Faithfulness, Not Success

There are times when almost every seminary student dreams about having a blazing ministry that could instantly produce results. I often find myself asking, what books should I read to be successful in ministry? What strategies should I employ so that thousands may come to know Christ? Should I speak to church growth ‘experts’ to get hot tips? How can I be successful?

But is this really the right paradigm? Do we actually need ‘success’? If God has called us, what is it that he requires of us? What does God’s Word say about these things?

Scripture emphasise Faithfulness over Success

The Scriptures repeatedly stress that ministers are called to be faithful servants. For example, Paul says, ” 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 faithful “(1 Corinthians 4:1-2). God desires that we be found faithful. This virtue is ‘required of stewards’. Sometimes it is also significant to note what is absent from passages.  Any ‘success factor’ is clearly missing in these verses. Could this lead us to conclude that Paul actually isn’t interested in success? 

This point is further clarified in Luke 12. Here Jesus tells a parable about a faithful servant who is ever alert for his master’s return. In v.42, Jesus rhetorically asks ‘“Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time?”‘ Clearly, the point that Jesus is making is that the essence of a wise manager is his ‘faithfulness’. That is to say, God is not looking for success breeders but faithful, wise, and obedient managers who long to serve him.

In the end, faithfulness is all that matters. In Revelation 3:8b, Jesus commends his beloved church, ‘you have a little strength, and have kept my word, and did not deny my name’ It is noteworthy that Jesus praises them for keeping his word even though they are of little strength (that is, they are small in numbers). From this, one can deduce that keeping Jesus Word, not strength, is foremostly worthy of praise for Jesus.  

After searching scriptures, Kent and Barbara Hughes conclude that, ‘we found no place where it says that God’s servants are called to be successful. Rather, we discovered our call is to be faithful.” 

Words of Wisdom from Charles Colson

Charles Colson makes the same point. His wise counsel compels to abandon the broken cisterns of ‘success’ and return to the soul-satisfying fountain of faithfulness.  He wrote in Prison Fellowship‘s monthly newsletter, 

By the time you read this, we will have dedicated our new national offices near Washington, D.C. As a result of this and other recent expansions, many people have written me to the effect that “God is obviously blessing Prison Fellowship’s ministry.” 

As much as I am sincerely certain that God is, indeed, blessing us, I believe even more certainaly that it’s dangerous and misguided policy to measure God’s blessing by standards of visible, tangible, material “success.”

The inference is that when things are prospering “God is blessing us” and, conversely, that when things are going poorly, or publicised, God’s blessing is not upon the work or it is unimportant… we must continuously use the measure of our obedience to the  guidelines of his Word as the real–and only–standard of our “success,” not some more supposedly tangible or glamorous scale

In short, our faithfulness to God is the real standard of our ‘success’. 

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