Defining Success in the Pastorate

As I drove to tpreach1he associational pastor’s conference that Monday morning I was on a spiritual high.  As a pastor, my moods on Monday mornings often reflected the Sunday that I had experienced the previous day.  The day before was a great Sunday.  I remember it well.  We had 12 new members, many by profession of faith, high attendance and an energetic spirit.  I was pumped!  Arriving at the pastor’s meeting I couldn’t wait to tell my fellow pastors what God did on that Sunday.  As the time came to “share what God did in your church yesterday” I began to speak of the powerful Sunday at Valley Creek Church, our high attendance, new members, baptisms, etc.  After I shared my experience I noticed dejection on one of the other pastors in the room.  He simply looked at me and said in front of the other guys, “That is great. I wish things like that happened in my church.” It was an honest confession.  He was a young pastor who was serving his first church.  A church in a transitioning community that was on a steep decline. After the meeting, I ministered to the new pastor and assured him that better days were coming.  As I drove back to the church following the meeting much was going through my mind.  I too had been like my pastor friend.  Many times I had listened to other pastors share of exciting times, growth and new additions in their church, all the while thinking I wasn’t as effective because those things weren’t happening in my church.

That led me to the question, How does one define a successful pastorate? None of the other pastors in the room that day shared a praise report, did that mean I was the most successful pastor in the room?   A successful pastorate is not about how big your church becomes, it is more about how spiritually big your people become under your tenure.  In R. Kent Hughes book, “Liberating Ministry from The Success Syndrome” the author speaks of this unhealthy way of thinking or as the book is titled, “The Success Syndrome”. The big “take away” from Hughes’ book is that God has not called us to grow churches, he has called us to be faithful.  After all, he gives the increase, not us. No pastor will ever stand before the throne of God and hear the question, “How big were the churches you served?”  I will never have to give account for the lack of size of the churches I served, but I will certainly have to give account to how I communicated His Word, how I served His people, how I equipped His church.  Don’t get me wrong, pastors should strive to grow the church, but it should not define our success or effectiveness. There are many pastors who are discouraged today.  My job allows me the opportunity to speak with many pastors. I find that many of these guys are struggling, I mean really struggling.  While they are happy for the pastors who talk about their overflowing ministries on social media and at pastor meetings, they secretly struggle with their own perceived inadequacies.  The pastor who led me to the Lord was Roy E. Morgan.  Bro. Morgan pastored churches for 50 years or more.  He never served as pastor of a large church, mostly shepherding flocks of 200 or less. He never served as president of a pastor’s conference or served in a high profile position with our denomination.  He didn’t win awards, never preached at a state or national event and was rarely honored outside the churches he served. Yet I set here today secure in my salvation because of the faithful witness and preaching of this man. The current scorecard for what deems a pastor successful would see him as a man who never really made a name for himself or was never overwhelmingly successful.  My redeemed soul would strongly disagree. The Apostle Paul defined ministry success in 1 Corinthians 4: 1-2, “Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.”

There are hundreds if not thousands of pastors who will never pastor a large church.  Yet, their ministries are a smashing success in heaven.  God’s scorecard for ministry success is quite different from ours.  God has called us to be faithful. (1 Cor. 4:2). God has called us to be Holy. (1 Peter 1:16).  God has called us to be servants. (Mark 9:35). And finally, God has called us to preach his Word persistently. (2 Timothy 4:2).  That is his scorecard.  To my discouraged brothers, you are making a difference. The attendance may not show it yet, but the individual lives you impact through a sermon, a phone call or a chat in the hallway at church are the true measure of your effectiveness. May we pastors be faithful, holy servants who proclaim the truths of Scripture and in so doing we will be called successful by the only one who truly matters. Hold your head up pastor.  Don’t allow your Sunday attendance determine your Monday mood.

 

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