Tuesday, September 18, 2012

How Do You Define Success in Ministry?

How do you define success in ministry?

It's a simple question with an elusive answer. Is it church attendance? Number of people baptized? The percentage of congregants in small groups? The amount of missions trips and service projects each year? A spiritual self-assessment test? The church budget?

For those who don't like using numbers or statistics to measure success, how do you know if ministry is going well? When a ministry event comes to a close, how do you know if it was a win? Because it "felt good?" Because no one bailed out early or complained?

Success in discipleship is difficult to measure. I remember creating a "description of a discipled person" in my Bible college classes, only to find that real-life discipleship is far messier and more unique and contextual than any classroom definitions. But I also recognize that if we're not aiming for anything, then we're aiming for nothing.

It's probably flawed, but here's my definition: Followers are closer to Jesus now than they were then.

The difference between now and then may be three seconds, three weeks, three months, three years, or three decades. The word "followers" indicates movement and action; these are disciples of Jesus, seekers of His kingdom, people moving in a spiritual trajectory instead of stagnant or wandering in circles. They may or may not be Christians. They're simply on a journey towards Jesus. This brings up all sorts of questions for evaluating success. How was their relationship with Jesus a year ago? How is their relationship with Jesus today? What is the spiritual trajectory that they're on, and where do they need to go next?

What was ministry success for Jesus? He wanted His disciples to love God, love one another, and love their neighbor. He desired that they exhibit spiritual fruit. If a disciple is more loving, more joyful, more patient, more kind, more gooder (ha!), more faithful, more gentle, and more self-controlled now than they were then, then they're on the right path.

How do you define ministry success? How are you and Jesus doing now compared to then?


  1. I go back to being faithful. When I faithfully follow God's leading, his outcomes dominate my life. This sounds very Jedi/force but really focuses on the process over the outcomes. When I'm faithful, God's outcomes are better than mine.

    1. I love this, because faithfulness to God's leading may not bring about the tangible results that would define "success" for most ministries. Look at Jeremiah's ministry; no one listened to him and the country ended up in exile.

      In my definition, I wanted to try to capture both process and outcome, both journey and destination. When it really comes down to it, they both matter in spiritual formation.