27 May 2008

The hardest aspect of pastoral ministry (part one)

by Dan Phillips

You'll not be surprised to learn that pastoral ministry has been on my mind for, well — okay, pretty much for my whole Christian life. In the doing of it, ere long I ran smack into what I think is hardest about pastoral ministry.

It certainly wasn't what you might think, or what I would have thought. It wasn't learning Greek or even Hebrew, or any of the Biblical or homiletical sciences; it wasn't learning the mechanics of candidating or interviewing or counseling or administrating; it wasn't preparing as many as four different messages a week; it wasn't maintaining a relationship with Christ or a holy walk. It wasn't earning degrees, or anything associated therewith.

It was the very nature of the work, in the specific aspect that sets it apart from every other "job."

Let's sidle up to that aspect.

Right now, I'm doing IT support. How do I know if I'm doing it well? Simple: I am doing well if I treat my callers decently and their problems gets resolved. Period. When the need has been met, I've succeeded.

How does a cook know he's doing well? If diners enjoy his meals, and come back for more. How does a farmer know he's doing well? If crops grow to harvest. How does a car mechanic know if he's doing well? If he succeeds in getting cars running as they should.

And how does any business measure its success? When it has enough people coming for its services and paying its prices to keep the business profitable. Simple. If this isn't happening, the smart owner finds out why, and fixes it. Location? Staff? Pricing? Advertising? Product? If it isn't what the public wants, you must change it, or perish.

I could go on, and quibblers could quibble, but I think you get the main, undeniable point: every human endeavor has ways to measure success right now (or shortly), and has an identifiable and quantifiable goal.

Every human endeavor, that is, except pastoral ministry. (Stay with me; you'll eventually see application for all Christians, though particularly so for pastors.)

Suppose a pastor preaches the Biblical Gospel with all his Spirit-enabled might, and not one unbelieving hearer comes to repentant faith. Ever. Has he failed? Or succeeded? How can he know?

Suppose a pastor patiently and thoroughly teaches Biblical doctrine(s), and a great majority of his congregation reject, or don't even think about what they've been shown from Scripture. Has he failed? Or succeeded? How can he know?

Suppose attendance in a pastor's church grows steadily. Has he failed? Or succeeded? How can he know?

Suppose attendance in a pastor's church declines steadily. Has he failed? Or succeeded? How can he know?

Suppose a pastor Biblically counsels a couple with a troubled marriage, and they divorce. Has he failed? Or succeeded? How can he know?

Suppose a pastor preaches his Biblical convictions and people (attenders or even colleagues) turn on him. Has he failed? Or succeeded? How can he know?

Think about that a bit, chat it over, and I'll develop the tension in more specifically Biblical terms in the next post, Lord willing. Then, in the third, I'll provide such answers as I have.

But I give you fair warning: I'm not particularly sanguine about simplistic, clichéd instant-answers and snappy formulas from idle theorists.

(As a hint, if you find yourself tempted to use the word "just" [as in, "I think a pastor just has to..."], do yourself a favor, and just don't.)

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FX Turk said...

Indeed. How to measure success when the method, the means, and the very fruit are all in God's hands to deliver?

I wonder if Timothy, as he was being stoned in Ephesus to death by the people he devoted his life to after the death of Paul, wondered if he was successful? Was that the last thought in his mind?

DJP said...

An excellent question. We have every Canonical reason to see Timothy as one of a less bold frame than Paul's. He needed encouragement, prodding, cheering-on; he needed to be told to kick and stir and feed and blow on the embers until the fire of his God-given gift roared into full flame again. What he had to hang onto was the Word of God.

Anonymous said...

I don't know the answers to your questions. At least, I think I might, but as a non-pastor I'm hesitant to go there too quickly.

You post though, has encouraged me to encourage my pastor. If it's difficult for a pastors ,in general, to measure their success/failure, then it's certainly it's difficult for my pastor, in particular, as well.

Rick Frueh said...

There is no such thing as pastoral success or failure, only faithfulness and unfaithfulness.

And those have nothing to do with his people.

James Scott Bell said...

So pastors should be unjust? (sorry)

Knowing you, Dan, this will be a deep and thoughtful series, and as a pastor (associate) I look forward to it.

How much of this can be traced to our expectations? We think: God called me, I'm answering the call, I'm being faithful to the Word, therefore...victory must be assured and knowable. And in the back of our mind is how God used Whitfield and Wesley, Piper and MacArthur. "Big" results, big influence...but then, where's mine?

So expectations unfulfilled lead to despair. Yet we think I'm SUPPOSED to expect great things, aren't I? If I DON'T have such expectations, I'm dissing God, right? Not believing Him?

I wonder if dealing with expectations should be where we START, instead of waiting for year 15 of ministry and then thinking, "Well, this wasn't at all what I thought would happen." And then all the guilt of "Have I been faithful enough? Did I really have the call?" etc.

With each passing year I gain so much more appreciation of the dedicated pastor.

Godspeed, Dan.

DJP said...

RickThere is no such thing as pastoral success or failure, only faithfulness and unfaithfulness.

