By Jim Tune
“I experienced success in ministry,” the speaker said, “but it wasn’t worth it.”
I was attending a church planting conference. The speaker had served as pastor and as a leader of two national church planting networks. He had written books. At one point, he worked 364 days a year. (He took most of Christmas off.) This guy is, and was, a big deal. In hindsight, he said, it wasn’t worth it. He wanted us to learn from his mistakes.
In the years I’ve served as pastor and leader, I’ve seen many rise to the top. They are gifted people and have done great things. But I’ve also watched as many have made tragic mistakes. They have sacrificed family on the altar of ministry. Some have had affairs and lost their marriages and ministries. Some have lost their health.
The apostle Paul told Timothy, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching” (1 Timothy 4:16, English Standard Version). I’ve seen some Christian leaders lose their ministries because they took their eyes off their teaching, but I’ve seen many more lose their ministries because they weren’t keeping a close watch on their lives.
This means I need to watch for things that don’t count for success in ministry, but do count a lot for health in life. Here are a few: vacations with my wife; exercise; growing friendships; sleep; time spent in prayer and the Word; honest conversations; knowing my limits; and letting other people see the real me. It’s easy to sacrifice these for the sake of ministry, but it’s always a mistake. It’s not worth it.
A local pastor met with the search committee of a church. They asked him how he would measure success if he came to that church. You would expect him to list things like attendance, growth, conversions, and more. He didn’t. He listed five things:
1. Jesus saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
2. The best possible marriage.
3. His children following Jesus, and the knowledge that he had served as the best father possible.
4. A good bunch of friends.
5. The knowledge that he had equipped a team to do the work of ministry.
Those things—the approval of Jesus, loving others, and building into people—are the measures of success in ministry. They are much more impressive than any other kind of ministry success.
I’m not against hard work and sacrifice in ministry. They’re essential. But I am against losing our souls and our closest relationships for the sake of idolatrous success.
The best kind of ministry success flows out of character. That’s the kind of ministry success that really counts.