In our culture, we underrate failure and overrate success. In fact, I recently did an Amazon search for “how to succeed” and found 27,857 books listed. Seriously, that’s a lot of noise out there about success, but I fear too many insights about this issue have got it dead wrong. Frankly, a lot of pastors wrestle with this issue on a regular basis (myself included).
Several years ago, a middle-aged pastor named Tom came to me extremely discouraged. He told me, “I’ve spent my entire life trying to succeed at something . . . anything . . . but the golden ring is always just out of reach. No matter what I do, my church just won’t grow.”
I asked him an important question, “Tell me how you define success?” Without blinking, he rattled off a list of measurables and goals that “must be met” (his words) for him to feel accomplished as a pastor. Most of them had to do with attendance numbers and recognition by his peers.
I gently pushed back and responded, “What if success is different than you think? Is it possible you’ve been reaching for the wrong golden ring?” The look on his face was telling as I took just five minutes to redefine for him how God defines success.
How God defines success:
1. In God’s economy, success is faithful obedience.
We often measure success by the size of our church or the awards or accolades given to us by others. God defines success by a very different standard. For God, it’s all about the choice to yield to Him and to follow His path regardless of the numbers. We make God smile when we take risks and exercise faith in our pursuit of His kingdom. When we say yes to God, and obey Him regardless of the sacrifice or personal suffering, we are guaranteed the ultimate praise from the Father, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25).
2. In God’s kingdom, success involves embracing our weaknesses.
Most successful people will tell you they needed others in their journey. Many of us realize we can’t do it alone. Unfortunately, however, too many pastors and leaders believe that to be successful they have to be independently strong. I disagree. In fact, I suggest that to be truly strong we must recognize how weak we are, and how desperate we are for support. We need God’s help. We must abide in the Vine to have life (John 15). And we find God’s strength only when we understand our weak human condition (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). The path to success does not deny our weakness; instead, it embraces it in humble dependence on God the Holy Spirit.
3. With God, success is measured by our resiliency.
I know it has become cliché, but with the Father it really is more about the journey, not just the final destination. As Christ-followers, we’ll all end up in the same place for eternity, but what we learn in and through the struggle of life on planet earth is important. God asks us to keep going no matter what. He honors those who persist and resist regardless of the battles faced. God wants us to run with endurance, to finish the race, and to keep the faith (Hebrews 12:1-2; 2 Timothy 4:7). From the perspective of that “great cloud of witnesses” watching us, the truly successful are those who stay the course in stubborn determination to finish well.
My friend, Tom, had an “aha moment” when he realized he’d been pursuing a culturally-defined idea of success rather than a God-defined objective for his life. Perhaps you need a different perspective too?
May I pray for you?
Father, the world often teaches us something counter to Your revelation. Help us to unlearn what is contrary to Your word and Your ways. Reveal the truth, truth that will set us free to see Your kingdom come and Your will accomplished on the earth as it is in heaven.
photo credit: memories_by_mike