of Corinthians to Opha and me, and then used it as the basis of our wedding vows. Always did he prefer his wife above himself and his children. My
parents ably taught the same lesson in the context of our home.  Swadley taught it in the context of the Scriptures.

3. Love Your Church. Where does a pastor go when fired by the congregation? Some go crazy. Others go into secular work. Swadley went to prayer, and shortly was serving in a desolate place in northwest Missouri. I met him at the Southern Baptist Convention shortly after the trauma and relocation. I was
bitter. He was forgiving. In my immaturity I asked him how he could be happy in his new location. His words are seared on my memory. “When you are in God’s will, in God’s church, with God’s people, you will always be happy.” He was happy and productive until his recent death.

And you ask, why are these vignettes included in a management article case study? I’ll tell you why. To be truthful, he was not the living example of an effective administrator. Then why is he the case study for the final chapter on success? The answer is simple. He achieved his objectives in life, as measured by his value system, as much or more than any other man I have ever known. And my friends, that is success!