So... [leaning forward in chair] you're saying a pastor should just be faithful, and just not worry about anything else? Simple as that?


DJP said...

Johnny — excellent thoughts. Almost no point in my doing my next two.



FX Turk said...

BTW, this is a great kick-off for the second half of the year here at TeamPyro, Dan. I have been percolating a series of posts sort of leaping off from my hornets' nest of posts from last year on why people ought not to leave their churches from the perspective of why pastors ought not to want "successful" churches but faithful churches.

But in that context, let me suggest something that I disagreed with from your post: I think the pastor is actually a lot more like a farmer than any other profession. He has good seed, and he plants it and devotes himself to it -- indeed, he may actually put everything he owns in hock against a good harvest -- and the truth is that all of it is in God's hands.

This is why, I think, Paul's encouragement to Timothy is so critical in a pastor's self-evaluation. In Paul's eyes, the proof that he has done what God wanted and that Timothy is doing what God wants is that others have fallen away, and truth be told both Paul and Timothy are persecuted for what Paul calls a charge of love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Tim 1:5)

There is only one statement in the whole NT which is more theologically-loaded than that statement, and it's Paul's exhortation in 1 Cor 15:1-4. Those simple words (love, heart, conscience, faith) bear so much weight that, I think, if more men considered them, they would stop treating the church like a career move.

IMO. I'll say more about that tomorrow, I am sure, when we do the book review smackdown.

bassicallymike said...

You think you have trouble measuring success! Imagine the OT prophets! If anyone needed "hit counters", it was them.

Point well taken.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... Good points. The sower idea is very helpful Frank. It reminds us pastors will know how successful they've been after the harvest. It's just a long way off.

So how do they know they're sowing right in the short term?

* Are they faithfully proclaiming the Word of God? (2 Tim 4:1-2, Titus 1:9)
* Are they proclaiming Christ as they preach the Word? (1 Cor 2:1-2, Gal 1:9)
* Are they being persecuted (for the message not the method)? (2 Tim 3:12)

Those are some Paul suggests. There's some I would use too but they maybe my own invention so I'll leave it there.

Tim Wilon

DJP said...

Frank, with all due respect and affection — and that's a truckload — there still is a fundamental disconnect between the farmer and the pastor.

The farmer knows exactly what he's aiming at, in tangible, material, quantifiable terms.

If he sows X amount of wheat seeds, and somewhere between Y and Z amount of wheat doesn't grow, he hasn't succeeded. He knows he has to check his seed, his soil; check for bugs, mildew, blight, whatever (I'm not a farmer). Something is wrong. If the wheat doesn't produce, he hasn't succeeded.

He cannot conceivably look at a resolutely barren field, hook his thumbs in his suspenders, heave a contented sigh and say, "Mission accomplished!"

But by contrast, Isaiah 6:9-11 indicates that it is conceivable that a servant of God could be in that position. And there are other similar verses.

But I'm anticipating my next post. So say tuned.

Rick Frueh said...

"So... [leaning forward in chair] you're saying a pastor should just be faithful, and just not worry about anything else? Simple as that?"

Yes, that is what I am saying. Worry about success and numbers is an inherited western trait based upon numbers, approval, competition, and an overall satisfaction of accomplishment.

The pastor's personal walk with Christ, his spiritual leadership in his family, and his faithfulness to God's calling are his pursuits. The effects of these are in God's hands. We all worry to some extent, we all shouldn't.

Randy said...

I'm not a pastor but have taught SS for over 30 years to various age groups. It is human nature to want to be liked and to want to hear positive comments about how we did. Matter-of-fact in the secular world the number one factor in why people leave their jobs is not money, benefits, etc, BUT being unappreciated for what they do.

In my own case I know when I have done well when I have done ALL I know to do in preparation for the class both in prayer and study. And conversely, I know when I haven't. This is aside from any reaction positive of negative response by the hearers.

I ask myself constantly, "Is God well pleased?"

Personally, I think you know.

Mike Westfall said...

The pastor of our local Vineyard church has been expecting "something great" to happen in our community for the last thirty years. By that, I suppose he means something similar to the silliness going on in Lakeland.

Thankfully, this pastor has not yet been "successful."

Connie said...

Be obedient, be diligent, be faithful. Surround yourself with Godly counselors to encourage and advise you. The results are God's--'success' or 'failure' is determined by HIM according to HIS judgement.

Been there, done that, still LEARNING that.

Mike Riccardi said...

Sure. Be obedient. Be pursuing Christ. Be faithful. Be diligent. These are all right things that we should do if we're being a Biblical minister... or a Biblical Christian, as Dan pointed out.

But the question is, how do we know when we're doing those things? Can we know? I'm sure that at least 90% of the pastors in America think they're doing all those things listed above. I'm positive guys like Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, and Joel Osteen think they're doing that. But many of us would want to say that they're not being "successful pastors."

Having listened to the T4G seminars and noticing the T4G reflections tag at the bottom of the post, I think the point Dan's trying to get across is that there are no "interim report cards" for the Christian minister. He can study and preach faithfully his entire life and never see a single convert, and yet his reward in heaven is great. But how does he know that this side of heaven?

