I may be hitting a topic that you have wrestled with before. This question is weaved into our psyches in more ways than one; can I want success for my ministry?
What is it about hearing a term like being “successful” that makes us think and evaluate our heart posture? I mean, we do know that it’s not about numbers. We know that we don’t want the fruit to be of our own doing but the will of God through the work of the Holy Spirit. So then, how and is it possible to desire a fruitful and, dare I say, successful ministry?
If you are a seasoned ministry leader, I hope you have wrestled with this question and have been met by God answering it for you. If you are fresh in ministry, or maybe you haven’t thought to ask this question, then let’s take a walk through what this question is proposing.
As I was playing disc golf the other day, I had an epiphany! I am new to the sport, and with my age (I am going on 34, I know some might say it’s young still, I feel the years, HA!), I have wanted to be active and love a little competition even if it’s just with myself. So naturally, I feel the need to practice and go through drills to get better to enjoy the sport, not get frustrated. I try and make it out a few times a week to the course near me, do my warmups, and try and practice throwing the disc to work on technique before I play. After months of videos and coaching from a family member who plays, I found myself at a field in the afternoons just throwing the disc and getting to the course more often. And it happened; I played one of my best rounds and scored 2 throws over even for the course (scoring is like regular stick golf, finish in the least number of strokes as possible). This was huge because, after only a few months, this was better than some of the guys I play with have been able to get! Of course, it happened when I was out by myself, but one of the guys was out the next day and played with me, and…. I finished with 10 strokes over, just a few less than my normal play. Disappointing yet, revealing still. As I sat looking at my round scores, I looked up and realized something; I had a successful round.
How am I defining success right now? Is it getting the best score? Is it making the most putts? Is it throwing my first drive the closest to the basket? Let me rephrase these questions for our context. Is it the number of students in my youth group? Is it the most students baptized or saved every week? Is it the number of students following our social media page? We define success relative to our awareness of God’s work in our lives and the ministries He has called us to serve. What I did apply from disc golf was this, while my score didn’t necessarily reflect improvement, it wasn’t a gauge on how more accurate I was able to throw long distances. It couldn’t show how I could find routes through the trees and make my upshot easier to make closer putts. Same for our ministry, yes, it is not about success, success in numbers, and specific metrics, but can we measure success as defined by the Holy Word of God? Yes.
So, how? Well, I think it’s healthy to find wins. Acknowledging that while yeah, that kid didn’t engage in a small group in their life at that moment, but are they showing up? Maybe that student isn’t knowledgeable of the Bible and doesn’t even bother to read along during the message, but are they developing a relationship with leaders who know and live a life that echoes scripture?
Yes, we can easily look at a moment we expected to play out a certain way or a camp or big event to have more tangible wins, but what did happen? Can we see consistency in our ministries, and how does that impact the student’s lives? These are all important, if not the most important questions; we need to address in a culture that is moving at such a pace that we are fighting for that same relationship we are asking the students to have with God. We CAN and MUST celebrate the wins that show growth and consistency that gives God room to raise that seed and bring fruit into the students’ lives in ways we could never imagine, ways that we are unable to see, and God recognizes and blesses.
Manny Hernandez is the Middle School Pastor at Calvary PHX