WELS President Mark Schroeder recently had an article in the February 2009 edition of Forward in Christ entitled: “How Do You Define Success?” Here are some excerpts from that excellent article:
By most standards, his ministry was not much of a success…
From almost the beginning, he was embroiled in public controversies and disagreements with his coworkers and fellow believers. He never stayed long in any one congregation. No matter where he went, there were those who had no use for him and who did all they could to make his life and work miserable. Often he would leave for his next congregation quickly, painfully aware that not everyone appreciated his efforts.
He never viewed himself as a particularly gifted preacher; he often stated that he was not up to the task in terms of his speaking skills. He looked at his own personal failures and remarked to himself and others that he was not worthy to be doing this work. He struggled continually with some kind of ailment that made his life and work difficult. He never mentioned what it was…
In the end, he died alone, and the world did not much notice.
His was not a very successful ministry—unless you measure “success” in ministry by other standards. This pastor and missionary who might be judged as a failure by any human standards was the apostle Paul.
Paul would agree that his personal abilities and accomplishments were few and far between. But he did not—nor should we—measure the success of his ministry in those terms. This was the man who recognized that the words he preached were not his words; they were the words of God himself. He recognized that the power of his message was not in himself but in the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. His was a ministry of the cross, proclaiming that God’s way of saving people through the cross, while foolish to the world, was nothing less than the wisdom and power and love of God.
Paul’s purpose was not to meet the “felt needs” of people but to lead them to see their real need: the need for forgiveness and redemption. His mission was not to make the church grow in terms of numbers; his mission was to pummel hardened sinners with God’s law in all its condemning force and then follow with the precious news of forgiveness in Jesus. He knew that his role was to plant the seed of the gospel in hearts; others would water it and watch the Holy Spirit make it grow and flourish after he was gone. His confidence rested in knowing that it was God and God alone who would make it grow.
What kind of pastor do you want to serve as the shepherd of your congregation? A powerful and dynamic speaker who draws people by the sheer force of his personality? Someone with fantastic organizational skills? Someone who is up on all the latest techniques for connecting with people? Someone who seems to be “successful”? Or would you prefer someone like the apostle Paul: always preaching Christ, always pointing to the cross, always demonstrating a love for souls by faithful proclamation of law and gospel?
Success, I suppose, all depends on how you define it.
True success is measured by the word of God, and by that standard alone, President Schroeder’s article is a success.