Seven Biblical Definitions of Ministry Success (Part Two)

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Continued from Part One.


4. Success is Believing.

“For me [this truth] points to one of the great needs of Christians—which is not to believe more and better things, but to believe what we already believe. During my bout with success, my faith had slipped so miserably that I was not believing the things I actually did believe.” (63)

“Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Hebrews 11:6 (63)

“Whether these great people of faith [from Hebrews 11] were called to focus their belief on God’s rewards in history or in eternity, they all believed that God was actively working in them and through them and for them, and would reward them even though they could not always see or understand how.” (64)

Hughes proceeds to offer an extended meditation on the implications of Colossians 1:15–18 on our lives and ministries. How does believing Christ as Creator of everything, Sustainer of the universe, the Goal of all creation, and the Lover of our souls change our outlook on ministry?

Gauge your belief by answering these three questions truthfully (70):
1. Am I believing that God can take care of me?
2. Am I believing he loves me?
3. Am I believing that he rewards, that he is morally active on the part of those who seek him?

5. Success is Prayer.

Like a lumberjack’s work would be less effective with a dull axe, “God’s servants fail in their appointed tasks because they do not take time to sharpen their lives in prayer.” (71–72)

“Prayer is surrender—surrender to the will of God and cooperation with that will. If I throw out a boathook from the boat and catch hold of the shore and pull, do I pull the shore to me, or do I pull myself to the shore? Prayer is not pulling God to my will, but the aligning of my will to the will of God.” E. Stanley Jones (73)

We must pray because (72–77):
1. …of what prayer does to us.
2. …of what prayer does in the church. “Prayer brings power to the church and to ministry.”
3. …Jesus prayed.

“Fellow servants, we know that the Holy Spirit prompts us to pray, even making intercession for us, but we also know that there is our part, which is discipline. Surely we can do nothing in our own power; nevertheless we are called to be fellow workers with God.” (81)

Hughes also drew from Ephesians 6:18–20:
“…praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.”

6. Success is Holiness.

“The logic of Scripture is unavoidable: God calls his people to be holy (Leviticus 19:2). Holiness is foundational to true success. No one can be regarded a success who pursues a life contrary to God’s will. Therefore, we come to this irony: there are untold numbers of successful pastors and Christian workers who are abysmal failures.” (84)

“I have known Christ-professing, Bible carrying men and women in Christian ministry who were adulterous, even incestuous, and saw no contradiction in their lives. I have known Christian workers who have led a secret pornographic existence: fundamentalists at church and X-rated cable voyeurs at home. Even more tragic, their delusion is so deep that they admit no inconsistency in their behavior.” (87)

“Lay this maxim to heart: when lust takes control, God is quite unreal to us…When we are in the grip of lust, the reality of God fades. The longer King David gazed [at Bathsheba bathing in 2 Samuel 11], the less real God became. Not only was his awareness of God diminished, but in the growing darkness he lost awareness of who David was—his holy call, his frailty, and the sure consequences of sin.” (89)

“Understand, servants of God, that some of life’s choices, especially those that have to do with sensuality, have irreversible consequences. You may be making that choice now. For your sake and for God’s sake, do not take the fatal step!” (91)

“During our difficult time in learning about success, Barbara and I were encouraged as we came to see that holiness is foundational to true success. We were also heartened. Although holiness is not easy, the fact that God demands it means that he helps those who seek it.” (93)

7. Success is Attitude.

“In Christian ministry it is no exaggeration to say (with some common-sense qualifications, of course) that attitude is everything. There are two attitudes that particularly characterize ministry failures: negativism and jealousy.” (96)

[Paul’s response to suffering in prison:] “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” (Philippians 1:18).” (98)

“Next to our free salvation in Christ, our attitude is the most important thing we possess. Attitude is more important than circumstances, the past, money, successes, failures, our gifts, other’s opinions, even the ‘facts.'” (99)

“Jealous, envious hearts are unhappy, for there is a miserable pathology to jealousy. The Bible unforgettably commemorates this in the case of the prodigal’s older brother. His jealous heart makes it impossible for him to share in his family’s joy. In fact, he misses the party of his life! (Luke 14:25–30). Then, unable to share in the things that please his father, he suffers further estrangement…He is miserable. A heart subject to such pathology can never be successful, regardless of its outward performance.” (101)

“Those who have negative attitudes in the ministry never truly know success, regardless of their accomplishments. Their negativism sours the proper sweetness of their desserts…They are unable to enjoy the pleasant things that come their way, for they always manage to dwell on what might have been and fear the worst in what is to come.” (103)

“Through the example of Paul and others, Barbara and I became aware of how important a role in our mind-set played in our ministry. We had learned that a positive attitude and an encouraging attitude are foundational to a truly successful life.” (104)


*Page numbers taken from the 1988 edition of Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome by Kent and Barbara Hughes.

Kevin Halloran

Servant of the Word. Husband. Blogs weekly at Anchored in Christ. Content Strategist/Trainer in Latin America with Leadership Resources International.

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