The Success Syndrome and the Church

Early in his ministry, Kent Hughes was set on having a successful church and pastoral career.  “To me,” he wrote, “success in the ministry meant growth in attendance.  Ultimate success meant a big, growing church.” “Subconsciously I was evaluating nearly everything from the perspective of how it would affect church growth.”  The crisis of faith came for him when he pastored a church that wasn’t growing by leaps and bounds.

After tears, prayer, discussions with his wife, and a study of scripture, he said this.

“I realized that I had been subtly seduced by the secular thinking that places a number on everything.  Instead of evaluating myself and the ministry from God’s point of view, I was using the world’s standard of qualitative analysis.”

What did he learn?  Quite a bit: “God’s call is to be faithful rather than successful.”  His wife Barbara agreed.

“In our study of the Scriptures, Kent and I had learned that we are not called to success, as the world fancies it, but to faithfulness.”

This is essential for all Christians no matter where and how we are called to serve in the church: our definition of success must come from the Bible not the world.  Instead of judging success by the number of sermon downloads, website hits, people in the pews, and cars in the parking lot, we need to judge it by biblical fidelity.  A biblically successful church is one that preaches the whole counsel of God in and out of season, administers the sacraments faithfully, and lovingly disciplines sinners unto repentance.

For a longer discussion of this important topic, you’ll need to get Hughes’ book, Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1988).

shane lems

sunnyside, wa

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