By Pastor Barry Holcomb
Calvary Baptist Church in Belmont, Mississippi
Kent and Barbara Hughes pen the overarching emphasis of “Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome” in the introduction to their book: “This book is an effort to encourage those in ministry.”
In thinking about this liberation, the obvious conclusion is that ministers have allowed themselves to view success from an unhealthy perspective. The authors point out this pitfall of ministry, stating, “the pastorate is an intrinsically difficult, absorbing and vulnerable position,” and that often pastors are “assaulted by wrong thinking about success.”
This wrong thinking exhibits itself in pastors believing if they do all the right things, they will achieve “ultimate success,” meaning “a big, growing church.”
But viewing success in this pragmatic way leads to a defeat syndrome when the church does not grow as they anticipate.
The Hugheses spend most of the book unfolding a better perspective for pastors as they seek to obey God and nurture the churches they serve.
Ministry success often looks different from the way we think, the authors explain, noting it demonstrates itself in clearly definable ways.
Success is practicing the attributes of “faithfulness, serving, loving, believing, prayer, holiness and attitude,” the authors explain.
Part two of the book defines these practices and concludes with an excellent synopsis, which is the primary emphasis of the work:
“Think of what it would mean if we were faithful, living in profound obedience to God’s word and working long and hard at our tasks; serving with a foot-washing heart; loving God with all our heart, soul and might; believing what we believe; praying with the dependence and passion of Christ; living pure holy lives in this sensual world; manifesting a positive, supportive attitude during difficulties.
“If that is mediocrity, then give us more of this blessed mediocrity, for it is success.”
“Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome” is a needed word of encouragement because of “the pervasive, sub-biblical emphasis on ‘success’ that has fallen on the church,” the authors say.
True success comes from following biblical principles instead of business-like, pragmatic approaches, they explain in the book.
I found the book’s lesson of how to define success valuable.
- Pastors must be careful about how they measure success.
Obedience to God is the first and foremost measure of success. “In evaluating success, we must all understand that Scripture consistently links success to obedience — our obedience to God’s word.”
Following a lesser standard is risky, the authors say, pointing to a quote by Charles Colson from Prison Fellowship:
“As much as I am sincerely certain that God is, indeed, blessing us, I believe even more that it’s a dangerous and misguided policy to measure God’s blessing by standards of visible, tangible, material ‘success.’”
A careless reading of success ultimately leads to frustration, depression and burnout and may eventually result in a painful departure from the ministry.
- The wrong view of success and its promises regarding church growth has a powerful, seductive allure.
“Every year, thousands leave the ministry convinced they are failures, seduced by the goddess of success.”
Kent Hughes admits his own experience in this regard from early in his pastoral ministry:
“Subconsciously I was evaluating nearly everything from the perspective of how it would affect church growth. I realized that in the extreme, such thinking reduces people to so much ‘beef on the hoof,’ a terrible thought. It also enthrones a relentless pragmatism in church planning. And if this happens, it can erode the noblest ideals. It can even corrupt one’s theology. … I had been subtly seduced by the secular thinking that places a number on everything. Instead of evaluating myself and the ministry from God’s point of view, I was using the world’s standard of quantitative analysis.”
Without the biblical foundations presented in “Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome,” any pastor is susceptible to falling victim to the faulty view of success that attracts so subtly.
- Perspective is everything.
Perspective on success and failure is a struggle for pastors. The Hugheses maintain success may be a mirage of sorts without the proper perspective on ministry.
The authors use the example of Moses tapping the rock in the wilderness to bring water forth instead of speaking to it as God directed.
“This tremendous lesson from the life of Moses teaches us that one can be regarded as hugely successful in the ministry and yet be a failure.”
Feeling like Humpty Dumpty?
By Karen Moore
Feeling a bit crushed by life’s circumstances right now? It’s easy to let doubt and fear crack into your foundation of faith and trust.
News feeds hammer away at what strength and understanding (we had), and it’s a difficult thing to know exactly what to do. But here’s one thought:
Remember you are tougher than you think, stronger than you know, because God holds you safely in the palm of His hand and nothing can take you away from His love. Here’s a short prayer that might help:
I feel like Humpty Dumpty after he fell off the wall. He was in so many pieces, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put him together again. Of course, You’ve been dealing with our brokenness since the beginning, from the day we first fell. … You came to put us together again. You are the King who mends our brokenness, and we are so grateful.
