Redefining Success Without Lowering Your Standards

Lousy Service 200cWhy do so many pastors not practice what we preach?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a cynic. And I’m definitely not a pastor-basher. I have a great admiration for pastors and what they (we) do. Pastors may be the hardest-working, most undervalued members of our society. And that goes double for Small Church pastors.

Pastors bring enormous blessings to the churches, communities, and the individuals and families in them. The moral support, emotional well-being, social and economic stability and spiritual sustenance pastors bring to the communities they serve is of immeasurable value.

But that pastoral value reinforces the point of my question. Why are we so dismissive of our own worth? And why do we keep trying to define our success in other ways, instead?

We tell people in our churches that God is interested in them for who they are, not for what they do. We tell them it doesn’t matter how much money they earn, how big their business is, what other people think of them, etc. We show them from scripture that the numbers our society uses to define our self-worth have nothing to do with how God sees our self-worth. And we’re correct to do so.

Then we go home from church depressed because, after giving people that message, all we can think about is how few people were in church today to hear us say it.

Really!? Are we that irony-impaired?

 

What’s Wrong With Me?

I’m making this criticism from the inside-out. I know this is how a lot of pastors feel – especially Small Church pastors – because I felt the same way for a long time. I spent so many years beating myself up for an external lack of success that I ended up in a counselors office, burned out, depressed and angry.

“What’s wrong with me?” I cried. “How did I get to this sorry state and how do I get out of it?” Then, after pouring my life story out to this counselor (an ex-pastor, himself) I asked him the real questions that had led me to his office. “Why can’t I be a successful pastor? Why won’t my church grow? And how do I fix it?”

My counselor gave me several compassionate and helpful words of advice in response to my questions that day. But I only remember one statement. And it didn’t feel kind, compassionate or helpful when he said it.

“You need to redefine success.”

When he told me that, I wanted to punch him in the nose.

You see, I thought redefining success was counselor-speak for dropping the bar, lowering my standards and settling for less. In other words, being OK with failure. And that is something I am simply not built for.

But that wasn’t what he meant. Since then, I’ve come to learn what redefining success really means – so his nose is safe.

 

What is Redefining Success?

On one side of our lives, people have numerical goals we want to reach. How much money we want to make, job promotions we hope to achieve and, for pastors, how big we want our church to be.

On the other side, completely unrelated to our numerical goals, are the things that actually matter. The things we tell our congregations they should be concentrating on. The things we refuse to take our own, or God’s, advice about.

Family. Faith. Health. Emotional contentment. Serving others. Loving and worshiping Jesus. (Oh yeah, that stuff.)

Redefining success doesn’t mean lowering our standards on the things that don’t matter. It means realizing that they truly don’t matter. And it means raising our standards on the things that do matter. It means shifting our focus.

For Small Church pastors, it probably looks as simple as this…

Serve the people currently in our church with passion, joy and wisdom. Lead them into worship, hope and health. Equip them to have an outward-focused faith, raising their families in Christ, living with integrity and sharing Jesus’ love with their community.

Let’s do that well, no matter how many (or how few) people attend our church. That’s not only a healthy redefinition of success in ministry, it’s the original definition of success in ministry.

 

So what do you think? Are you trapped in a false definition of success? What will you do to redefine success for yourself and your ministry?

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

(Lousy Service photo from Lynn Friedman • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

6 thoughts on “Redefining Success Without Lowering Your Standards”

  1. LOVE it. I think sometimes, we get so caught up in “trying to reach our community” that we totally MISS the community that’s right in our own church building.
    After reading through the book of Acts I was struck with how much “tangible ministry” was done TO the church. Ministering to the poor WITHIN the church. Caring for the sick WITHIN the church. Letting the WORLD see how we care for and love one another. Not that in any way we neglect the world – but sometimes I think we have it backwards. We spend so much of our limited resources on trying to “reach” the outside community (who most of the times, take our kindness and say, “Ok, now leave me alone.”…at least they do in our community) and the community within our church may be suffering. Sometimes I think the “world” has no desire to be a part of our community, because we’re taking care of them right where they live – right in the middle of their darkness. What if we showed them how the church takes care of one another (THE CHURCH) and with that INVITE them to be a part of our community? Taking care of our own. Taking care of the sheep we have…while, yes, drawing in the “goats” as well.