Sure, you can have confidence in your fidelity to the Word of God, and your adhering to the conviction of the Holy Spirit. I'm not going emerging on you and saying it's all just a big bag of mystery. But because our work is, at the core of it, spiritual work, the results are also spiritual, and so are often unseen. We need to be firmly established in endurance because of that, knowing that our crown of righteousness will only be received in heaven.


So now, let me ask a question. What do you think of a preacher who co-opts the idea of "successful living" in the Christian life. "Through Christ we can live life successfully." Now, by this, he doesn't mean that we'll be healthy and wealthy. He understands that success really is pleasing God, and that's what we're after, but he never really comes out and says it. How would you respond to this? If negatively, how might you lovingly correct this man?

DJP said...

Thanks, Mike. I think you get it.

Beal said...

I think that as a youth pastor this can be especially troublesome. When you are dealing with adults, for the most part they want to be there, they usually want to progress spiritually. Little kids, are easy to please and think you are the greatest. But teenagers! it's very discouraging sometimes or can be when you are serving teenagers and their attitude is just "whatever."

The average youth pastor quits after about 9 months in America. Success?!?! I think we can never measure it because it's not for us to measure. I think it's impossible to gauge. Only on the other side of heaven we'll see what success looks like.

Pastor Michael said...

Just (ducking) be like Jeremiah?

O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me. For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.
Jeremiah 20:7-9 (ESV)

Doubting, wondering, overpowered by God, submitting, proclaiming, persecuted. No discernable fruit.

Anonymous said...

Rick, I like what you're saying, but this bit I take issue with.

"Yes, that is what I am saying. Worry about success and numbers is an inherited western trait based upon numbers, approval, competition, and an overall satisfaction of accomplishment."

This idea that somehow it's the west that has this messed up idea...I'm pretty sure people in all corners of the earth tend towards numbers and success and other pride driven issues.

Because of that,I think it's understandable and to be expected that pastors will lean towards finding a concrete way of measuring success, doesn't make it right, but I think it's a universal tendency.

To piggy-back on Mike's post, I think this verse applies:

1 Cor. 9:26-27

Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

It really is about the final outcome, isn't it?

JackW said...

I think that we have such an unbiblical view of what “a” Pastor is, that there is no way they can function as biblical elders. That’s probably a very simplistic view on my part, but I’m stuck with it until I see differently.

Connie said...

"But the question is, how do we know when we're doing those things? Can we know?"

Shouldn't our 'measure' follow 2 Peter 1, "...applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence...For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ...Therefore, brethern, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble..."

When we don't 'see' success we need to ask what exactly WE think success looks like and is that supported by Scripture? Is my perception of 'success' or 'failure' causing me to 'stumble' in areas of my Christian walk--bitterness, jealousy, compromise, etc.

For most of my Christian life I/we have served in and attended relatively small churches, consequently we have had to discipline ourselves (and encourage others) to embrace a Biblical view of the ministry and the life of the church.

BTW, this can be very challenging everytime the "alumni newsletter" arrives in the mail from your Bible college and/or seminary! :-)

Hayden said...

One of the speakers at t4g said something to the effect of:

Pastoral ministry is the only 'job' that when things go right you can take none of the credit, but when things go wrong you can take all of the credit. (I think Dr. Mohler said it, and he said it much better)

olan strickland said...

Satan...[substitutes] material elements of strength [identifiable and quantifiable goals] for spiritual ones. This is one of the Devil's most insidious and successful methods to deceive, divert, and deprave. He parades the most attractive material results. He praises the power of human planning before church leaders until they are dazzled and ensared. Then the church becomes thoroughly worldly while boasting of her spirituality. No deceiver is so artful in the diabolical trade of deception as Satan. As an "angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14), he leads souls to death (E. M. Bounds, Guide to Spiritual Warfare, pg.43).

Don said...


You raise a great point, one in which, as you have said, there are no simple answers. I think too this is compounded by the fact that we pastors tend to measure our success against that of the mega church “gurus” that have, as Michael Spencer puts it, “missional street cred”. In so doing we tend to get overly enamored with numbers. But here’s the thing. If numbers are the measure of our success then all we’ve really done is reduce church ministry to marketing strategies. If good marketing is all that is needed to be successful in pastoral ministry than who needs the Holy Spirit? Yes, “every human endeavor has ways to measure success”, but that’s the real issue isn’t it? Successful pastoral ministry isn’t a human endeavor at all is it?

Benjamin P. Glaser said...

Wow. This post hit me like a ton of bricks. As someone studying for the Pastoral Ministry this is my greatest fear.

Unknown said...

Success or failure, it seems (as Johnny D. pointed out) is not the issue. In fact, I suppose NOTHING external at all is.

Not to try and simplify the whole thing, because I'm certain it's more complex than I know, but I've gotta go w/ Paul here to the Corithians, "We have as our ambition to be *pleasing to Him*."

Results of all kinds are the Lord's and let Him do as seems good to Him.

MooMa said...

