Monday, July 11, 2005

Measuring Success in Ministry

Two articles in the weekend editions of the Dallas Morning News caught my eye today. One was the cover article of Saturday's religion section documenting Lakewood Church's move to their new 16,000 seat sanctuary at the converted Compaq center in Houston this weekend. The other was in Sunday's metro section. It was also about a preacher - but this one wasn't about a huge building or mass ministry. It was the story of Rev. CBT Smith who is close to his 90th birthday. He is receiving the Living Legend award from a Dallas preaching conference this week for his lifetime of ministry. And when I say lifetime, I mean it - 70 years of preaching the gospel.

In this context, I've really been wrestling with how you measure success in ministry. We have to confess that ultimately we are working in the eternal market and measurements are hard to come by. It seems that any kind of measurement in this world is temporary and therefore ultimately flawed. Only God really knows the ultimate impact of what we do in ministry - and therefore it may be futile to really try to measure anything. At the same time, however, we want to know that we are doing things in ministry that really matter. If we never take measurement of our own ministry efforts, how will we grow into the mature overseers that God needs for the church to grow? Evaluation seems crucial to me - the question then just revolves around what to measure. What do I try to measure and how do I actually measure it?

The attention of the world and the attention of most pastors centers on numbers. If we are running lots of people in the pews, then we are successful in ministry. While it is easy to be cynical of this view, numbers do represent people. And if we are truly honest, we do want to influence the most number of people that we can for the sake of the glory of Christ. The reality, however, is that numbers alone do not equate to ministry success. Surely, lots of personalities in the pulpit draw crowds with communicating any content. Therefore, we have to go further. Using Jesus' call to "make disciples" in the Great Commission, we could say that the measurement has to include a pastor's record on making disciples - but how do you measure that? It is possible, but it takes more space to discuss than I have here.

I think the one that hit me this weekend while looking over the paper is the quality of faithfulness. To spend a lifetime proclaiming the truth of God's Word without doing something in your life that distracts from your message. This is maybe the greatest success that any preacher can have - to use his whole life (not just part of it) as a testimony to God's grace by his faithful ministry of God's Word and his faithful obedience to what he preaches. Sounds simple - and hard. God, help me to make it to the end still burning with passion for the gospel that has transformed my heart.


tim horton said...

Ok, this has got to be one of the toughest issues to deal with when planning for Jr. High Impact yesterday. As I called time after time, I just became more and more convinced of their laxness with church, and of their general "I don't give a rip" attitude. And for me, that's really disturbing, b/c my life tends to be centered around the church and almost living up there, filling my schedule with things, and while I struggle with just going through the motions sometimes, I still find it more rewarding to be connected in ministry than to be lax about it. So I find it hard to understand when people don't share my passion for ministry, and when they'd just rather not deal with it. But how do you measure success? Our crowd was slim pickens last night, but I know it's not supposed to be a number game. I just like to know that my efforts are going somewhere, and while that sounds really arrogant, that's the desire of everyone, to be successful. So I really need to work at finding my value in ministry through how well I serve God, not in how well I serve the church.

Darin Hallam said...

Ok, here I am leaving a comment on a blog, I really hope that doesn't make me a blogger, I don't think I'm ready for that yet.
So Douglas and I were talking about this last night while reading the transcript you gave him and it strikes me that in these mega-churches (and I used to go to one so I am torn on judging them as a whole as good vs. not-so-good), how often are those people made really uncomfortable? I mean, salvation is easy, but becoming a disciple of Christ is HARD and it seems to get harder the further you get into it. The sermons and worship experiences that really stick with me are those that make me truly uncomfortable, that cause me to question whether anyone who meets me also meets my Savior, that call me to question the eternal value of how I spend my time, that make me almost uncomfortable to sit still in my chair because oh my gosh stop talking to me and focus on some of these other people in here! And I just question, when you have someone preaching joy all the time, and he's saying the Christian life is easy, and he's not preaching against specific sin or about hell, when he shys away from telling people who is and who is not going to heaven, there's a comfort there that I'm not sure Jesus desires. I don't think it's an issue restricted to mega-churches, but I do think it's magnified in them. And I'm not picking on one person, but I've watched several of these mega-church preachers on tv, and everyone in the audience is shouting and smiling and nodding and I just don't see enough squirming in the seats.

Keith Ferguson said...


Welcome to the blogosphere. You're officailly a blogger now. It wasn't too painful, was it?

Danny Burch said...

Wow...Success in ministry is extremleuy hard to define and to call out. I am in total agreement on the people and number thing.... how can we describe success as being how many people we have to fill up our churches? As you know my issue with the local church is that it is not how many people we have that come into our doors but it is about how many we are sending out to do Great Commission work. The church is not here as a feel good, social gathering. The 21st century New Testament church has to exist to equip christians to go out into their worlds and proclaim, witness to, and live a life according to the Gospel. After that we need to disciple them and make sure that they can go out and do the same thing. AHH... I could ramble on about this but what good can come out of that... I am just repeating sacred words that most churches today have forgotten.