"My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things;
That I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior."
- John Newton (1725-1807)
“For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise”
As much as we use the word success, I was surprised at how vague the Webster Dictionary’s definition is. Here it is:
“a: degree or measure of succeeding.
b: favorable or desired outcome; also; the attainment of wealth, favor or eminence.”
As I dug around looking for a clearer definitiaon, I had litte "success." I was sure that at least Wiktionary would give me more. This is how they define it:
- (Obsolete) Something which happens as a consequece; the outcome or result. (16th - 18th c.)
- The achievemnet of one's aim or goal. (from 16th c,)
- (Business) financial profitablity.
- One who, or that which, achieves assumed goals.
If the linguists have difficulty in defining success, is there any wonder that we do too? Nevertheless there is one common thread in the definitions. They seem to center on a desired outcome or goal. I am convinced that pastors need to have clear defined goals, and we will be addressing that next week, the problem is not the goals themselves, but the deeper value behind the goal. For example, it is appropriate to have a goal of numerical growth in your church. That is an indicator of healthy church. But it is not okay to find our value or worth in the number of people in our church.Our true motivation behind any goal is seen most clearly when either the goal is met, or is not. My true motivation was revealed when someone would ask about my church with the standard question rooted in the number of “nickels and noses.” In most cases there were not enough people in the church and I felt a sense of embarrassment or anger at the one who asked it. When there was growth and I was feeling good about it, I was keenly aware of my pride. Either way, what happened to my heart was not spiritually healthy and revealed who really mattered in my ministry. In other words we struggle most with success when it is more about us, then God and His people. To use the idol imagery, our goals are far too often tied to our idols. Therefore, if we meet those goals that idols satisfies us, but if we don’t meet our goal we get angry and discouraged.
Sadly, it is this tension that we feel from success that has lead many pastors to “crash and burn.” When you feel like a failure in ministry, you end up finding comfort in some addiction. We think if God has failed me by not helping meet my goals, then I will look elsewhere for satisfaction. For many pastors that is pornography. On the other side, the high that comes from a booming ministry leads others to pride and self-reliance, which can lead to adultery, misuse of funds, the using of people, and most of all misuse of the Gospel.
So how do we free ourselves from the success trap? First we must understand that any success that we may get is not our success. Our lives are rooted in grace from beginning to end! Christ has been successful and we in turn get to share in His success! There would be no true success if it weren’t for the finished work of Christ. With that in mind, I would suggest that you pause and ask yourself what you want to be remembered for when they lay your body in a grave. How will people remember you? Did they see the grace of God in your life? Was it all about you, or all about the Gospel?Living with the end in mind, my life should be considered a success when through God’s Grace I was faithful in the following areas.
1. I was a sincere worshipper. My life was marked by a love for God, and people saw me resting in the Gospel, rather than chasing after idols?
2. I loved my wife well, and she a better person because of that.
3. I loved my son and he saw his dad love Jesus more than anything else, including the church and ministry.
4. I was a faithful preacher and teacher of God’s word and I never quit believing that it is God’s Word and a precious means of grace.
5. I served Christ and His Church faithfully to end, and did not leave a trail of damaged people because of my selfish pursuits.
6. People come to faith as result of my life and ministry, and I was a faithful evangelist.
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,
and all these things will be added to you.”