By Heidi Goehmann
Most of us in church work would say that we are not success-oriented people.
Sure, our sinful selves can easily get caught up in the cultural flow and wrap our identity up in our accomplishments and vocational victories, as much as anyone else.
We can cognitively know our identity is in Christ and that God’s work is simply done in us, rather than defining success and accomplishment by our own standards or merits.
But still, it’s easy to feel the weight and pressure of expectation and it’s reasonable to want to produce fruit in this short time on earth we are given, even within the ministry of the church.
We don’t necessarily believe in being successful, or the inverse, “not successful,” when it comes to ministry. It’s important, while recognizing that this goal isn’t necessarily part of our belief system, to also move forward to explore the impact of this social and vocational reality on each of us.
Celebrating our “successes” is also not inherently evil. We are given the gift of rejoicing and thanksgiving when God does good things through us. Evaluation of any system or program is important so that we can steward our resources to the best of our ability.
Effectiveness is not against the Gospel. Yet, getting wrapped up in traditional methods of identifying our effectiveness may not work with the Gospel, at least not every time.
So how do we sit in this place of understanding that our identity, both as individuals and as a church, is in Christ alone, understanding we have nothing to add, but also being able to evaluate our ministries?
Even when we aren’t getting lost in the numbers, it’s easy to have a hard time seeing growth in ministry, seeing “success” in ministry.
First: Understanding the impact of brokenness on ‘success’
Never once in the Bible did Jesus say, “Come to me all you who are doing awesome and can see all the fruits of your labors! Let’s celebrate!”
Rather, he says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28 NIV).
I think this is not only an invitation, but also a nod to what life here on earth is really like. We may rarely see “success,” even in ministry. We will rarely look around us and feel like the work is complete.
There will always be more brokenness in this world. The good news is that there is plenty of Jesus’ love and grace and light and truth to go around.
Our job is simply to be the vessels, to deliver the Word, to open our hearts, our homes, our churches and our lives to sharing what He gives. Doing this faithfully is ministry “success.”
- Are we sharing Jesus?
- Are we opening spaces for people to hear about Jesus?
- Are we bringing the Word into the broken places of people’s lives and our communities?
Second: ‘Success, just like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder’
Jesus thinks you’re beautiful, male or female, tall or short, skinny or round, young or old (Song of Songs 4:7). Do we believe the same thing about our ministries?
God puts us in our time and space to do His work. What He reveals to each of us as fruit at any given time may look different.
One benefit of the Body of Christ is that all the members fit together to make a whole.
The same is true with our perspectives. The Word tells us what good fruit looks like.
Sometimes we can see it for ourselves, and sometimes we need another member of the Body to say, “Hey! I see your good fruit!” and pinpoint what that is for us.
Try asking a local partner in ministry:
Where can you see the fruit of our ministry?
What am I contributing to the work of God’s kingdom, and what is someone else contributing to the work that is really different? How do these pieces fit together?
What parts of ministry may not look beautiful to us, but look beautiful to God?
Here are some examples of unconventional ministry “successes”:
- Being invited to spend time with someone who is hurting: The invitation into someone’s pain opens the door to share the Word, but also builds a relationship bridge that is a unique place for God to do His work of grace.
- Baptizing or catechizing anyone … ever — whether you have 50 catechism students go through your church in a year or one every three years. Wow! Isn’t it a cool thing that we get to teach the Word and share the Gifts of the Church?!
- Having someone you have baptized or catechized stop you anywhere outside of church to talk. Again, these are relational places people don’t always get to be invited into. It would be easy for someone to walk on in the grocery store and ignore you. These moments bring the Gospel into the world and into the daily conversations for people, rather than the Gospel remaining within the walls of the church for them.
- Kids or teens from church waving to you in the park, calling your name, or telling their parent who you are. Kids and to some degree teens are usually open books. If they recognize you, they will have either a joy response or a fear response. If they aren’t scared of you, that means the Gospel you bring to them is one of hope and joy, even when you share a hard truth.
- Someone asking you a question about a sermon or a lesson you taught, or they heard.
- Someone sharing with you, with a coworker, or with anyone else how God has worked in their sorrow, their joy or their daily life.
- A new family coming to visit your ministry, your church, your school, or any other space or place you have been a part of establishing or maintaining to share God’s Word and His mercy.
I’m sure you can add many more examples to this list. Please share in the comments moments of ministry happening and the fruit of God’s work showing itself in unexpected ways.
While we don’t need encouragement or “success” to validate the work of God, God certainly does give us His encouragement and fruit of His good work time and time again, often through another person helping us see it.
And remember this today:
“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).
In Christ, not one thing you do, not one moment you spend, not one gesture to another person is ever, ever wasted.