I'm not a pastor, but I am a parent. Your post made me think about measuring "success" within the context in which I find myself. And too, what about in the context of our own, personal spiritual growth. We can be deceived, thinking we are doing "much better" than we really are!
Anyway, look at what happened to Spurgeon's church, only years following his death...

Rachael Starke said...

I'm wondering whether another tile in this mosaic is the idea of knowing the God Whom you preach as pastors or Whom (Who?) I proclaim to my children - knowing Him through His Word, and knowing all of it, as a whole, in its parts, and how those parts work together to reveal who God is in all His glory. The more we do that, the more the Spirit brings to mind things like:
- God's glory being displayed in the ultimate demise of the unrepentant - if our goal is God's glory, then we can still see His ends achieved when those we serve don't repent
- God's glory in His calling of such unworthy vessels - Balaam's ass has got nuthin' on this sinful mommy. But as long as I get the message right, the messenger achieves its God-given purpose!
- God's glory in the flailings of His stupid sheep when they wander away from the rich pastures of His Word into the weeds and thorns of pointless programs, materialism, fads and get nothing but malnutrition and thistles for their efforts.
- God's glory as our ultimate goal so that if our ministry is still characterized by any or all of the above, as long as we are confident that that was all accomplished through the faithful, thoughtful, careful declaration of His Word, then we can wait with hope and patience for the completion of our efforts in Heaven.

There's a lot more, but those are just the ones I came up with while sorting the laundry (one of the more frustrating aspects of mommy-al ministry)... :)

Herding Grasshoppers said...

When you die you get to hear "Well done, good and faithful servant". (Or something you'd rather not hear, like "Get out of my chair!" or "I never knew you.")

I'm trying for "Well done good and faithful servant."

Rick Frueh said...

"It really is about the final outcome, isn't it?"

Yes, but it will be measured in us, not anyone else.

GUNNY said...

Hopefully not a "just" response, but I think the biblical answer as to what God deems success is faithfulness, employing your all dependently on the Spirit to the glory of God alone.

Now, in the human reality in which we attempt to live, for me I derive satisfaction (rightly or wrongly) when I see fruit of my labor.

Theologically, I may think one thing, but practically, I easily get discouraged when I see paltry "results."

In other words, I preach and teach with the goal of changed lives to the glory of God. I can't so much perceive that without the benefit of elapsed time and without personal relationships to pick up on life change that is cognitive, affective, and/or behavioral.

For Paul, he had joy in the faithfulness of the Philippians and their unity, and I can understand that.

I think success as humans deem it (e.g., pulpit committee) may be quite different from that which God sees as successful.

Anonymous said...

Interesting points and comments. A thought (just) came to my mind on this. What is our role, our position in the Kingdom? Is it not that of a bond slave (a doulos)? Giving ourselves freely to a Good Master in service to Him with no consideration of reward?

So if that's the case, how does a slave determine whether he is successful or not? Indeed, does or should a slave even think in these terms? Success for a slave would seem to be doing whatever pleases his master. In a negative sense, out of fear of punishment. But in a positive sense, as in the case of a Good Master, out of love for the Master.

So in this context, success in pastoral ministry (and in Christian life as a whole) is measured by how well what we do pleases our Master. And He's told us pretty clearly what pleases Him. While doing it, we may not get a lot of pats on the back or "good job" feedback from our Master. But then, slaves aren't to expect these things. So why should we?

Hayden said...

I see what most of the comments are trying to say here and I agree with what is generally being pointed out.... BUT

Dan does have a point that one of the most, if not the most, difficult parts of pastoral ministry is the no 'interim report cards' factor. It is difficult but also part of the ministry.

I wholeheartedly agree with Dan in that having a just do this answer.. is too simplistic. I find that those answers often come from those who are not in pastoral ministry (I did not mean that to be harsh at all, so, don't take offense to it)

Look forward to the further installments.

olan strickland said...

gunny: I think success as humans deem it (e.g., pulpit committee) may be quite different from that which God sees as successful.

Interesting! Kind of like the seven churches of Asia Minor addressed in Revelation 2 and 3. The Lord's evaluation was quite different from the evaluation of men. To the church of Sardis the Lord said, "I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead" (Revelation 3:1). I can just imagine that if the church of Sardis had a church sign that they would have put on it, "Call 911, we're on fire!"

And to the church at Laodicea who thought that because of their wealth, wisdom, and wardrobe that they were smoking hot for the Lord, He said, "So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth" (Revelation 3:16).

But let's not forget about poor Philadelphia looking around at all the other churches of Asia Minor and thinking, "man they are going and growing and glowing - what's wrong with us?" Jesus said, "I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name" (Revelation 3:8).

Success cannot be determined by judging by appearance!

Rachael Starke said...

Re: "no interim report cards"

And yet, surely things like tangible evidence that people are growing in grace and knowledge - people becoming more like Christ and less like the world in the way they talk and act, increasing the use of their time, talents and treasure for the Kingdom, knowing and pursuing the use of their gifts in service to one another, lovingly practicing discipline and pursuing restoration, etc. - surely those are all indicators that the H.S. is at work through those that are leading them?

And in case we get down to how to measure THOSE things, our church recently did a, oh I hesitate to even say the word, um, it starts with "s" . . .

