A Pastor’s Take on the Defeat of Success

I recently was listening to a colleague of mine speak about the hills and valleys of planting a new church.  Planting a new church is tough.  For United Methodists it typically works like this: someone closer to God than you says, “Go here and plant a church.”  Then they give you a certain amount of money like they’re sending you to buy milk at the local IGA.  So you’re an investment, and people are always wanting to know how your investment is turning out.  For us that always comes in the form of the question, “So what are your worship numbers?” The colleague explained that it got so bad that he and his wife hid during our annual conference just so they wouldn’t be bombarded with the question.  Man…the pressure.  His testimony stung a little bit, because I think I was thinking the same thing.  I’m always wanting to know “the numbers” of a church.  Now I guess I could go on a tangent about whether or not counting numbers is a true indicator of church health, but that’s not what’s in my mind and heart at the moment.  It’s this pressure, somewhat systemic but mostly self-imposed, to be successful.


But what does that mean…SUCCESS?  It’s really a tricky thing for a pastor, I think.  On one hand I suppose it’s a good thing for the lazy, the uninspired, and the unmotivated.  I mean there’s got to be some kind of force of accountability to get people off the couch and work more than 30 hours a week, right?  But that’s not me.  For me success shows more of an ugly side.  First, in the pre-success stages, it’s the pressure to succeed.  You get your running shoes on, head out the door, and you don’t stop until you’ve reached your goal.  But the truth is, the more “goal centered” you become the more you’re just trying to mask the insecurity of failing.  Then there are the post-success stages, where you boast to your colleagues about all that God has done in such a way that really makes you look like Moses reincarnated (at least in your own mind).  But really, if I’m honest, the problem isn’t success at all…the problem is me.  Here I am saying success is a dangerous thing; but really I think I’m saying that I’m a dangerous thing.


I truly am called to do what I do.  I think I first heard God’s call in my sophomore year of high school, but that was quickly dismissed.  I heard it again in my freshman year of college, which left a lasting impact but didn’t sway me from trying to run away again.  I tried and I tried, but here I am…I know that God has called me to this work.  But in all that calling, and running away, and calling again, I never heard God’s call to be successful.  God never foretold the results of my efforts in ministry, and He certainly didn’t say it was going to be easy.  He just wanted me to obey, and leave the results to Him.  So really, all I can do is all I can do.  Why feel the pressure to succeed when that’s not really up to me anyways?  And why after success would I celebrate as if it’s my own, because really it wasn’t me in the first place?  Simply obey…it doesn’t have much glamor to it, but along with it comes this great freedom and peace in knowing that you’re simply following God’s call and doing what you’re supposed to be doing.  And I can’t think of a better definition of success than that.


4 thoughts on “A Pastor’s Take on the Defeat of Success

  1. Eirk, numbers have always been the measure of success, because nothing else is quanitfyable — almost by definition. And with the direction of having all pastors log on to the dashboard and post numbers each week, t don’t think it will be more prevalent, but it will be more open and visible. It’s an interesting juxtaposition to put the elmination of guaranteed appointment — something that is likely to happen at 2012 General Conference — alongside the move to the dashboard. They may not be case/effect, but one could ‘inform’ the other.

  2. Oh, and one thing I forgot to add — the reporting of numbers is part of our heritage as Methodists. The early leaders gathered and shared reports on such things, too.

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