Shepherd’s Conference, 2016; Nathan Busenitz, Session #5
What is success in ministry?
Since the Second Great Awakening, it has been measured in terms business like success: crowds, money, “decisions”. That cannot be how the Bible defines it, because one can have money and lear jets and be a ministry failure.
Success is not per se bad. Rather, it is how one defines the desired goal.
How should ministers measure success?
R. Kent Hughes defines this in terms of faithfulness — which will be developed here:
32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets-
33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,
34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.
35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.
36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.
37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated-
38 of whom the world was not worthy-wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. http://esv.to/Heb11.32-38
This does not look like “success” in any way we would normally consider such things. But from God’s perspective, their lives were a success because they adhered to Jesus who is the ultimate measure of success.
Church history is filled with Christians whose faithfulness to their Lord and master was worth the loss and ridicule of this world.
Jeremiah spent his ministry being rejected by the people to whom he was sent; compared with Jonah who had a massive response. Yet, Jeremiah was a greater success.
Being faithful means that we may not be well received. But suffering for him is nothing compared to the glory which awaits those who are his.
Paul is the example of this sort of faithfulness.
1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:
2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,
4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.
7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
9 Do your best to come to me soon.
10 For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.
11 Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.
12 Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus.
13 When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.
14 Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds.
15 Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message.
16 At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them!
17 But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.
18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
19 Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus.
20 Erastus remained at Corinth, and I left Trophimus, who was ill, at Miletus.
21 Do your best to come before winter. Eubulus sends greetings to you, as do Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brothers.
22 The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you. http://esv.to/2Tim4.1-22
Paul is writing to Timothy at the outset of his ministry. Therefore, Timothy had to be reminded of the true meaning of ministry success.
Note three contrasts in this passage which contrast true and false success (worldly vs. biblical).
First, a contrast in the motivation for service (vv. 1-5)
False teachers are lead by a desire for approval and gain of this world. True success is measured by faithfulness to God’s approval
You will give an account. John Knox burst into tears upon hearing this passage.
As for the size of your church, it will be enough when it comes time to give an account.
Be motivated by the knowledge that one day we will give an account.
6 So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord,
7 for we walk by faith, not by sight.
8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.
10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. http://esv.to/2Cor5.6-10
Second,success is measured by heaven’s approval:
Paul guarded the purity of the gospel and never wavered. Therefore, he eagerly looks forward to his coming to his reward: verse 8.
The true measure of success is faithfulness to Jesus.
Well done my popular, cool, clever, coy servant — is not how Christ greets us.
Ad. Judson writing a father asking for his father’s hand in marriage:
I have now to ask whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure for a heathen land, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of a missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death?
Can you consent to all this for the sake of Him who left his heavenly home, and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing immortal souls; for the sake of Zion and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with a crown of righteousness brightened by the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Savior from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?”
This is the kind of perspective I want to have in my ministry.
Third, the faithful minister is willing to enjoy suffering if that is what is entailed in faithfully serving Christ (9-13)
While we often consider Paul’s charge at the beginning of this chapter, we rarely consider Paul’s circumstance in making this charge.
If my ministry ended in Paul’s place, would I think my ministry ended in success?
Examples from church history:
Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Spurgeon
If that is not elite enough company, here we have the apostle Paul: abandoned, rejected, imprisoned.
Fourth, Paul’s support [missed his precise title]
The Lord strengthened me.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.(Phil. 4:13). Paul
Paul was able to stand because he was supported by Christ.
Second, Paul’s confidence is placed in the Lord’s sovereignty: whether we live or die we are the Lord’s.
Third, he remembered his goal: bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom.
To live is Christ, to die is gain.
16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.
17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,
18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. http://esv.to/2Cor4.16-18
Fourth, he could find joy in any circumstance, because in his loss Christ was being glorified.
To God be the glory.
Rather than becoming discouraged in the midst of this circumstance, he was encouraged by God’s glory.
Suffering is no sign of failure [in ministry] as long as we are faithful [to Christ].
Timothy needed to take these matters to heart to have a successful ministry.
Paul’s life (according to tradition) was ended by beheading (as a Roman citizen).
Paul was greeted with Well done my good and faithful servant
Only what is done for Christ will last.