Bryan Riley said...

Is it any different for any Christian who is following Jesus by faith 24/7?

Dave .... said...

All of the pastoral similitudes break down on account of human sinfulness. Sheep don't sin, they stray. Seeds and soil don't sin, they are either fertile or they are not. Cars don't sin, they wear out.

So, success in regard to all these can be easily measured and failure determined in terms of the "natural" behavior of each. But where it comes to ministry to sinfully twisted and self-bent humans, there are too many variables and only one remedy.

That God allows/requires our participation in His enterprise of redemption boggles me sometimes. How He demands our participation has nothing to do with success: numbers, dollars, acolades. It has everything to do with being truthful, faithful, and diligent. And that all depends on humble reliance on Him for everything, including the message, the method, and the measurement of the outcome.

His "just right" might be a real disappointment to me. Lucky I'm not in charge. ;-)

Dave ....

Lisa said...

We must not fondly imagine that we can do whatever we choose; but we may fairly expect that whenever God allots us a work, he will give us grace adequate to accomplish it... --Spurgeon

You, as a pastor, did not choose your profession. I did not choose to be chosen... nor did I ever think I would be a mother of 6 children. But here we are, allotted a work that we can expect to be given the grace to accomplish it.

As for the measure of success? The measure is the pursuit of the Divine standard. Real success is not getting results at any cost. Real success is bringing glory to God regardless of the cost.

Steve Carlisle said...

On another note, I dont think it is the only job! I think housewifery is also the same, no progress made, no surity about the goodness of the family/children until the death bed.

But then again, I guess this is full time ministry too!!

Carrie said...

I remember when I was a fairly new believer, my Pastor mentioned that our church wasn't growing because the enemy was stopping us. Even then I wondered, how do you know God isn't withholding from blessing us b/c he is not pleased with something we are doing?

The idea cuts both ways. Seeker-sensitive, theology-lite churches can swell in numbers and claim that they must be doing something right b/c God is obviously blessing them, while a church that struggles will inevitably blame "the enemy". I also hear similiar ideas from believers with regards to their own walks. We tend to decide what the measure of success is, then depending how things are going, we decide whether to credit God or blame Satan.

Anyway, these questions you have raised have bothered me for awhile so I look forward to your thoughts. I agree that a Pastor is successful when he is faithful to God, regardless of the outcome, but how can you be sure you are being faithful and not just misguided?

ChosenClay said...

Gee Dan, Just come out with it! :)

GUNNY said...

Carrie said: "I agree that a Pastor is successful when he is faithful to God, regardless of the outcome, but how can you be sure you are being faithful and not just misguided?"

That's a great question and I think one should never be presumptuous. I think numbers are God's business, but our concern as well.

Honest evaluation is helpful, but here is where I also greatly value a plurality of elders to keep the church's ministry on track.

It's my contention that a healthy church will grow (though perhaps not always in quantitative ways), so a lack of growth is always a cause for concern.

Of course, it's always a good idea to monitor things being done, their manner, and the motives.

The last thing you want is some Achan in the church ensuring that the church struggles against God.

Solameanie said...

It would be very easy for me to take potshots at the mega-church, seeker-sensitive, Emergent/Emerging, Fuller church-growth (not to be confused with Fuller brushes) etc. Indeed, today's obsession with marketing techniques and fads to get people in the pews deserves some potshots.

Having said that, I think the struggles Dan describes are probably things with which pastors/ministers have struggled throughout church history. Even those who aren't pastors struggle with it. Am I really accomplishing --both in my ministry and in my life--what God wants me to accomplish? What will my final report card be like?

I'm sure we've all heard lines like "We'll be surprised at who gets the most reward in Heaven." The highest profile pastor/evangelist here on earth might well rank lower than a humble pastor in Possum Trot, Arkansas, of whom no one has ever heard, yet who faithfully fulfilled his ministry over 50 years. Thoughts like that have almost become cliche or caricatures of themselves, but there is truth in them.

In the end, it really does all boil down to . . . But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future 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 (2 Timothy 4:5-8).

Unknown said...

Excellent post! I have been in youth ministry for almost seven years now, I have also had the same thoughts about youth ministry. How do I gague success? Is it only on the number of kids who get saved or filled with the Holy Spirit?
One thing that has been reverberating in my mind over these last couple of years is to simply love the kids put in our ministry. All we can do is show them how much we care for them and then in turn point them to the Lord so that they can see the love of God through us.
A pastor's job is to care for his flock weather his flock are youth or adults. If we love them in word and deed we can hopefully point a few to the Lord, for His glory not ours!
The more satisfied in Him we are the more the Love of God will flow out of us toward others, for His glory!

Unknown said...

This reminds me of the measure of success that God presents for Isaiah (see Isaiah 6:8-10). What if your only measures of success were that the people's hearts would be dull, their ears would be heavy, and their eyes would be blind. Many would say that was a sign that you were not doing something right, and suggest that you change your message. But that was exactly what Isaiah was to expect for success. Kinda throws a loop into the church growth measures of today, doesn't it?

The Hendley Family Blog

CR said...

Okay, Dan, so now, a we can't use "just" or "only." Geesh, your picky. :=)

Affy said...

As i read this post, i wonder if there is even a need to know whether one is successful or not in a pastorial ministry. This means i suspect that the question itself is flawed.

After all, success or failure is given by God, not by man. Unlike most measureable professions, this leads to an assumption that somehow if a pastor does ________, his ministry will be successful. Yet it is God that makes the plants grow.

CR said...

So, most, if not all of your questions about "success" can be summed up like this, is a pastor's success due to the ________(blank)[imagine the Match Game song music playing in the background] of the people to whom he is preaching. Put whatever word you want in there - makeup or whatever.

Well, if we're to use the model of Paul (I know you're not applying for missionary), what the apostle Paul did was establish churches and preached the gospel and that gospel message converted souls and he (and his compadres) trained those converts to be disciples, many of which, became missionaries.

So, if we were to go back to the early church model (which should be today's church) you would go to a church with established folks who are at least converts and ready or who are in the process of being or who are already disciples. Thus, your questions of success would be irrelevant.

The problem is that many churches or even people in the good churches are like the 5/7 churches of Revelations. Add the American church factor and then you even has worse problems. You can have a combination of wacky things going on. You can have people that are sucking on milk and not maturing or you can have people eating the meats and potatoes and getting high off the knowledge and just keeping the pew warm and not doing anything.

steveprost said...

Charles Bridges' "The Christian Ministry with an Inquiry into the Causes of its Inefficiency". I believe that is the greatest written work you will ever find a multifaceted answer to your question in rich biblical beauty and wisdom. It has two very large parts that lay out causes related to both "general causes of the want of success" and "causes of ministerial inefficiency connected with our personal character".

Any other pastors out there who have read, underlined, and reread this and know what I'm talking about?

steveprost said...

A sampling from Bridges' "The christian Ministry" (Banner of Truth Trust, first pub. 1830, 1967 edition reprinted 2001) adapted from pp. 72-77 of Bridges' work cited above:

"The warrant of Ministerial success is sure... Wherever the Gospel was sent, and so long as it was continued, the work of success invariably proceeded (of the first Christian Ministers). ...we have the same warrant os success -- the sure foundation of "the word of the Lord," which "endureth for ever."...A measure of success is assured to our work. Some seed shall fall on the good ground... visible success is various. There are some that plant--others that water; some that lay the foundation--others that build upon it...But we must remember also, that present success is not always visible... But notwithstanding this justly warranted expectation, the want of Ministerial success is most extensively and mournfully felt... with us, too often, "is our strength labour and sorrow;" and at best attended with a avery scanty measure of effect; and we are compelled to realize the awful sight of immortal souls perishing under our very eye, dead to the voice of life and love, and madly listening to the voice that plunges them into perdition!
It may be well to state a few of the most decisive symptoms of this unfruitfulness (Bridges goes on to list many symptoms of lack of success)... these and similar appearances may well agitate teh question with most anxious concern -- "Is the Lord among us or not?" ... Among the more general causes of this failure, we may mark the withholding of Divine influence--the enmity of the natural heart--the power of Satan--local hinderances--and the want of clearness in the Ministerial call.

(Bridges proceeds to spend chapters on these subjects (pp. 78-105) before THEN proceeding to chapters (pp. 106-187) on "inefficiency" connected with the Minister's personal character related to in turn "Want of entire devotedness of heart to the Christian Ministry", "Conformity to the world", "the fear of man", "the want of Christian Self-denial", the Spirit of covetousness" "neglect of retirement" "the influence of spiritual pride" "absence or defect of personal religion", "the defect of family religion and the want of connection of the Minister's family with his work", and "Want of Faith", all powerfully written with rich citations to former divines, Puritans, and scripture of course.

steveprost said...

The conclusion of Charles Bridges' chapter of "Singleness in Preaching the Gospel", p. 332:

"How poor a thing is the admiration of man, compared with the success in winning souls to Christ! He that intends truly to preach the Gospel, and not himself; he that is more concerned to do good to others, than to raise his own fame, or to procure a following to himself; and that makes this the measure of all his meditations and sermons,that he may put things in the best light, and recommend them with the most advantage to his people--this man so made and so moulded, cannot miscarry in his work: --he will succeed to some degree. The word spoken by him shall not return again. He shall have his crown, and his reward from his labours. And to say all that can be said, in one work with St. Paul; he "shall both save himself, and them that hear him."

steveprost said...


Read Brian Hedges' review at amazon of Bridges' "Christian Ministry" who explains "It is impossible for me to do justice to the helpfulness of this book. I really know of nothing else quite like it, except maybe Spurgeon's Lectures to My Students. But I think this is even better than that - because of its focus not just on preaching, but on pastoral work. Brdiges is eloquent and full of the Gospel. Like Spurgeon said of Bunyan, he just bleeds Bible - prick him anywhere and his blood is bibline. He was also very well-read in the Patristics, the Reformers, and the Puritans, and quotes from their works often. There are lots of gems scattered throughout that it would be almost impossible for anyone to find elsewhere, unless they pursued a PhD in church history. Perhaps the best thing I can say is that the book has weight - gravity..."

