Don’t Try To Be Successful – Try To Do Good Work

ego 2I’ve always tried to live my life and do ministry by this rule:

Don’t try to be successful. Try to do good work.

  • Not people-pleasing work, God-honoring work
  • Not self-promoting work, Christ-magnifying work
  • Not numbers-driven work, Spirit-led work

The one time in my ministry that I abandoned this principle and did things for the numbers, I got numbers. For a while. But the numbers came at a cost. They sucked my soul dry.

Those numbers, as modest as they were, almost killed my church and cost me my ministry. Not because of the numbers. Because I abandoned my principles for them.

Yes, you can honor God and see numerical success. There are a lot of churches, pastors and ministries that do. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.

It’s not about size or success. It’s about having and honoring Godly principles, no matter what the results look like.


Good Work As Its Own Reward

“If you do good work, success will follow.” That’s what I’m supposed to tell you now.

But it’s not true.

Sometimes – many times – numerical success stays elusive, no matter how hard we work, how smart we are or how much we pray.

That’s why the good work needs to be its own reward. 


Not All Results Are Visible

The Apostle Paul had to remind the Corinthians of this fact. Some plant seeds and lay foundations. Others water, harvest and build.

The harvesters and builders experience the joy of seeing the results of their work.

The seed-planters and foundation-layers dig holes. Many never see visible results. But everyone has their role to play.

It’s the nature of ministry. So much of what we do isn’t quantifiable.

We can measure attendance, conversions and baptisms – all of which are wonderful things. But how do you measure the value of the time spent mentoring a young person so that they don’t follow their classmates into addiction? Or the marriage that didn’t end in divorce because the pastor and church provided a healthy environment for them to thrive in?

Jesus never called us to be successful, he called us to be faithful.

When I try to do good work, I may or may not see numerical success. But the effort will always be nourishing to my soul. And to the souls of others.

A minister with an empty soul may build a big church (usually not even that) but they’ll never have a healthy church.

A minister with a well-nourished soul may or may not have a big church, but they’ll always have a healthy ministry.

What kind of God-honoring work nourishes your soul, both in and out of ministry?

Feed on that. And you’ll always have enough left over to bless others.


So what do you think? What’s the motivation for your work and ministry?

We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
Enter your comment right below this post and get in on the conversation.

(Curb Your Ego sign photo from Jason Eppink • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

13 thoughts on “Don’t Try To Be Successful – Try To Do Good Work”

  1. yes we wil do good and God will give favor and prosper in his love and care over us and he will outpour the Holy Spirit to help us to be strong bearing his the witnens in that the world with the light and in life style in holiness in Jesus name thanks and bless and pray,keijo sweden

  2. Thank you for to reminder….much appreciated. After thirty-three years of local church pastoral ministry, I find my retail background eating at me at times as it pertains to numerical growth. Thanks again, Pastor Rocky

  3. Robert Van House

    Focus on being faithful is good. My District Supt is saying, “What is required in reporting numbers is what grows.” Yeah. Sure. But that misses the mark of what is required (loving neighbor and God). Retired after 30 years, I have been “successful” in numbers in many churches of various sizes. Since retiring, I have helped 6 small churches and left them feeling that I had been helpful…until now. Five years with 15 faithful worshipers has been the most difficult ministry I have experienced. So, pray that my mustard see faith is equal to the mole hill in which I have been called.

  4. I’ve heard [and believed] for years that numbers matter because people matter and the numbers represent people. And then there’s the old saying that “whatever is healthy grows.” So, I wonder when I look at our numbers, “are we not healthy; are we not making a difference in people’s lives?” Then I get tagged in a facebook post by a single, unchurched mother who says that she and her daughter have visited every church in town trying to find the right one. Lo and behold, after visiting with us yesterday, she AND her daughter loved our church and “felt right at home!” When they got home, the daughter said “mommy can we please start going there every Sunday? I really want to be a part of Kids Life there!” Just had a counseling session this morning with a couple in serious trouble. Yep, I’ll take good work every day. Enough said. Thanks Karl!

  5. Hear God and obey. That’s been my heartbeat. I am responsible for that. We do our part and God does his part. When we see a “small” church and feel unsuccessful, we walk in pride actually. We are shepherds of the flock God brings to us. There is too much Americanism in the church and not enough Kingdom! This post is brilliant, thank you!

  6. Karl,

    I think what’s becoming clear to me as a small church pastor is very similar to what you are saying. I like Matt. 6 as specifically applied to me as a needy servant of God. By grace, I am to seek first God’s kingdom–putting the Savior King and His kingdom rule (now and future) first in my heart attitude, actions, AND conversation with anyone I come in contact –anywhere. I don’t have to labor under the angst of having to target people (demographically, etc.) that are likely to become converted, growing members at my church. For Jesus’ sake, I simply serve people anywhere and share as much Gospel truth with anyone regardless of how that will shake out for the benefit of my home church. My focus is to ask Jesus to help me be used for the sake of His kingdom and righteousness. I then trust Christ to “add” whatever He knows that I and my small church really need to move forward. He builds the church His way (later in Matt.); pursuing God’s kingdom and righteousness is where, by grace, I and my small church come in!

  7. I am the pastor of a new, small church in a small rural town in New Zealand. Our attendance has fluctuated from a dozen to only two, and on one occasion, just my husband and myself. We knew God called us to this work but started to question ourselves if we were doing something ‘wrong’ for the numbers to fall so dramatically. The following week an unsaved woman came along, gave her heart to Jesus, stayed with us and immediately started producing good fruit. She is an amazing help in any way required, now brings her three young grand-children along who are so in love with Jesus, [ages 9,7 and 6] and hopes to bring her daughter who is a solo mum just out of a violent relationship. We also have one other regular who had decided to never go to church again until she came through our doors. She has never missed a Sunday. We still have people come and go but they always say that they can see how we love each other and how blessed they have been.
    Yes, we want to grow, but only in a way that will fulfil the words of our Lord. ” All men will know that you are my disciples by the love you have one for another”.

    We are now 5 months old, we are blessed to be able to help families who otherwise would never have known the love of God.
    I am aware that God said “unless the Lord builds the house the builders labour in vain”. May our work always be blessed by our Heavenly Father.

    Thanks for this post, I am so encouraged.

  8. Smita Hopper, India

    Thank you. As someone from a corporate background just starting out in a supporting role in a ministry, I am sometimes frustrated by what I see as the ‘slowness’ of things. This is a wonderful reminder on the right perspective.

  9. Pingback: Small Churches: Measuring success or faithfulness? | ascribelog

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