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Measuring “Success” In Ministry. Part One

by Joe Pursch on June 12th, 2012

What does “success” in ministry look like? Among pastors, this is a frequent if sometimes unspoken question. The answer to the “success question” when it comes to ministry is made complicated today by all of the terms and performance standards that have subtly been imported into the ministry from secular industry. So we need to do some re-translating before we answer the question. Recently I was rolling the issue over in my mind, and came up with three ideas that are helping to guide me as I answer the question. Here’s the first one:

Be careful about measuring supernatural work by natural factors. Ministry is a work of and by the Spirit, done through the submissive lives of disciples, who are led and equipped by gifted elders and pastor-teachers (Ephesians 4:11-16). It is a working in human lives, in the realm of the spirit, touching human character and behavior. It is a work that is largely done Scripture to soul and heart to heart. It is a unique kind of work. And this kind of “deep water” spiritual work can’t always be measured by dramatic outer results in terms of numbers, program growth, or ministry popularity.

An example comes to mind of great missionaries like Adoniram Judson in Burma, who labored for seven long years before seeing a single person decide for Christ. The character of Judson’s life and the fruitfulness of that field after he planted the seeds of his labor both testify today to the fact that he was anything but a failure. And yet, if the outward measures that we often associate with ministry success today were applied to his life and ministry way back then, he might’ve been removed from the field by people looking at things with an eye for outer results alone.

Now don’t get me wrong, there is a place for outer results and a time to expect them. I’ll deal with this question in a future post. But my leading idea in regard to evaluating ministry successes remains this one: supernatural fruitfulness cannot always be naturally or outwardly measured. In fact, God can be working in powerful ways through His Word, drawing souls to Himself and building believers in intimate communion with Christ without the evident results “moving the needle” of our natural factors of evaluation. Indeed, there have been some dry stretches in my ministry career when I couldn’t have kept preaching if I hadn’t believed this.

Look for Part Two of “Measuring Success in Ministry” in my next post.

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