Sorry i'm going overboard, but I'm crazy about this book and would hope any pastor serious about djp's serious question would get this book in their hands. An attitude of "just be faithful and don't worry about the results" is foreign to Paul's inspired attitude that "I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you" (Gal 4:19) or "there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches" (2Cor11:28).

Wes Walker said...

I like that you don't dodge the tough questions, and aren't satisfied with pat answers.

My 2 cents (as a father, not a pastor.)

Many on this thread have mentioned the reality that our first obligation is to be humbly obedient to the Hand of God, and execute faithfully the portion He gives us, whether we see the fruit of it or not.

That said, it is possible to misapply this same idea, shrug your shoulders and say "Well, at least *I* was a faithful watchman, don't say I didn't warn you. By the way, it's gonna suck to be you."

If His Glory and kingdom / righteousness really are our highest goals, it ought to motivate us not only in our public lives, (faithfully preaching/teaching) but in our private prayers as well (evidence -- the passionate plea in Col 1).

Trying to strike a balance between trusting in God's work, and yet remaining passionate about seeing God's kingdom thrive is (probably) a lifelong lesson.

Gilbert said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gilbert said...


I haven't read every single post here, but as I read your post...I'm just going to say it, rightly or wrongly:

1. If you go to measure success as a pastor by any worldly standard, you are doing God and yourself a tremendous disservice (and their churches tend to be rolling car wrecks)

2. Let's go to the Word, and see what it says about pastor success.

I'm not a scholar, but my goodness, the Spirit told me to immediately head to Timothy. I love that book, and I love what it says right here, right off the bat in 1 Timothy 1:3:

As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies.

1 Timothy 3-4

1. Do you keep your volunteers, staff and lay people in teaching the truth about our Lord Jesus Christ?

Now how about this:

I thank Jesus Christ our Lord, who has given men strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service.

---1 Timothy 1:12

And in verses 12-20, the question is asked:

2. Are you growing in your faith in Christ? You should be seeing your eyes being opened to just how merciful He really is to you!

What else?

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone-for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all Godliness and holiness.

---1 Timothy 2:1=2

3. Your worship, praise and prayers should becoming more meaningful, and intense, as you draw closer to God.

I don't have space to post 1 Timothy 4:1-5 about how people will abandon the faith and teach falsely. But read it, and at the end, verse 6 says:

4. If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus...
---1 Timothy 4:6 (first part of it)
Note: this one is so clear you can't miss it!

And finally:

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

---1 Timothy 5:11-12

5. Paul charges Timothy to "keep this command without spot or blame" (verse 13-14). How are you doing here?

6. Finally, judge yourself against 1 Timothy 6:3-5. Is my teaching godly and sound? Is Christ crucified the center of your teaching? Does it make people squirm in their seats when I talk about sin and repentance? Have people left when they refuse to swallow their pride and admit their sin, or cried afterwards in repentance in their seats?

After being in a car accident tonight (I'm fine, so is everyone else), I find I need more grace, more mercy, more gratefulness, and above all else, I realized even more today that Jesus and him crucified needs to be more at the center of my life. How I am doing there is, I believe, the key to our "success".

Did any of this make sense?

DJP said...

Steve Prost — I've been chasing down some wonderful quotations of Mahaney's from the T4G conference, and Bridges was one of his sources. That sent me back to Bridges, and I re-read the chapter on faith, or the want of it. Very good, very dense. Good quotations. And thanks for just saying no to "just."

DJP said...

Those are some great thoughts from Paul, Gilbert. And thank God you're all OK.

DJP said...

HaydenI find that [simplistic] answers often come from those who are not in pastoral ministry

I think you're right: are not in, or are very new to, or do not have families. One other possible factor comes to mind.

Much as I adore and thank God for Charles Spurgeon, he came into ministry, and it grew and grew for decades, and then he died. You sometimes get the feel in his writings — because arguably he as much says so — that if you preach the Gospel, your church will grow, and if it isn't, it's because you're not. I've read a number of things in Spurgeon that give that strong impression.

So I think that a man who enters a ministry and has it grow numerically, without ever having himself had to struggle with an agonizing gap between what he is laboring to do, and what is happening "out there," may well have a very skewed view.

Lisa said...

In light of your post, I have been thinking about these 2 Scriptures:

One "who renders service [must do it] as one who renders it by the strength which God supplies; in order that God may be glorified" (1 Peter 4:11).

...for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Phil. 2:13).

Another thing that has been impressed on me as a result of wrestling with your post is the great need to diligently pray for my pastor.

Lisa said...

Psalm 4

danny2 said...

i had a member in our church ask me what is the hardest part about ministry.

honestly, most things aren't hard...they may be difficult, but they are a joy.

but the issue you hit on...it would be the hardest part.

every once in a while, i have to scrub a floor or paint a wall or build something just so i can scratch that itch of seeing tangible change.

looking forward to the series.

Mike Riccardi said...

