It was not too long ago that a dear friend of mine shared the exciting news of his upcoming book, to be published by a reputable publishing house. While I was genuinely thrilled for him, a hint of envy crept into my heart. Instead of basking in his joy, I found myself questioning why I hadn’t achieved the same feat.
Many of us have experienced such moments when the success of others triggers an unexpected, even unwanted, surge of jealousy within us. Rather than rejoicing in God’s blessings showered on others, we find ourselves playing mental comparison games, questioning why we, or our churches, seem less ‘successful.’
But that raises an essential question: What is ‘success’, particularly within a spiritual or ministry context?
The Illusion of Success
Often, as Christians, we tend to define success in two main ways.
Firstly, we equate ‘success’ with ‘orthodoxy,’ which means adhering to correct beliefs. If we consistently preach and teach the truth, we consider ourselves successful. Secondly, we associate ‘success’ with ‘fruitfulness.’ This is often measured numerically, such as the size of our congregation, the number of donations, baptisms, or professions of faith.
However, these two measures can be misleading.
Orthodoxy can be flawed if the truth is delivered in a manner that contradicts its essence. It is possible to proclaim truth arrogantly or aggressively, pushing people away rather than drawing them to God’s love. I must confess, there have been times when I’ve acted as a self-appointed ‘theological police,’ ready to crush any perceived heresy. This approach rarely yields the desired results.
Moreover, the measure of fruitfulness can be equally deceptive. While we often associate growth with health, unhealthy elements can also proliferate. A toxic culture can thrive beneath the surface of seemingly successful organizations, much like cancerous cells or invasive weeds.
Our dedication to truth (orthodoxy) and apparent fruitfulness might suggest God’s presence in our work, but they can also be inflated or falsified, leading to a dangerous pitfall: pride.
The Pitfall of Pride
The Bible, especially the Book of Proverbs, repeatedly warns us about the destructive power of pride. Pride reveals our arrogance, leads to destruction, brings disgrace, humiliates us, and most importantly, it is hated by God.
These warnings should not be taken lightly. If we allow pride to creep in, it can sabotage our ministries, even when they seem externally successful. Chasing fame, keeping bad company, and ignoring wise counsel can all lead to the downfall of our ministry.
The True Success: Faithfulness
Despite the potential pitfalls, I am not suggesting that we abandon our commitment to truth or disregard signs of fruitfulness. Rather, I encourage us to hold these indicators lightly, focusing instead on the true measure of success: faithfulness.
Faithfulness, in its simplest form, means obediently using what God has bestowed upon us according to His wisdom and grace. To put it another way, faithfulness is obedience, and obedience is success.
This means that even if you’re not the most gifted teacher, you are the right teacher for your church at this moment. Even if you’re not the world’s greatest evangelist, you are the right person to share the gospel with your neighbor. Even if you don’t have much by worldly standards, you give what you have joyfully.
This is the perspective we need, regardless of our role or the size of our ministry. Through the gospel, Jesus liberates us from the tyranny of worldly success, such as increasing numbers or influence. He frees us from the obsession of being the most ‘correct’ person in the room. God provides what we need, according to His wisdom, and that should be enough for us.