Monday, January 12, 2009

True success in ministry

Back in 2007, I took some of our men at church through a one-year discipleship program called "SaLT" (Servant Leadership Training). We read a book a month, memorized several key Scriptures, and came together once a month for some lively discussion and mentoring.

In 2008, we tried something a little different. Instead of all the men meeting at one time, I encouraged them to break up into small mentor groups, finding one or two "Timothys" they could each disciple. All the groups went through a common book, Living the Cross Centered Life, and I made up a set of discussion questions in advance for each group to use. This mentor-group program was open to both men and women in the church, and it saw mixed success. Some groups met regularly and reported some wonderful times of prayer and encouragement. Other groups never seemed to get off the ground, meeting only once or twice at best.

In 2009, I'm excited to re-introduce our SaLT program, but with a few tweaks to the program. Instead of asking participants to read a whole book each month, we're listening to one audio sermon or lecture (there's a wealth of great mp3 material available online for free!). And instead of memorizing a whole passage of Scripture, we've scaled it down to one verse per month. You can visit our podcast here.

Last Saturday morning was our first SaLT meeting for 2009. We were very blessed to have 8 men attend the group, including several who have some real leadership potential.

For our January meeting, I asked the men in advance to listen to the message "Pastoral Success and the Cross of Christ," preached by R. Kent Hughes at the 1989 Desiring God Conference for Pastors. It's a scaled down version of his excellent book Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome. (If you're in any level of pastoral ministry and have not read this book before, it is a must-read.) Although delivered twenty years ago, Hughes' message could not be more relevant than today, as he addresses many of the pragmatic forms of success that have infiltrated the church.

Hughes recalls a dark time early in his ministry when attendance began to dwindle and he came very close to resigning as pastor and abandoning his call to ministry. But the Lord gave him and his wife Barbara new hope as they began to open the Scriptures and see that true success is not measured by marketing techniques and worldly standards, but by six basic principles:

1. Faithfulness. Hughes' principal text for overcoming the "Success Syndrome" was 1 Cor. 4:1-2. God is not looking for impressive numbers. He's looking for faithful obedience to His Word.

2. Serving. Success is not about having preeminence. The symbol of Christianity is the cross.

3. Loving God. This is the #1 priority in all our life and ministry. If we don't have love, everything else we accomplish will be meaningless (1 Cor. 13:1).

4. Believing. Much of ministry is walking by faith, and not by sight. Our doctrine must affect our living. In the trials of life, we must learn to "believe what we believe."

5. Prayer. Church leaders must learn to be men of prayer. This is an area I want to continue to grow in.

6. Holiness. We are called to be holy, even as God is holy. This includes areas such as sexual purity, where many pastors are particularly vulnerable.

These six principles define true success in ministry. It's not that we should hope our churches (or convention) will shrink in size, but we can rest assured that if we're faithful to God's Word and let Him take care of the results, we will find true success in His eyes.

Side note: This is my 200th post on this blog. With SaLT starting back up, and church ministry growing busier every day, I may be a little less active on this blog in 2009. But I still see it as a valuable tool in my discipleship toolbox.

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