And yet, surely things like tangible evidence that people are growing in grace and knowledge - people becoming more like Christ and less like the world in the way they talk and act, increasing the use of their time, talents and treasure for the Kingdom, knowing and pursuing the use of their gifts in service to one another, lovingly practicing discipline and pursuing restoration, etc. - surely those are all indicators that the H.S. is at work through those that are leading them?

I think these are all spot-on, but couldn't all those things happen despite one's unfaithfulness, and not necessarily because of one's faithfulness? In other words, there are folks at Saddleback and Willow Creek who, by grace, have grown in grace and knowledge, have become less like the world in their speech and actions, etc. Do we want to say that's because their pastors were faithful? I wouldn't. So looking at spiritual fruit that God produces and others bear really can, sadly, have very little to do with the pastor.

Similarly, Gilbert, I thought your questions out of 1 Timothy were great. But Joel Osteen answers yes to all of them. Now what have you got?

The point is, because of our amazing ability to pat ourselves on the back, to take Scripture and fit it around our lives instead of vice versa, many pastors are asking the right questions but just coming up with the wrong answers. And they all think that those answers are from God... that they're confirmations and affirmations from the Holy Spirit that He's with them. And because God is faithful to Himself, and not solely His undershepherds, we may see the fruit of His hands and think it was from ours, and then congratulate ourselves.

I've got no eloquent way to end.

DJP said...

Danny2every once in a while, i have to scrub a floor or paint a wall or build something just so i can scratch that itch of seeing tangible change.

Oh, that's good. I bet every pastor reading will laugh and wince at the same time.

Hayden said...

Danny 2,

Thanks for the chuckle. That is priceless. I guess that is why I have been working in the garden so much lately.


I do not think that Dan is trying to demean any other 'calling' or profession by talking about pastoral ministry. I agree with Danny2 that much of ministry is joy, joy, joy. BUT there is also extreme burden for God's sheep, which we all have, but an undershepherd (read pastor) has a different viewpoint on this because they often have more 'information' about the situation than the normal member of the congregation.

Even Paul knew this well! He lists all the physical abuse he had and then transitions to the 'pressure and agony' that he has on behalf of the sheep spiritually. It can be physically exhausting.

I worked for many years in secular work (entertainment industry, the US Navy, etc) and the difference is that those jobs ended at home, whereas pastoral ministry is much different. I LOVE WHAT THE LORD HAS CALLED ME TO but it doesn't mean that it isn't hard.


You hit the nail on the head with Spurgeon. I cannot wait for the future installments.

DJP said...

HaydenI do not think that Dan is trying to demean any other 'calling' or profession by talking about pastoral ministry

Oh, no, not by any inference or wildest chain of association. Put me down 100% for the Reformed (=Biblical) understanding that every lawful profession done as to the Lord is a meaningful and sacred ministry.

Pastor Michael said...

As I thought about Dan’s question overnight it occurred to me that Paul had described this dilemma:

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 (ESV)

and a bit further down

This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. 1 Corinthians 4:1-5 (ESV)

It seems to that Paul is saying on the one hand, the results of a pastor’s work won’t be revealed in this life, however, there are objective efforts and strategies that must be undertaken.

I look forward to Dan’s thoughts on what a master builder’s craft looks like.

Unknown said...

Pastor Michael has hit it right on the money! thanks for the reminder of what the Apostle Paul said about this very issue.


A. Berean said...

Well, duh, If the Bible says grow a large Church anyway you can, then whoever grows the biggest church is the most successful. If the Bible says, Preach the WORD...reprove, rebuke, exhort. Then whoever is careful to preach the WORD, is SUCCESSfully fullfilling the Bible's commission. We just need to figure out which is the case. :)

Jim Pemberton said...

I skimmed through the comments and there are many good considerations offered.

As a principle, one should just be faithful to the calling and leave the results up to God. I saw Timothy used as an example. How about Christ? Crucifixion didn't seem like success to the apostles until the resurrection.

Sometimes we're a little too goal oriented. We should run the race as though to win, but can we win when there are so many running it as well. I mean only one can win, right? No, but I suggest that the we should focus on taking each step as though it is necessary to win. Christ won the race. We continue to run it in His honor. The purpose is the the continuity of our efforts in the race rather than drawing an actual end to it.

That means we must evaluate each step we take and it's particular usefulness toward running as though to win. Paul wrote letter after letter addressing specific issues. Christ answered each who tested Him with astonishing wisdom. God calls pastors, teachers, prophets - all of His children according to their gifts - to contribute as best they can. That means evaluating what you are doing.

A pastor is faithful to preach the word in truth. If he preaches it in English to a Spanish-speaking congregation, that's foolish. He must evaluate the effectiveness of doing such. It is wise to consider what it wise in addressing specific situations in ministry. Different ministers may address the same situation differently with the same heart for ministry. Neither may be wrong or unfaithful, but one may be theoretically more effective than the other. Know that God is still in control and His purposes will be realized in spite of our ineptness. It is good to try to be as effective as possible with the understanding that God is not surprised when we seem to fail. The most important thing is that in the spirit of ministering faithfully we do our best with the faculties God gave us.

Therefore, our apparent failures may not be failures, but we should always strive to improve.