I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me,
because He considered me faithful, putting me into service.
I Timothy 1:12
As pastors, our desire should be to be faithful, not successful! Too much, pardon me...way too much... emphasis is put on a pastor being successful. Pastors grade themselves, and are graded by others, on the success of their ministry, instead of the faithfulness of their ministry. There are conferences, seminars, magazines (Leadership), blogs, articles, and websites that are devoted to the pastor's success. There are secular standards of measure that are used such as numbers, growth, baptisms, budget, missions involvement, influence, twitter followers, website or blog hits, and the like. And, yes, the more 'spiritual' will talk about how true success in ministry is measured in spiritual terms, or how you can't measure success because it is spiritual; but the problem is that the stress is still on being successful.
I cannot find one scripture in the entire Bible that refers to a pastor being successful. In fact, the Bible never stresses the success of the pastor, but stresses the faithfulness of the pastor. For example see I Timothy 1:12 above and listen to I Corinthians 4:1-2 "Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found (pistos) faithful/trustworthy.
Luke 16:10 He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing will be unrighteous in much. For us as pastors we see this principle in Luke played out in Matthew.
Matthew 24:45-46 "Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes." And we see this illustrated vividly for us in a parable of the kingdom, Christ's kingdom, in Matthew 25:14-30. In this parable we see the Master leaving and entrusting his possessions to his slaves, and in verses 21 and 23 we see His commendation upon His return, "His master said to him, "Well done good and faithful slave, You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your Master." Christ has left this earth for a while, and has given us pastors charge over His possessions (His people, see I Peter 2:9, Titus 2:14). His concern, as so wonderfully illustrated in the Scriptures above, is for us to be faithful with what Has given us, and He has not entrusted everyone with the same amount.
You see, when you try to measure success, the only true way to measure is if everyone is given the exact same ministry, the exact same gifting, the exact same set of circumstances, and so on. But the Lord has not seen fit for it to work in that way. In addition to the verses listed above in Matthew consider this in Romans 12:3-6 "For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly; if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith. So there is no standard by which we can all be measured, except our faithfulness. So as we have seen in Matthew (and also in Luke 19) when the Lord measures "success," He measures it by faithfulness.
What we are concerned about in our ministry will be what we emphasize in our ministry. When our concern is our success, then success, in whatever way we measure it, will be the emphasis; and if success in ministry is our goal, then our ministry automatically becomes about us and our goal(s) and not about the Lord and the accomplishment of His purpose(s).
As indicated above, the Lord is using us (talking to pastors in particular here), to accomplish His purpose(s). We are the tools, the means, the vessels that He has chosen to use, but it is Him that is accomplishing His purpose(s) through us. When we put the emphasis on our success, it then becomes us achieving our goals with the Lord's "help." When the emphasis in on our success, the Lord becomes our means in accomplishing our goals instead of us being the means of the accomplishment of His eternal purpose; and, in effect, the Lord becomes our servant and we cease to be His; and thus, the glory is no longer the Lord's but ours. This is very subtle, but it is rampant in the ministry here in the states, as we have corrupted the ministry with the American success syndrome. In considering this, let us look at a few Scriptures that can give us the right perspective on this:
Psalm 127:1 Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman keep awake in vain.
II Corinthians 3:4-6 Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit...
I Corinthians 12:4...the Spirit gives the gifts
I Corinthians 12:5...the Lord gives the ministries
I Corinthians 12:6...our God causes the effects
II Timothy 2:21 Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor; sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared (made fit) for every good work.
II Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.
How these verses work together in a gospel ministry is illustrated in these mysteries:
Mark 4:26-28 And He was saying, "The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows--how, he himself does not know. The soil produces the crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head.
I Corinthians 15:10 By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove in vain (because Paul was faithful), but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I but the grace of God with me.
Brother pastors and fellow Christian workers. Let us no longer be slaves to the secular success syndrome that has crept into the church and try to measure our ministries by artificial and arbitrary standards. Let our concern not be for our success, but for our faithfulness; and therefore let us seek to be faithful in the task, the great and noble task, of expanding the kingdom which was begun in Christ and will be culminated in Christ when He returns and rules. Let our success be found in our faithfulness to the Lord and to the ministry to which He has called us and has equipped us and gifted us to perform; and let us keep our hands firmly on the plow as we follow His path and pray for His will to be done and not our own.