Be with those who feel broken … even just wobbly, right now. Inspire their hearts and repair the thoughts that make them uncertain possibilities even exist for them. Help us look up to You when our spirits are crushed and our hearts are grieving. Remind us that even if we feel as fragile as a giant eggshell sitting on a wall, You can see us right where we are. You are ready to come to our rescue, bringing all the resources of the Godhead. You will never allow us to be broken beyond repair. We believe You can put us back together again.
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, and He saves those whose spirits have been crushed.” Psalm 34:19
“Let’s pray for one another, support one another and give a little ounce of grace to one another.”
Jones County (Mississippi) Baptist Association
“It’s the most fruitful ministry I’ve ever done,” said Georgia Baptist missionary Jason Cobb on ministry among inmates in Argentina. “Criminals admit that they’re sinners. The ones who admit that and repent … they’re the reason I do what I do.”
“If you share [your faith,] maybe 5% of people they accept it, 95% maybe they will turn you in to the Taliban,” said Paul, an Afghan believer and one of the last refugees to leave Afghanistan.
“My hope is for Southern Baptists to discover the power of crying out to God,” said SBC President Ed Litton, during the Midwest Leadership Summit in Illinois.
“We use music to draw people in, then we tell them about Christ and the gospel message,” Juan Carreon, pastor of Hiz Houze, a church/outreach ministry in South Waco, Texas. “Many would ask, ‘Why would you have a hip-hop culture in your church?’ But these people need to know Christ. It’s our way of serving God.”
“The first approach is to do my research. Then, I pray and pray some more,” said Janet Scherer, women’s ministry director at First Baptist Church Kennett, Missouri, on selecting a Bible study.
“We know, without a shadow of a doubt, that without the Lord’s leadership on this, we’ve got no chance of producing anything of real value to the convention,” said Marshall Blalock, vice chair of Southern Baptists’ Sexual Abuse Task Force.
“Our children are watching our habits and routines. Change starts with us,” said Aamie Mason, a licensed associate counselor with Living Well Counseling in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Annel Robayna, who leads Hispanic work and church planting for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, prays they will take the gospel beyond Alabama borders and their comfort zone. “For us, going to places like Mexico or Honduras, that is not our ‘uttermost part of the earth.’ We hope to mobilize Hispanics to reach other people groups.”
“If thoughts of bigger and grander things are breeding discontent or anxiety, or if those thoughts are taking up too much time away from higher thoughts or more practical thoughts of serving where God has put you, you may be falling into the trap of covetousness.
That is what it means to be rich toward God: Knowing and hoping — a sure hope — in the promise that despite all the turns our earthly existence may take, He will never leave you (Heb. 13:5).”
From the Twitterverse
Pastor, regardless of how many or how few people gather for worship … the risen Christ will be there. Sleep well, preach with confidence. Your work matters. Jesus will build His church.
… Honestly, most churches are pretty awesome, loving, caring people.
If you reach people with gimmicks, you’ll feel the pressure of having to keep people with gimmicks. Eventually you run out of gimmicks. If you reach people with the gospel, you’ll keep people with the gospel. You never run out of the gospel.
Rather than trying to figure out how to make the church more like the world so the world will go to church, we should be trying to figure out how to make the church more like Christ so the church will go to the world. #jdwightpentecost
Pastors, just because God’s word is powerful doesn’t mean it acts quickly. Jesus reminds us in the parable of the sower (Mark 4) the ministry of the word takes time and requires patience. Fruit from a faithful ministry of the Word comes after years of labor, not months.
Helpful reminder: “Leadership requires a sacrifice of time and a sacrifice of preferences. Sometimes you’ll need to sacrifice what you want to do or what interests you in order to put time into the people you’re leading and to deal with their issues and concerns.” —Craig Hamilton
I believe the best way I can serve & contribute to the long term health of my Association, State Convention and the SBC, in general, is to lead my local church to be a healthy, multiplying body of believers. There’s no such thing as a healthy SBC without healthy churches.
“The Word of God hidden in the heart is a stubborn voice to suppress.”