    1. Good point about the “tangible ministry” in the book of Acts. While Paul was travelling and establishing churches, he took offerings from everywhere to bring back to the persecuted believers in Jerusalem. Even with his “to the gentiles” approach to ministry, Paul always took care of the believers and made sure believers took care of each other.

    2. Patsy Collins

      Cindy King, these are my sentiments exactly, but not every one in my church agree with me. Trying to Balance until everyone comes to unity !! Thanks for your courage to speak out !

  2. Wow! Thanks Karl.

    I actually preached a sermon in church yesterday and then had some of those very same feelings right afterwards. It’s definitely a battle in the mind some days when I feel like I can’t “quantify” success.

  3. Pingback: Do It First, Write It Later: A New Approach to Mission Statements

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Redefining Success Without Lowering Your Standards

Lousy Service 200cWhy do so many pastors not practice what we preach?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a cynic. And I’m definitely not a pastor-basher. I have a great admiration for pastors and what they (we) do. Pastors may be the hardest-working, most undervalued members of our society. And that goes double for Small Church pastors.

Pastors bring enormous blessings to the churches, communities, and the individuals and families in them. The moral support, emotional well-being, social and economic stability and spiritual sustenance pastors bring to the communities they serve is of immeasurable value.

But that pastoral value reinforces the point of my question. Why are we so dismissive of our own worth? And why do we keep trying to define our success in other ways, instead?

We tell people in our churches that God is interested in them for who they are, not for what they do. We tell them it doesn’t matter how much money they earn, how big their business is, what other people think of them, etc. We show them from scripture that the numbers our society uses to define our self-worth have nothing to do with how God sees our self-worth. And we’re correct to do so.

Then we go home from church depressed because, after giving people that message, all we can think about is how few people were in church today to hear us say it.

Really!? Are we that irony-impaired?

 

What’s Wrong With Me?

I’m making this criticism from the inside-out. I know this is how a lot of pastors feel – especially Small Church pastors – because I felt the same way for a long time. …

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

6 thoughts on “Redefining Success Without Lowering Your Standards”

  1. LOVE it. I think sometimes, we get so caught up in “trying to reach our community” that we totally MISS the community that’s right in our own church building.
    After reading through the book of Acts I was struck with how much “tangible ministry” was done TO the church. Ministering to the poor WITHIN the church. Caring for the sick WITHIN the church. Letting the WORLD see how we care for and love one another. Not that in any way we neglect the world – but sometimes I think we have it backwards. We spend so much of our limited resources on trying to “reach” the outside community (who most of the times, take our kindness and say, “Ok, now leave me alone.”…at least they do in our community) and the community within our church may be suffering. Sometimes I think the “world” has no desire to be a part of our community, because we’re taking care of them right where they live – right in the middle of their darkness. What if we showed them how the church takes care of one another (THE CHURCH) and with that INVITE them to be a part of our community? Taking care of our own. Taking care of the sheep we have…while, yes, drawing in the “goats” as well.

    1. Good point about the “tangible ministry” in the book of Acts. While Paul was travelling and establishing churches, he took offerings from everywhere to bring back to the persecuted believers in Jerusalem. Even with his “to the gentiles” approach to ministry, Paul always took care of the believers and made sure believers took care of each other.

    2. Patsy Collins

      Cindy King, these are my sentiments exactly, but not every one in my church agree with me. Trying to Balance until everyone comes to unity !! Thanks for your courage to speak out !

  2. Wow! Thanks Karl.

    I actually preached a sermon in church yesterday and then had some of those very same feelings right afterwards. It’s definitely a battle in the mind some days when I feel like I can’t “quantify” success.

  3. Pingback: Do It First, Write It Later: A New Approach to Mission Statements

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *