Our Measure of Success
Measuring success in Christian ministry can be difficult to calculate. Afterall whose standards are we going to use when we are working for God? He alone is the Judge. So what does success look like? Some define success as faithfulness. Staying true to the assignment God has given you and not letting go, no matter the cost. For others it means impact. Reaching thousands of people and counting commitments, altar calls, salvations, healings, etc.
I am not sure the best way to measure success but I do know that what man esteems is contrary to the things the Lord is looking at. We have a built in predisposition to judge by external appearances. But the Lord is looking much deeper and sees all things. Nothing is hidden from his sight. He is after the heart, not externals.
Looking at the life of Paul, we see a very interesting paradox of ministry success. In the midst of incredible ministry impact came deep persecution, rejection by men and troubling hardship. Yes Paul, perhaps the greatest leader in Christian history, writer of 2/3 of the New Testament was told by Christ upon his salvation in Acts 9, that he would be shown how much he must suffer for Christ. Ouch. We don't like those kinds of statements from Christ. Especially in America. The better things are going for you, the more God must be pleased with you, we think. But that's not how things work.
We like the blessings and I am all for that. God does bless and he answers our prayers. He richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. You are going to be blessed and you're also going to be persecuted along with the blessings. I believe the Lord's uses injustice, mistreatment, persecution and rejection as a buffer against pride and to keep us on our face before him.
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
In America we tend to think if all is going well and we have no trouble God is blessing us. Not Paul though. He viewed trouble not as a sign that God was not with him but that he was making impact for God. He actually boasted about it. To him it was a confirmation of the call of God and the invasion of the Kingdom of God upon the kingdom of darkness.
For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.
In this text Paul is describing true apostlic ministry. Yeah, a bit different than the definition we've given it in the American Church. The marks of Paul's apostolic ministry were signs, wonders and...suffering. How are you judging the success of your ministry? If it's by popularity I am afraid you are on a slippery slope. Jesus warned, woe to you when all men speak well of you. Trying to please men and serving God is folly. Paul said it can't be done. You're not going to make everyone happy, so stop trying. It's that very hardship and suffering Paul endured that took his message to the ends of the earth. The word and work God did in Paul is still reverberating today.