Faithful, Not Successful
I’ve probably said this a number of times to my friends and the congregation at our church – I do not fear for the Church and its survival. Jesus has already declared that the Church will endure, and quite stirringly at that. See if you can read the declaration of Jesus to Peter in Matthew 16:18 without tearing up a little (or a lot, depending on your emotional state today):
“…upon this rock I will build my church,
and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.”
Jesus has declared that the Church will endure, despite our best efforts of destryoing it. I tend to believe what he says. I am more concerned for the people in it – particularly, my brothers who are in the pastoral ministry as I am. I fear that a lot of us may have lost sight of the main thing.
I fear for pastors who have a skewed understanding of what it is they are called to do in church. At some point in time, we may have traded what the Lord was asking of us in the first place and started chasing our own definition of a successful ministry. We have begun to desire more people in our pews and seats, more money in our church bank accounts, bigger buildings, and better programs as the primary indicator of success in our churches.
Along the way, we may have stopped desiring for more of Jesus in our lives. We may have traded the personal efforts of spiritual disciplines – when we make sure that the life-changing, earth-shattering, world-saving effect of the gospel of Jesus the Christ is found in us first rather than in our web posters and Facebook posts – for stuff that bring tangible numerical growth and positive ministry results.
Is this really the success that Jesus wanted when he called you to be a pastor? Or are we willing to admit that we may have twisted the Bible’s definition of success in ministry?
The apostle Paul, when he addressed the issue of division in the Corinthian church, laid down a pretty solid foundation on how we should see ministry. A church divided by its popular preachers, the Corinthian church got a mouthful of rock-solid theology from the apostle, and it is best that we listen to it.
“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” - 1 Corinthians 3:5-7
Clearly, pastors and elders in the church – we who plant seeds and water the field with our service in ministry – are “nothing”. Let that sink in – we are just servants and aren’t really anything. Compared to God, the one who gives – or for that matter, withholds – the growth, we “are not anything”, according to Paul.
Let me make myself clear – planning, strategizing, and executing programs are not bad things. We need to do them because God put us in these positions with our training and skills to do these tasks effectively. But if we begin to find our pastoral identity in these tasks, if we begin to be defined by the results of these tasks – as Paul clearly has advised us not to – then we begin to lose our primary identity.
What is your identity?
Brother pastor, your primary calling has always been to find your happiness and pleasure solely in Jesus Christ. Your first calling is to desire more of Jesus in your life, and it has not changed from when you were first called into ministry until now that you’re neck deep in it. You are called to dive deeper into your personal relationship with Christ, as this will be fuel for your ministry – and for the hardships that will surely come.
The image of waterfalls in Psalm 42:7 – the picture of waters crashing and running over you – is the picture of God overpowering us and our abilities. “Deep calls to deep” is a call for us to have communion with God, as often as possible, and as often as we need it. Pastors, when we analyze and flesh out our individual relationships with God, it should reflect the picture of depth.
It is from this depth of relationship and communion that we preach the Gospel faithfully to the people who are in our churches – no matter the number. The depth of a pastor’s appreciation, knowledge, and experience of the Gospel will help him and his church more than a trendy new church program will. Pastor, huge numbers of people in our church services will give us a lot of things, but it will not give us depth in our relationship with God.
As we reflect on our ministries during this month where people may try to evaluate a pastor’s ministry using a lot of different variables, let us evaluate ourselves on one thing – our faithfulness to God. Be clear on this – the Lord desires our hearts primarily, and it will never be wrong for a pastor to give priority to his own personal walk with God before he serves the church.
If you are putting numbers, programs, and figures before your obedience and faithfulness to God, you are being more of a danger to your church then being a shepherd of it. Be faithful to the small things God is asking of you – immerse yourself in the Word, love your wife and your family, preach the Gospel faithfully. Then allow God to do his work in growing the church (or not), because that part was never our problem to begin with.
About the author:
John Hofileña serves as Lead Pastor at Joy Christian Fellowship, a Southern Baptist church in Intramuros, Manila and is passionate about disciple-making and the youth.