How Do We Measure Success in Ministry?

Lately I’ve been enjoying Charles Bridges’ book The Christian Ministry: with An Inquiry into the Causes of its Inefficiency. I haven’t read anything this helpful on this topic for quite some time. In fact, I’ve bought a few extra to distribute. Anyway, there has been a number of passages that have really caught my eye including this one on what makes a ministry successful:

In marking the specific character of this warranted success, we may observe that visible success is various. There are some that plant – others that water; some that lay the foundation – others that build upon it. Some are designated for immediate – some for ulterior, work. Yet all have their testimony and acceptance in the Lord’s own time and way. Success is not limited to the work of conversion. Where therefore the Ministry fails to convert, we may still be assured, that it convinces, reproves, exhorts, enlightens, or consoles, some one in some measure at all times. It never “returns to God void,” when delivered in the simplicity of faith; nor will it, under the most unpromising circumstances, fail of accomplishing his unchangeable purpose.

But we must remember also, that present success is not always visible. Apparent must not be the measure of the real result. There is often an under-current of piety, which cannot be brought to the surface. There may be solid work advancing under ground, without any sensible excitement; as we observe the seed that produces the heaviest grain, lies the longest in the earth. We are not always the best judges of the results of our Ministry.

What do you think…especially the line I highlighted?

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8 comments

  1. I think it is true…doesn’t make it easier in understanding it logically.

    This is probably one of the reasons we are told to persevere in ministry…it is easy to persevere if everything is visible…it is very hard when the purpose and fruit are hidden.

  2. Yes, success is not limited to the work of conversion. But if an entire fellowship has no significant conversion growth over a long period of time, there’s a good chance it’s an indication that something is wrong.

    And if, in the nation as a whole, Christianity is on a steady decline to a projected 4% of the Millennial Generation, then the parts (individual fellowships) are indicative of the whole.

  3. good comments, fellas…thanks.

    Peter, just out of curiosity where are you getting your numbers? I agree with you in principle, but at the same time what would you use as the metrics for measuring “significant conversion growth”?

  4. Think back of examples you’ve read in history about how a simple, otherwise unknown teacher or friend or acquaintance of an eventually world-changing spiritually fruitful person helped influence them somewhere along the line of their live(s). Oswald Chambers himself said in one of his entries, “God owes us no validation in this life. It’s as if He’s saying, ‘I reckon upon you for extreme spiritual service, with no complaining on your part and no explanation on mine.” People are addicted (especially in places like capitalistic America) to the spectacular, to numbers, to validation, etc. Not that people don’t need encouragement and some sign of validation at time from their friends, God, etc. But if that becomes a constant need, then that’s unhealthy, similar to someone in marriage needing constant affirmation that they’re loved (this is usually necessary early on to varying degrees, but you always read about how the best long-lasting marriages need to say less to each other in this area; they just know). Similarly, when God’s servants need to pray less and be less affirmed about being guided, then they’re likely among the most mature.

  5. One of the best examples of the illustration of “How Do We Measure Success In Ministry?” is from (I think it is…) a beautiful book by Elisabeth Elliot called “These Strange Ashes”, a book that Elliot says in the forward is, to some degree, the favorite one she’s ever written and had published. It details, among other things, the book/manuscript/journal of hers that contained many long-earned years (I think) of work and attainment of how to continue to minister to the Acuas of Ecuador. I a sentence or two, she talks about how she wondered about the loss-gain principle in God’s economy about the stunning turn of bad events and how she had to somehow eventually put it through the grid of God’s sovereignty. She says it in a way that is brilliantly “Elisabeth-esque”. I wish I had the excerpt. I don’t have a copy of the book any more, but it struck me and stayed with me as an example of having faith that even when things seem like a complete loss, Romans 8:28 and Phlippians 4 still apply for the believer.

  6. Whoops. I re-read my last post and omitted a very key word. The book.manuscript journal of Elisabeth Elliot’s had been STOLEN (and to my knowledge was never ever recovered).

  7. Pete:

    Sorry, I didn’t realize you’d responded. The 4% number is from Ron Luce and originally from Barna. Rick Lawrence is highly skeptical of the number and says it came from an April 2003 report, which I can’t find. The closest thing is the 2006 State of the Church Report which is likely a newer version of the same thing.

    With my own work with teens and admittedly very limited time on Ferndale, Lynden Christian and Bellingham campuses, my hunch (pure intuition) is that when the dust settles and teens graduate from high-school and fun mega-church youth groups and move on in life, the percent of those who stick with the faith (and were genuinely saved) will land around 4-10%. The “see-if-they-stick-with-the-faith” metric is a different thing from Barna’s “do-they-believe-core-doctrines-right-now” metric.

    As far as metrics for “significant conversion growth,” I would look at the number of people joining the church who just got saved. Granted, I’m sure I often don’t hear about it when it happens, but on a rare occasion we’ll have a baptism service and where somebody getting baptized was just saved. I wouldn’t count people who got saved into/through another church and eventually come to ours. You could say “that church body is good at evangelism and ours is good at discipleship” but it smells like dysfunction to me.

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