As a self-professed leadership junkie, one of my heroes is the great John Wooden. In his book, Wooden on Leadership, he stated that “success is peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you’re capable .” This is a brilliant definition of success and one that we might need to consider more often in our ministry circles.
For many years, I attended conferences as a pastor, and after initial introductions or reconnections, the conversation inevitably turned to the “success” of each person’s ministry. Success was generally defined by the number of people attending. There was little discussion about the impact of ministry, the sustainability of relationships, or the actual life transformation seen in people. Rather, it was more about how many people sat in the seats (and volunteers were often counted multiple times), how many people raised their hands, or how many people checked the box for membership.
As a leader, it is essential to have a goal, to have a way of measuring success. After all, if you aim for nothing, you are guaranteed to hit it every time. The bigger question is, what are you aiming at? When you look at your church, your special needs ministry, or your community outreach, how do you measure success? Are you content to merely count heads or would you be open to more than that?
John Wooden understood that we can only do so much and then whatever happens, happens. I have always believed that in life I have a part and God has a part. I can only work on my part, and then I must humbly submit my efforts into His hands and allow Him to do as He knows best.
What if we began to define success through a filter of faithfulness rather than achievement?
What if success could be viewed as the creation of a community rather than the accomplishment of an event?
What if we spent more effort getting to know people and less effort on providing programs or services for them? I am not saying that ministry programs are unimportant, but I am wondering if we place too much emphasis on them. In our focus to create the perfect menu of programs, do we forget to consider the church foyer conversations, the connections over coffee, or the simple daily tasks of greeting our neighbors?
We must work hard, plan well, and execute ministry to the best of our abilities. We should brainstorm, strategize, and design programs that serve our community well. But first, we must pray. First, we must determine what God is truly calling us to. First, we must decide to be faithful to the call regardless of the attendance.
If your special needs classroom only has two attendees, will you still serve them? Will you provide community for them? Will you lead them to the feet of Jesus? If your outreach event only sees one family affected by disability attend, were they worth the effort? Are you glad that you opened the doors of your church a little bit wider for them…or did you need more families to affirm your leadership?
Jesus encouraged us to leave the ninety-nine to find the one missing sheep (Luke 15:1-7). It’s not that the ninety-nine were somehow unimportant. Jesus simply understood that the one is equally if not more important. Be encouraged today that as you are faithful to the ministry call on your life, Jesus promises to always be faithful to you. He will bless and expand your ministry according to His plans, His timing, and His dreams. Rest in the peace that if you have done all that you can do, the results, fruit, and success of your ministry are firmly in the hands of our Father God—exactly where they always should be.