How Do We Measure Success?

Recently, I was sitting in a church which will soon be closing its Christian school. As I talked with a friend about this, he intimated that the reason such a tragedy was occurring was due to the church’s “slipping into compromise.” Apparently the church had changed a few things over the years, and the resultant judgment from God was a lack of attendance. This lack of attendance would cause the congregation to shrink and the school to shut down.

Recently, I was sitting in a church which was thriving to the point of having to extend its facilities. It actually has a fairly new auditorium, and keeps the older one for more space. As I talked with a friend about this, he intimated that the reason such prosperity is occurring was due to the church’s “slipping into compromise.” Apparently the church had changed a few things over the years, and the resultant judgment from God was a bigger crowd. This bigger crowd came because everything was watered down and as a result, new buildings would have to be built.

Even though many have rejected a numbers-oriented approach to ministry, it is easy for us to still fall into the trap of measuring success by numbers or other non-biblical measurements. Oftentimes we receive happy testimonies of church growth as a result of fervent evangelism. We hear of pastors taking a stand on the issues, and God continues to bless the church. So we make the logical conclusion that God is blessing because a hard-line stance is espoused. But, like the two instances above, there’s always an opposite story: a pastor takes a firm stand on some issues and people leave his church in droves. Then we’re prone to make the conclusion that when you take a biblical stand, there will be few to accept it. What we’re doing in these instances is picking and choosing when to apply, “God added unto them about three thousand souls” or “straight and narrow is the path.” 

When numbers provide us with the measuring stick for success, we find ourselves in a maze of confusion. So, how then, do we measure success in the ministry?

I cannot given an answer for the two ministries to which I referred to introduce this post. I do not intend to belittle the fact that one is shrinking, and the other growing; not do I intend to downplay the importance of compromise. The only point I am getting at is that oftentimes we confuse ourselves by looking at the outward circumstances in order to arrive at an opinion about the ministry. If compromise caused church #1 to shrink, why did it cause church #2 to grow? If pastor A’s unwavering stance caused more people to come, why did pastor B’s unwavering stance cause people to leave?

I propose that we look at what the real causes are for these situations.

What we have in modern times is similar to New Testament times in that we see both large ministries and small ministries, people coming and people leaving.

Jesus’ ministry was like that. In Mark 13:2 we find that “great multitudes” were following after Him. Many were healed, many were fed. And they all wanted to see this great miracle worker. When Jesus looked upon them, He had compassion. In one instance, we know there were about 5,000 men, beside women and children. On one hand, it could be said that Jesus had a great following.

On the other hand, Jesus’ following dwindled. In John 6, after the bread of life discourse, many of His disciples left Him, and followed Him no more. He was reduced to turning to the 12 and asking, “will you also go away?” If we measured Jesus’ ministry by numbers, we wouldn’t know what to conclude.

This is seen elsewhere as well. At Pentecost, 3,000 are added unto the church. We also see much rejoicing, praising, fellowship, and overall a very vibrant ministry. After Paul is converted, he joins in on the continuing ministry. But at the end of his life, he is reduced to saying “only Luke is with me.” Demas left him, others departed, others did him harm. At the end of his life, Paul was all alone. 

Elijah felt very lonely at one point in his life as well. But God encouraged him with the fact that a remnant, namely, 7,000 people, had not bowed to Ba’al. And Paul goes on to say, “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.”

So what we find throughout scripture is pretty mixed: multitudes and remnants.

Therefore, we cannot measure success by numbers. Nor can we measure it by enthusiasm. And the causes of these situations are not many, but one: God’s will. God left a remnant. God added to the church. God gave the increase.  

What, then, do we measure it by? Well, I’m hoping to get some feedback as to what readers think. But let’s remember the most famous instance of the word “success” in the Bible:

Joshua 1:8 This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. 

Success seems to be founded upon the Word of God. It also seems to hinge upon our obedience to it. Another thing to consider is the question, who are we pleasing? Obviously the answer is God. And He has the final say. The thing we’re looking for when we reach heaven is for Jesus to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

With these things considered, I’d say the biblical answer to the question, how do we measure success, is faithfulness. Whether a ministry is big or small; whether people flock to hear a preacher or exit saying, “this is a hard saying”; whether one seems to be zealous or not; or whether your favorite preferences are being accepted or rejected; the thing the Lord is looking at the most is our faithfulness to His Word. This, I believe, is the true measure of success.

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2 comments so far

  1. TJ on

    I say we should use the canon of Scipture the way word was originally used. The κανών is the standard of faith and practice. But that phrase is only lipservice if we do not measure our success by how faithful we are to it.

  2. Matt Moore on

    Good post. I think it’s pretty interesting to note that Peter and John went to the temple to pray some time after the 3,000 were converted. They were faithful in a large matter and then faithful in what we would think is a small matter. You also see that they took the time to heal one individual. Out of witnessing to one man, 5,000 more were saved.

    Scripture, unlike most of us, doesn’t place an emphasis on large numbers. Thanks for this post, it encouraged me.


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